ACCLAIMED Scottish singer-songwriter, Eddi Reader, recently discovered that her
grandmother had an incredible secret life as a footballer in the 1920s – and she goes
on a journey to find out about her life and career in a new documentary on BBC ALBA.
Sadie Smith found fame as a footballer and toured with the trailblazing Rutherglen Ladies in the 1920s, paving the way for women in the future.
In a period where women in football were ridiculed and even banned, Sadie was both a pioneer and an inspiration, answering critics the way she knew best, overcoming her opposition and striking hard on goal. Sadie Smith, superstar left winger, was a light on the horizon.
Women’s football gained legitimacy and momentum during the First World War, but, after it ended, women were expected to return to the home.
Sadie Smith started playing for Rutherglen Ladies in 1922. In 1923, In 1923, Rutherglen Ladies were banned from playing a high-profile match against Dick Kerr Ladies, one of the biggest British teams of the period, at their local park. They were able to play at Shawfield Stadium and won 2-0, a notable piece of history for them.
Following the victory, a civic reception was hosted for them in Rutherglen Town Hall, and, by 1926, they were a very well-known team in Scotland, touring around the country, getting media coverage. In 1927 and 1928, they toured in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Eddi Reader meets historian Dr Fiona Skillen, from Glasgow Caledonian University, in this programme to find out more about Sadie’s life and career with Rutherglen Ladies.
Dr Fiona Skillen explains that Rutherglen Ladies are one the most important women’s football teams in inter-war Scotland and one of the most important teams in Scottish women’s football history.
She said: “They were touring.. raising hundreds of pounds for charity and breaking down barriers, simply by just existing.
“I’m sure many of them experienced discrimination or hostility even within their own families or communities because it would have been a controversial thing for women to do, to take up this ‘men’s’ sport.”
A formal ban was introduced in Scotland after World War Two. But, even before then, they discouraged their members from letting women play on their pitches.
Dr Skillen added: “Some do break that rule, because they’re continuing to raise money for local charities, so they see it as a good thing and let them play. But there’s no doubt that the SFA and wider popular opinion is not encouraging of women playing football at this time.”
Looking back on her granny’s life and career, Eddi wonders if giving up football was a source of sadness for Sadie.
Her uncle used to play football in Bilsland Drive, out the back court, and their mothers pals, mostly men, would come up and coach them.
She said: “Some of them would say to him, aye you’re good son but you’re not as good as your mother. He didn’t pay much attention at the time but it all makes sense now!
“I’d have loved to have seen her play football. The fact that she kept it quiet from her own children is strange.
“We come from a long line of people that push themselves forwards and she did. I’m really proud of it and so proud to tell my sons, not only was she a footballer, she was like Jimmy Johnstone!”
As well as Sadie’s individual legacy, Rutherglen Ladies have played a monumental role in Scottish women’s football.
They did not lay down to the constraints imposed by the English FA in 1921; they played on and blazed a trail, contributing to a new rebellious understanding of the game’s history in Scotland. They are pioneers, empowering women who created a pathway for future players.
Writer, producer and director, Margot McCuaig, said: “Every now and then we are fortunate to be blessed with influential individuals who make an extraordinary mark in history and inspire, empower and excite future generations. Sadie Smith was one such role model and it is a great privilege to be able to share her story, and indeed that of J H Kelly’s trailblazing Rutherglen Ladies, to a wider audience.
“Sadie, as a footballer and a beloved granny to Eddi Reader, was an inspiration, a powerful pioneering woman who, along with her teammates, challenged the misogynistic narrative and pushed women forward.”
Sadie Smith is produced and directed by RTS award-winning company purpleTV and will
be broadcast on BBC ALBA on Saturday, April 9 at 9pm and repeated on Friday, April
15 at 11pm.
It will also be available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.
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