Women’s football in England is now firmly established as part of the game’s fabric, but few of those pioneering clubs from the mid-1960s have survived through to modern times. A rare example is Swindon Spitfires FC, formed in 1967 and celebrated the 50th year back in 2017.
Swindon Spitfires were formed in 1967. A group of girls belonging to the Swindon Town Football Club Marching Band decided to play football. A father of one of the girls, Ron Hyde and Chris Maull, agreed that he would help set up a girls football club.
The Original Swindon Spitfires Team
The original group started in September 1967 with nine playing members. The players were Maureen Hyde, Mandy Hyde, Lynne Lishman, Irene Head, Sylvia Carson, Josette Swindon, Suzanne Swindon, Karen Unit, and Jennifer Harling.
Their ages ranged from 14 to 18. These nine young ladies played their first-ever football match against the ten players of Calne YC girls back in December 1967. Despite losing 10-5, goalscorers were Sylvia Carson with a hat trick and Josette Swindon with a brace. However, all the girls were undeterred and strived onwards.
An advertisement in the local newspaper was placed to try and recruit additional players which resulted in five new members. These were Stephanie Richens, Margaret Duncan, Janet Leslie, Denise Allison, and Gillian Allison. The girls all came from very different backgrounds.
Some still at school, while others worked for companies in Swindon, including Wills Tobacco factory, Morse’s Retail Outlet, Harrods, North Wilts Heating Company, Compton’s Industrial, and Plessey Electronics Company.
At their first training session, most of the girls did not even own a pair of football boots and wore hockey boots or daps. Some of the football players even trained with rollers in their hair concealed under a hat or scarf.
After World War I
Women’s football in Swindon pre-dates the Spitfires, as it was just after the First World War that Mrs. Ted Nash, wife of the Swindon Town goalkeeper of those days, helped form a women’s football club that played charity games all over the country.
They met with considerable success, although never quite reached the fame of the renowned Preston Women’s team ‘Dick Kerr Ladies.’ However, it is a far cry from then to now, and in between, women’s football died out in Swindon until Ron Hyde, Chris Maull and those nine young girls decided to start playing football.
Swindon Spitfires Name
In 1967, the Swindon Spitfires were invited to the chairman’s lounge at Watford Football Club, where they watched Swindon Town play. The chairman of Watford at the time asked, “What do you call yourself?” Surprisingly, at that time, the girls football club had not decided on a proper name.
The chairman suggested they should be called the Swindon Spitfires because the Spitfire planes used in the Second World War were made in Swindon. As they could not have the name Swindon Town, it was agreed that they would be the ‘Swindon Spitfires.’
Most of the ladies’ football teams of this time had gimmick names, for example, Bracknell Bullets, Amersham Angels, Amersham Imps, Blue Birds, North Warnborough Belles, Coventry Bantams, Newbury Golden Eagles, to mention a few.
In late 1967, Spitfires went on to play Calne YC girls football team on several more occasions. The second time they played, it was a thrilling 6-6 draw. Again, Sylvia Carson scored three goals, and captain Denise Allison added the other three.
The early days were such fun and did not have the competitive feel that football games have today. There were not many girls’ teams then, and the players would have to travel around the country.
Travelling mainly took place in the ‘Spits Mobile’ (not sure that this would pass a roadworthy test nowadays). This created great camaraderie, and with so much time spent on it, a Swindon Spitfires FC song was even created.
Spitfires played in some close-fought matches against teams such as Lydney and Brockworth. It wasn’t until April 1968 that the Swindon Spitfires women faced Manchester Nomads. In a dour defensive game, they lost 2-0.
However, this result was deemed satisfactory, considering the opposition’s strength and records, which included such overwhelming wins as 34-0 and 17-0.
Spitfires’ first victory was eluded for nearly eight months; however, the following month, the first victory was secured. Swindon Spitfires Women beat Cheltenham Girls 4-1. Other successes followed, including a 6-4 win over Shrivenham, a 5-1 win over Cheltenham, and defeating Wootton Bassett.
Another prominent fixture came in June when Swindon Spitfires FC entertained the prolific Manchester Corinthians, one of the best women’s teams in the United Kingdom. Formed in 1949, the Corinthians team had scored over 2000 goals, played worldwide, and raised £275,000 for charity.
The match played at the Gas Works, Swindon, resulted in an unfortunate 10-0 defeat, while a second match at the same venue saw Manchester Nomads defeat Calne YC 4- 1. The two football games were organized to help raise funds for the Swindon Branch of the Association for the Blind. Many fixtures played were organized to support different charities.
In September 1968, a huge crowd saw the Swindon Spitfires women inflict a 3–0 defeat on a new team formed by Devizes Women’s Hockey Club. The match was part of Devizes Carnival Week. The Carnival Queen, Mrs. Cynthia Townsend, kicked off the game. The goals were all scored in the first half by Maureen Squires.
