Rutherglen woman's fond memories of grandad and his role at trailblazing football club

·4-min read
Rutherglen Ladies FC. Pic courtesy of Dorothy Connor
Rutherglen Ladies FC. Pic courtesy of Dorothy Connor

WITH women’s football dominating the headlines, one Rutherglen woman is proud of her family’s connection to a pioneer of the game here in Scotland.

Times Past reader Dorothy Connor got in touch to tell us about her grandfather James Kelly, who founded and ran Rutherglen Ladies FC.

The south side club is famous far beyond its home town and an exhibition all about the players and their history is currently on display at Rutherglen Town Hall.

Dorothy explains: “My grandfather James founded Rutherglen Ladies, who toured all over Scotland and Ireland and beat the world champions, the Dick Kerr’s Ladies, at Shawfield Stadium in 1923.

Glasgow Times: The famous Dick Kerr's Ladies team from England. Pic courtesy of Dorothy Connor
Glasgow Times: The famous Dick Kerr's Ladies team from England. Pic courtesy of Dorothy Connor

“That was at a time when women’s football was banned in Scotland and England.”

Football was not the only string to James Kelly’s bow, adds Dorothy.

READ MORE: Glasgow WREN who saw Rudolf Hess parachute on to Eaglesham Moors had narrow escape in WW2

“He ran music hall acts during World War One, at times sharing the bill with Sir Harry Lauder, to raise funds for ex-servicemen and their families,” she explains.

James had had a tough childhood. When he was 12, in 1887, his 13-year-old brother Maitland was killed in a mining accident at a Cambuslang pit. James went on to become a coal miner too. He and wife Ellen had six children, including Dorothy’s mum Eileen.

Ellen, was a leading light in Lest We Forget, now the Poppy Fund, and was given the honour of laying a wreath at the Rutherglen Cenotaph in 1924.

Glasgow Times: Dorothy's grandparents James and Ellen Kelly. Pic courtesy of Dorothy Connor
Glasgow Times: Dorothy's grandparents James and Ellen Kelly. Pic courtesy of Dorothy Connor

Rutherglen Ladies were a trailblazing club in Scottish football, defying the ban on the women’s game to inspire future generations.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the club faced hardship thanks to public perceptions about women in sport and a total ban from playing in Scotland from the FA who deemed the game “quite unsuitable for females” on December 5, 1921.

The exhibition traces the development of the team from its foundation in 1921 through to disbanding in 1939.

The information provided is based on new research by Dr Fiona Skillen, of Glasgow Caledonian University, and football historian Steve Bolton.

Dr Skillen, senior lecturer in history, said: “There’s a perception that women’s football didn’t happen in Scotland between the Victorian period and the mid-1950s. This research shows that it did. We are rewriting the history books with our discoveries.

“Rutherglen Ladies showed incredible resolve and resilience and had to overcome significant barriers just to play the game. They deserve recognition for their unique place in history.”

Led by superstar captain Sadie Smith, the grandmother of singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, Rutherglen Ladies toured Ireland, played in exhibition games in front of thousands and raised money for charity.

Eddi said at the launch of the exhibition: “I am very proud of her. I was taken aback when I found out because her footballing prowess was never mentioned. They got banned but they didn’t care and they continued to play. I like that punk attitude.”

Born Sedania Smith in Glasgow in 1907, Sadie joined Rutherglen Ladies in 1922 and played with the team at the height of their fame, playing in Dublin to a crowd of 12,000 and in Dundee in front of 4,000.

READ MORE: Big Brother contestants from Glasgow and where they are now

Whilst on tour in Ireland, a story emerged in the press that Sadie had signed for Linfield – a men’s team.

She never played for the Belfast club but she was regularly in the news.

Rutherglen Ladies were adept at grabbing headlines, declaring themselves “Champions of the World” after that memorable game at Shawfield in 1923.

Their victory was all the more memorable because they had been banned from playing the match at their local park. They were able to play at Shawfield Stadium and won 2-0.

Following the victory, a civic reception was hosted for them in Rutherglen Town Hall.

Footballer Rose Reilly, a Scottish Sports Hall of Fame inductee and a World Cup winner, said: “Rutherglen Ladies are the true pioneers of women’s football, hats off to them. I am so proud of them. They paved the way but their story got buried.”

The exhibition, which enjoyed a six-month run at the Scottish Football Museum in Hampden’s National Stadium, is funded by Museums Galleries Scotland. It is now at Rutherglen Town Hall until Friday, August 12. Entry is free.