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Florence Bilton leaning on a soccer goal post

Florence Bilton: The Pioneer Behind Women’s Soccer

Florence Bilton, the Hull woman who pioneered women’s soccer both locally and nationally, passed away in 2004. She was aged 82.

Florence, originally from Beverley Road, Hull, helped form the Hull Women’s Football Association in 1968 and the English Women’s FA a year later. She became the national development officer, an England selector, and took the women’s national team to many countries worldwide.

Yet her involvement in women’s soccer came about by sheer accident – and at the age of 42. Florence Bilton worked for Hull company Reckitt and Colman, who wanted a team of women employees for a particular charity match in 1963. Flo, a keen netball and hockey player, took up the mantle, formed the group, played as a goalkeeper, and began the emergence of English women’s soccer. This year, there are now 3.4 million female footballers.

She also formed the Hull City women’s team, twice brought the England team to Boothferry Park, and helped Hull’s Carol McCune and Gail Borman become England internationals. In 1977 England beat Switzerland 9-1, and in 1979 drew 2-2 with Denmark at Boothferry Park.

Former East Riding County FA secretary Dennis Johnson paid tribute to Florence Bilton, who he describes as the main inspiration behind the women’s game. “She was the pioneer. Her contribution to the women’s game was immense,” says Dennis.

“Florence Bilton did a tremendous job forming leagues and provided the base for girls soccer which is still going strong, particularly in Hull and the East Riding.” Former East Riding official Mike Rawding was manager of the England women’s soccer team when they drew with Denmark and remembers Flo as the driving force.

“Flo was definitely in charge of the whole England women’s operation, and she did it so well it ran like clockwork. She was totally dedicated to the women’s game.”

A commemorative plaque was awarded to Florence Bilton by her home city, Kingston upon Hull, in 2018. In 2021, ‘Flo’ would have turned 100 years old if she was still alive. The History Of Soccer team would like to acknowledge one of the unsung heroines and one of the most incredible supporters of women’s soccer.

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