Lily Parr – English Football’s Most Prolific Goalscorer Ever

Which English player scored most goals during their career?  Bobby Charlton holds the record for 49 goals for England and his career total reached 247 but he doesn’t hold the record.  Jimmy Greaves finished 1 international goal behind Charlton, but eclipsed his career record with 357 goals, but it isn’t him.  Arthur Rowley played for West Brom, Fulham, Leicester and Shrewsbury and scored a record 434 goals in 619 matches.  But it isn’t him.

One player scored more than 900 goals in a career which spanned 1919 to 1950, even scoring 43 goals in their first season when just 14 years old.  It wasn’t a professional career and there are scant official records, so you could argue you may have scored more in your back garden, but it is still an outstanding record.

The player?

Lily Parr

Lillian Parr

Lillian Parr was born in St. Helens in April 1905.  Once the First World War began women were required to take up the jobs made vacant by men going off to the Front.  Lily worked in a munitions factory in Preston for a company called Dick, Kerr & Co.  The company was owned by two Scotsmen, W.B. Dick and John Kerr.   They organised an informal game in the factory between women and men.  The women won.

Initially women weren’t encouraged to play football, but given wartime circumstances it was thought this type of sporting activity would be good for morale and would aid production.  After beating the men they started playing a number of charity fixtures against similar teams around the country, raising money for injured servicemen during and after the war.  The matches drew good crowds and the women were paid 10 shillings a game by Dick, Kerr & Co to cover expenses.  They played against both women and men’s teams.

When they played at Deepdale, home of Preston North End, on Christmas Day 1917, 10,000 people turned up to watch.  After the War the team continued to play and in 1919 Lily Parr played her first season for Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC and scored an incredible 43 goals even though she was aged just 14.  In 1920 Parr played in the first ever recognised women’s international match between England and France in London.  There were four games arranged between the two countries, and when they played at Deepdale the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies represented England.   25,000 people turned up for the game where England won 2-0.  They won 2 of the 4 matches, drawing and losing once.  The defeat came in the last match of the series at Stamford Bridge.

The success of the series was such that the Dick, Kerr Ladies went onto tour France playing local sides.  Their first match was played at the Pershing Stadium in Paris in a game which ended 1-1.  They remained unbeaten throughout this tour which helped grow the popularity of the team.

Boxing Day 1920 saw the biggest crowd to date for a women’s game when 53,000 turned up to watch Dick, Kerr’s Ladies beat St. Helen’s Ladies 4-0 at Goodison Park.  Rumour has it that a further 12,000 spectators were stuck outside trying to get in.

Parr was 6ft, which was tall for a woman back then, and she was reputed to have a harder shot than most men.  One shot was so powerful it broke a keeper’s arm.   She was also a heavy smoker and she asked that some of her payments for playing were supplemented by packs of Woodbine cigarettes

In the book “The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies”, Barbara Jacobs says of Parr

“She was as adept at rugby as she was at football, spending hours on her own perfecting the technique of the power kick.  She’d sorted that out by the time she was thirteen and in football could score from any place on the pitch, or in rugby kick the finest penalty or drop goal.  A left-footer, her ability was natural, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman.  She wasn’t having any of it.”

In her book “In a League of their Own”, Gail J. Newsham wrote of Parr

“Standing almost six feet tall, with jet black hair, her power and skill was admired and feared, wherever she played.  She was an extremely unselfish player who could pin-point a pass with amazing accuracy and was also a marvellous ball player.  And she was probably responsible in one way or another, for most of the goals that were scored by the team”

In 1920 a local newspaper wrote;

“There is probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country.  Not only has she speed and excellent ball control, but her admirable physique enables her to brush off challenges from defenders who tackle her.  She amazes the crowd wherever she goes by the way she swings the ball clean across the goalmouth to the opposite wing.”

On February 1921, 25,000 spectators turned up to watch the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies beat Best of Britain, 9-1 with Parr scoring 5.  Then they beat France, 5-1 and Parr scored all 5 goals in front of 15,000 spectators at Longton.  The Ladies were becoming more and more involved in raising money for ‘good causes’ and not only helped ex-servicemen but also local workers who were in difficulty.  Around 1920-21 there was a battle between the government and the miners, and as many of the team came from mining areas they held strong opinions on this issue.  Given they were not even allowed to vote, there was obviously consternation at how women’s football came to be involved in such political issues.  The FA then began a propaganda campaign against women’s football.  They introduced a ban on women playing on Football League grounds. In December 1921 the FA issued this statement;

“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.

Complaints have been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of the receipts to other than Charitable objects.

The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to Charitable objects.

For these reasons the Council requests the clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.”

This was clearly a move to kill off the women’s game and it could be argued that the popularity of the women’s game actually proved a threat to the men’s game and the very position of The FA.  In reaction, the Ladies organised a tour to Canada and United States, only to find they were banned from playing Canadian teams.  They moved onto the United States and were able to play 9 matches, often against men, losing just 3 times.  The American press were impressed by Parr reporting she was “the most brilliant female player in the world”,

In 1923, Dick, Kerr Engineering was taken over by English Electric and the Ladies were told their team would not be subsidised.  They were now to be known as Preston Ladies.  Some of the players lost their jobs at English Electric and went to work for Whittingham Hospital, including Parr.  While working at the hospital Lily Parr met her partner, Mary and they bought a house together in Ashton Park.  Despite the lack of sponsorship Preston Ladies continued to be the best team in England.  In 1927 they played their rivals for the title, Blackpool Ladies, 11-2 when Parr was one of just 3 players who scored all the goals.

Joan Whalley, who played with Parr later wrote

“She had a kick like a mule, she was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot.  When she took a left corner kick, it came over like a bullet, and if you ever hit one of those with your head….I only ever did it once and the laces on the ball left their impression on my forehead and cut it open.”

Some people thought she was good enough to play in the Football League, making reference to her being ‘the best outside left playing in the world today’.  Others claimed she was ‘the best natural timer of a football ever seen’.

In 1946 Parr was made captain in recognition of 26 years’ service.  She had missed only 5 games since she joined the team.  A local newspaper reported she had scored 967 goals out of a total of 3,022 scored by the team.

Lily Parr played her last game in August 1950.  She scored a goal in an 11-1 win over Scotland.  Preston Ladies folded in 1965 and 5 years later The FA agreed to lift its ban on women’s players.  Parr retired from the hospital in the early ‘60’s.  A heavy smoker, she developed cancer and had a double masectomy.  She eventually died of cancer on 24th May 1978.  In 1992, Lily Parr was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Preston.  She remains the only woman inducted.

John Simkin – Spartacus Educational
A brief history of women’s football – Sports Kerlectables

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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