AS the country celebrates the women who 'brought football home' at the weekend, there is much being said about bringing women's football out of the shadows.

In fact, at one time women's football was hugely popular and, in 1938, a game was played in Whitehaven that attracted 4,000 spectators.

The match was between the Whitehaven Laundry Girls and a crack team from Preston.

The legendary Preston women footballers from Dick, Kerr & Co Engineering were to return home thrashed on this occasion – the Laundry Girls beat them 4-0 after an exhausting match played in November in difficult conditions.

The late Ruth Thompson, then McAllister, of Whitehaven later recalled the match.

Whitehaven News: The late Ruth Thompson who scored two of the four winning goalsThe late Ruth Thompson who scored two of the four winning goals

As the best of the forwards, and then known as Shottie McAllister, Ruth scored two of the hard-won goals for the Laundry Girls.

She had been nicknamed after her father, a brilliant player for the former Whitehaven Athletic.

The Recreation Ground was the venue for the women’s match, organised and sponsored by the Whitehaven Hospital Committee of the Traders’ Association, but the week’s heavy rains had left the ground looking so bad there were fears it might have to be postponed.

Ashes and bags of sawdust were quickly dispatched and the match went ahead.

'A rousing reception'

The two teams arrived in style.

St Paul’s Prize Band from Frizington played the Preston team onto the field with She’s A Lassie from Lancashire, while the local girls arrived to the accompaniment of D’ye Ken John Peel from Whitehaven Borough Band, plus a rousing reception from the bumper crowd.

The atmosphere was electric.

The girls from the Preston munitions factory were introduced to the then mayor of Whitehaven, Cllr W Wear JP, by their manager, office worker Alf Frankland. Amongst them was the well known star-striker Florrie Redford, who had played 500 games.

Mr Frankland had last been in Whitehaven 20 years previously when his team had visited. It had ended in a draw and resulted with a replay at Deepdale, Preston.

The Lakeland Laundry Girls from Whitehaven (including four from the Workington branch) were P Johnstone, M Armstrong, W George, E Troughear, E Tubman and I Holman; G Wear, R McAllister, B Watson, M Lowery and F Robinson.

They were introduced to the mayor by laundry manager Mr W Kyle.

On the grandstand stood the great and the good – Dr G Muriel, president of the Whitehaven Hospital and Mr T Moss, treasurer; Mr W Williamson, general manager of the Colliery; Mr Wylie, vice chairman of the Development Board; Mr Mallaby, district commissioner; Mr George Tolson, Mr R Armstrong, Mayor Wear and the town clerk, Mr T C Bone.

'Her tackling and kicking would put many male players in the shade'

When referee Ashbridge from Kells gave the signal, the mayor kicked off for Preston towards the Laundry goal. The local girls were first to attack.

There’s an account of the game, from a Whitehaven News sports reporter of the time, who went under the pen name of Oxo.

Oxo tells us Eva Wear on the extreme right made several runs, displaying great speed, but her finishing could have been stronger and her repeated shots missed their mark.

“A free kick taken by E Tubman for tripping resulted in a penalty being awarded. A defender put her hand up to her face and with the penalty, Belle Watson, the home centre, made no mistake.

“The game had not long recommenced when Shottie McAllister, playing at inside right, scored a beautiful goal. Preston tried to wipe out their arrears but E Tubman, the home centre-half, proved a stumbling block.

"Her tackling and kicking would put many male players in the shade.

"She acted the ‘policeman’ to perfection and very rarely did a player get past her. Only once in the first half was P Johnstone called upon to save a shot.’’

Oxo thought Ruth McAllister’s performance in the home forwards was outstanding and instrumental in the scoring of another fine goal. Her placing of a free kick gave her centre-forward Belle Watson the opportunity to score.

The home team continued to have most of the play in the first half with a half-time score of 3-0 to the Laundry Girls.

In the second half the visitors put up a great struggle but failed to score.

Even Florrie Redford missed a penalty, sending the ball sailing over the crossbar. P Johnstone’s goalkeeping was applauded for a series of fine saves.

Shottie McAllister scored Laundry’s fourth goal, shooting from a difficult angle.

READ MORE: Lioness of the future? Meet young Whitehaven footballer

After the match the girls were hurried off to the baths in preparation for a well-earned tea at the Globe Hotel.

Oxo was most impressed at how both teams had held out “after 70 minutes of hectic work on a very heavy and altogether unsuitable ground.

“It spoke volumes for the keep-fit movement, which is the secret of success as far as the Laundry Girls are concerned," he declared.

In rather less complimentary terms he noted that players from both sides had at times been called to use their weight “and believe me, some of them were hefty in this respect."

Laundry goalie P Johnstone had a good game and E Tubman was the outstanding player in defence.

The forwards were complemented and had 'improved wonderfully since their first appearance against Cockermouth' says Oxo.

B Watson was a dashing centre-forward who could run and shoot and E Wear had speed.

“F Robinson and M Lowery make a capital pair of left wingers but the best of the forwards was Ruth McAllister. She can run and fully justifies the name Shottie as she can shoot with some purpose.’’

The Preston ladies referred to their manager Alf Frankland as 'Father' or 'Pop' and like many of his generation, he would raise his hat when talking to women.

He always wore a three-piece suit and expected his players to be well dressed too, forbidding them to wear trousers when in public.