Harry Awurumibe, Africa’s best women’s football journalist
Today, March 23, 2020 marks exactly 125 years when the first official women’s football fixture took place in London, England when the North and South made history at the Crouch End Ground on March 23, 1895 even as Nigeria has remained the most successful women’s football nation out of 52 countries in Africa.
The match which ended in a whopping 7-1 in favour of the North, who were captained by Nettie Honeyball, founder of the British Ladies Football Club who organised the game still stands as a significant milestone in a long journey in the timeline of the women’s game, which has fought against bans and prejudice to climb to the enviable position where it is today.
Although the quality of the memorable game which attracted an estimated 10, 000 fans came in for mixed reviews at best, but with the sides only a couple of months old and all largely new to the sport, which was hardly surprising.
It was learnt that the authoritative British tabloid The Guardian reported that there is “nothing ungraceful in a girl kicking a football” after watching the first official women’s football fixture some 125 years ago.
But much has happened to women’s football positively in this 125 years as the game has grown in leaps and bound with the world football governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) establishing three-level FIFA Women’s World Cup finals namely FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and the flagship competition, FIFA Women’s World Cup. The youth competitions are held every two years while the senior category is held every four years for now.
Also, many countries including those that had earlier prohibited the game because of cultural and religious considerations have all embraced women’s football and have consequently introduced women’s football in their countries football calendar.
Meanwhile, Nigeria happens to be among the countries in Africa that embraced women’s football early with the first game recorded to have been played in Lagos in the 20th century. It was introduced by the Europeans in the colonial era who introduced it with the male football. Later it disappeared only to resurface in the late 1950s.
Female staff of departmental stores in Lagos formed an association in the late 1950s and played organised women’s football till early 1960s before it went underground again for a long time.
However, Nigeria is today been celebrated as the best women’s football playing nation in Africa and a world power due to the efforts of few individuals and companies who threw their weights behind visionary men and women who spent their money and efforts to promote women’s football in Nigeria and Africa.
Among the pioneers of women’s football in Nigeria as recorded in the first book on women’s football in Africa titled; Genesis of Female Football in Nigeria (1991) authored and published by Africa’s veteran women’s football journalist Harry Chidozie Awurumibe are Otunba Christopher Abisuga of Golden Wonders FC, Princess Hannah Bola Jegede of Princess Jegede Babes, Chief Elderson Kuejunbola of Ufuoma Babes, Prince Larry Ezeh of Rivers Angels, Late Chief (Mrs) Simbiat Abiola of Kakanfo Queens, Alhaja Ayo Omidiran and Risikat Oladimeji of Omidiran Babes and Oladimeji Tigress FC respectively.
Others who spent their money in 1990s to promote women’s football in Nigeria and Africa include Seven-Up Bottling Co.Plc; Julius Berger Plc; Cadbury Nigeria Plc through their Bourrnvita products and some personalities in different fields of human endeavors.
Today, Nigeria remains Africa’s number one women’s football country with 11 titles in the biannual African Women’s Cup of Nations since 1991 till date. Nigeria has also attended every FIFA Women’s World Cup finals since 1991 in China.