Swindon Spitfires Women Players Grows
Players continued to join the club, and at the start of the new season 1968-69, the Swindon Spitfires membership had risen to 26. The youngest player was just 12 and the oldest 20, with an average age of 15.
The Swindon Spitfires FC continued to travel all over the country, and they became a member of the 150 clubs’ strong Women’s Football Association when that body was established.
Finance was always a problem, and the girls used to pay 10 pence a week each and 30 pence every time they played home or away. District League matches were played at 30 or 40 minutes each way.
At this time, Swindon Spitfires women became the Cystic Fibrosis Cup winners and were runners-up of the Midland Cup. However, all matches were played as charity matches since women were not allowed to play football on ‘official’ grounds because of the Football Associations’ rules.
Growth Of Women’s Football
From 1968, the number of women’s soccer clubs in Britain grew from around 44 to 300, with 6,000 women playing the game. All clubs were encouraged to affiliate with The Women’s Football Association.
The chairman at the time was David Marlowe, and the Secretary was Pat Gregory. However, until July 1971, the FA liberated a 50-year-old soccer law and reluctantly admitted the demand for ladies’ football.
The Wiltshire’s FA’s decision to support the FA’s coming proposal to recognize women’s football gave some of Swindon’s fairer sex the first opportunity to take an active part in the sport.
The Football Association agreed to give limited recognition for the first time to women footballers. This meant that women would be allowed to play football on the grounds of clubs affiliated with the FA and have their matches controlled by qualified referees.
In 1970, the Home Counties League was created, and the Swindon Spitfires women became one of its founding members. The district league was formed mainly through the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Debenham, who decided to take their new team, Amersham Angels, out of the South East of England League.
As Swindon Spitfires Women were not associated with any other leagues, they took the opportunity of playing regular competitive football. In this league, the Spitfires played the likes of Crystal Palace (FA Women’s Premier League) with other teams such as QPR (FA Women’s Premier League) and Reading Ladies (Women’s Super League), who joined the following year.
Swindon Spitfires Women played Lydney in the Children’s Research Cup final in this first season of the Home Counties League and won 7-3. The match was watched by 300 spectators, which was a common occurrence at the time.
The Spitfires were 4-2 ahead at halftime with goals by Carol Rose (2) and Maureen Squires (2), with further goals from Maureen Walters (2) and a well taken headed goal by Ann Tough, the Spitfires were comfortable winners.
Don Rogers (Swindon Town Football Club player at the time), presented the cup on the day, said that “The standard of play was much higher than I had expected to see.”
On 23 May 1971, Swindon Spitfires Women entertained Queens Park Rangers and won 5- 2 at the Wills Sports Ground, Swindon. The game was held to raise funds for the social center for the elderly.
Some other results from the season include Spitfires 5-1 win over Newbury Golden Eagle and 12-1 win over Amersham Imps. Swindon Spitfires Women had a very successful 1970-71 season, eventually coming third in the Home Counties League, behind the winner’s Crystal Palace and Amersham Angels, and were runners-up in the Heart of England Cup.
Swindon Spitfires Overseas Tour
Spitfires continued to flourish, and in 1972 they had their first tour abroad when they visited Salzgitter in Germany (Swindon’s twin town). Then, in an International Tournament held in Braunschweig (Brunswick), a young Swindon Spitfires Women squad did exceptionally well to finish third overall, having played Wildeman, Broisteat MTV, Hannover, Braunschweig, and the powerful Berlin team, whom they defeated 1-0. This was an outstanding achievement, considering that most of the German players played professionally.
Other successes at the time consisted of Drayton 6-a-side winners, Abbots Ann winners, and South East England 6-a-side winners. Not forgetting several runners-up places, including the Watford Corporation Cup and the Midland Ladies League Vice Presidents Cup.
Swindon Spitfires FC had similar success the following season as they were winners of the All-England 6-a-side in August 1973. They defeated Totton and Crystal Palace in the knockout stages and then won 1-0 against Southampton in the semi-final before beating Thame. More than 1000 spectators watched the tournament, with many surprised at the high standard of football.
Success was also repeated in the Southern England Cup, and then Swindon Spitfires Women were runners-up in the Chepstow RN Association Cup. In 1974, Spitfires marked one of their most outstanding achievements by reaching the semi-finals of the Mitre Trophy (now the Women’s FA Cup).
Having defeated Brighton GPO in the previous round 1- 0, the girls football club played the mighty Fodens. The Fodens squad contained four England Internationals (Sheila Parker: Captain of the England team, Jeannie Allott, Sylvia Gore, and Pat Firth).
Despite the prowess of the Fodens squad, Swindon Spitfires Women only lost out by 2-0. Fodens beat Southampton 2-1, and Spitfires finished in fourth place after losing 5-0 against Scottish outfit Westhorn United.
In just seven short years, Swindon Spitfires Women had established itself as one of the dominating clubs in the southwest of England. From a small squad of nine initial players back in 1967, little did anyone realize that this Swindon girls football club would continue for another 55 years and lead the way for many other new teams to follow in its footsteps.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!