Fiona Skillen


Prof. Fiona Skillen is a Professor of Social History, in the Dept of Social Sciences, School for Business and Society at Glasgow Caledonian University. Her research interests concern aspects of sport, gender and popular culture. She has also worked on projects focusing on aspects of Scottish sports history including, the sporting heritage of Glasgow, the history of Scotland’s role in the Commonwealth Games and most recently on a FIFA-funded project mapping the early history of women’s football in Scotland. She is actively involved in a number of community heritage projects and groups focused on aspects of sports participation, fandom and recording and preserving the rich sporting heritage of Scotland.

Keynote title

‘Proving themselves no mean experts at the game’: Some reflections on the development of women’s football in Scotland, 1880-1939.


The 5th of December 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Football Association’s ‘ban’ on women’s football in England. Yet, 100 years on we have little understanding of the impact of that ‘ban’ or how, why and where women’s football developed within the nations which make up the United Kingdom. Existing academic research, which has sought to address the early history of women’s participation in football in Britain, has tended to focus almost exclusively on the English experience. There has been no comprehensive academic study of the developments in each of these nations however, recent small localised studies suggest that these developments were complex and regionally variable. By exploring the development of the game within these localities it will be possible to create a more complete and richer history of the game across the UK.

Scotland is an important focus. The earliest recording of women playing football in Britain was in Scotland in the sixteenth century. Yet, Scotland has in the last 100 years at least, had a problematic relationship with women’s football. It was the last European Football Association to formally recognise the women’s game, not formally doing so until 1974, three years after other countries did so. The problematic history of the game before 1973 has, until recently been a relatively hidden history. It has often been assumed and perpetuated by the press, organisations and even some academics, that the women’s game only began to develop in Scotland from the 1960s onwards, culminating with the founding of Scottish Women’s Football Association (SFWA) in 1971. At a time when the profile of the women’s game has taken on a new significance within Scottish culture it seems right to explore and celebrate its long yet under discussed history and heritage.

This presentation will focus on the initial findings of my current research project which maps the development of women’s football in Scotland from the 1880s to the outbreak of World War Two. I will explore the importance of social capital in relation to the success, or failure, of early teams and leagues. While the role of World War One and the subsequent ‘backlash’ against the ‘new’ woman will be explored. Finally, if time permits I will also offer some reflections on the wider community aspects of this project.