Book Review – Women in Boots: Football and Feminism in the 1970s


Heather Reid & Marion Stell, Women in Boots: Football and Feminism in the 1970s,

Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Victoria, 2020.

ISBN: 9781925984712. $24.95.


If you can’t play, attend or watch live sport in these isolating times and the Almanac’s brilliant efforts to get you involved vicariously in electronic football don’t occupy all your enforced work-from-home time, there are lots of really good sports books to read.


Theresa Jones (now Deas) flies through the air in training as goalkeeper for Australia.


Heather Reid and Marion Stell have combined to tell the stories of a generation of Australian and New Zealand women who took up Association football in the 1960s and 1970s and played in the first series of official international matches between the two countries in 1979–80. The authors are supremely qualified for their roles. Heather Reid began as a player and became the first woman to be the CEO of an Australian Football Federation, Capital Football in Canberra. Marion Stell’s pioneering Half the Race is still the best overview of Australian women in sport.


Many of the stars of this book began playing with boys teams when they were very young, some starting with their brothers in local matches but facing discrimination and bans as they reached their teens. They refused to give up and found their way into female teams, sometimes travelling incredible distances to take part. A significant proportion came from overseas with their parents and siblings and hence had a background in the code but they had to overcome a series of obstacles to find teams to play for in the southern hemisphere, where the male game was widely regarded as a wicked, foreign import in both Australia and New Zealand.


When they began playing competitively they still faced discrimination and bias. Relegated to poor pitches, lack of changing facilities, inappropriate equipment—uniforms cut for male players handed down reluctantly by previous users, and expectations that they were there only to support their male counterparts. Yet by sheer force of will these young women persisted, sometimes with the support of male coaches who spotted their potential but often just by sheer dogged refusal to succumb to the denigration.


The book has an enlightening account of the competition for places in these pioneering teams and its impact on individuals. Readers might like to compare this book with the brilliant video of the male golden generation The Away Game in which the competitive individualism of the players on the way up, marked by single-minded, resilient, focused selfishness—all necessary attributes for success in their minds—comes through in nearly all the interviews. By contrast, the women interviewed in this book nearly all exhibit surprise that they made it to their respective teams, perhaps because they did not have female role models to emulate.



Shona Bass, another Victorian member of the first official Australian team.


The book outlines the dictatorial powers of Australian national team coach, Jim Selby, who married the captain of his team, Connie Byrnes. The other very powerful figure in the game, Elaine Watson, who became the second Vice-President and later the first woman President of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association, has her strengths and weaknesses judiciously analysed.


To the authors’ surprise many of the families of the players kept meticulous or kaleidoscopic scrapbooks of press cuttings, photographs and other material. These provide wonderful insights into the press coverage of the time and many personal and family vignettes. The demeaning treatment of women for their looks or characteristics rather than their footballing ability is often laid bare.


Where the book breaks new ground is the involvement of both Australia and New Zealand players and officials and the way the evolving political and social changes of the period are carefully analysed. The changing politics and sociology of the women’s movements in the 1970s play in the background. Most players were perfectly clear about their pioneering roles within the game, but were and are less sure of their status as role models or leaders of the feminist movement.


There is one danger with this book and that is its foreshortening of the story of women and football in Australia. Long before the 1970s generations of women were struggling to get their chance to play football—of all codes. Because there is so much to cover in the modern era these earlier pioneers and their struggles are only mentioned in passing.


The book is a complement to a number of recent and some earlier works on the history of the women’s game. Elaine Watson was a pioneer referee and administrator and she got her retaliation in first in Australian Women’s Soccer: The First Twenty Years in 1994.


Jean Williams followed up her book on the game in England with another which has a chapter on Australia. Roy Hay and Bill Murray’s standard history of the game in Australia has a chapter devoted to the women’s game. In the last year, Fiona Crawford and Lee McGowan’s Never Say Die: The Hundred Year Overnight Success of Australian Women’s Football covers the prehistory as well as the long history of the game in Australia. Ellyse Perry has a few reflections on her soccer career in Perspective, though it is really a book about inspiring young people to follow their dream, as she has done.


More history is in the pipeline. Greg Downes’ thesis is currently being prepared for publication. Ted Simmons, the veteran AAP anchor and member of the International Federation of Soccer Statisticians, also has a forthcoming book which includes the history of the women’s game. No doubt some of the current generation of Matildas will tell their stories. Matildas’ goalkeeper Lydia Williams is already publishing inspiring books for young Indigenous girls who face an additional series of obstacles in making it to the top in these ‘enlightened’ times. Women’s football, or should we say football played by women, is now an integral part of the world game, though the playing field is still not level and much remains to be done to achieve the parity of treatment and esteem that the successors of those of the 1970s deserve.


Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd T: +61 3 9329 6963 F: +61 3 9329 5452 E: [email protected] Post: P.O. Box 299, Kew Vic 3101


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  1. Very knowledgeable review!

  2. Thanks Roy, that book looks very interesting

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