Emma Clarke (born 1876) was a British footballer, considered to be the first known black women’s footballer in Britain.
|Date of birth||1876|
|Place of birth||Bootle, England|
|Date of death||1905|
|1896||Mrs Graham's XI|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Born in Lancashire in England, to parents William and Wilhelmina Clarke, Emma, along with her sister, [note 1] who was also one of the earliest known black women footballers in Britain, grew up in Bootle. She worked as a confectioner's apprentice from the age of 15, and received her formative sporting education playing the game in her neighbourhood streets, in an area very close to where the suffragist Helen Graham Matthews lived. Matthews later gave her name to the team for which Clarke played at the beginning of the twentieth century, Mrs Graham's XI.
Clarke normally played as an outfield player, described by the South Wales Daily News as "the fleet footed dark girl on the right wing". She also played as goalkeeper. Her club football career began in 1895, when she made her debut for the British Ladies, not an international team, but an early all women's football club patronised by Lady Florence Dixie. A number of individuals named "Clarke" make it difficult to provide precise details as to Clarke's career with the British Ladies, however, photographic evidence shows her lined up in the official team photo for the "South" team of the British Ladies in their inaugural exhibition match,[note 2] a game watched by more than 10,000[note 3] people at Crouch End, London, a game that Clarke's "South" team lost 7–1.
Although the first record of a woman's team coming together to play football occurred on 7 May 1881, at Edinburgh's Easter Road Stadium in a match, billed as a Scotland v England international (though it was not a full international in the modern sense of the word), this match is generally recognised as the first women's football match played under association rules in front of such a crowd and at what was then a notable ground and is thus generally considered to be the first organised game of women's football.
The following year, Clarke made her debut for Mrs Graham's XI, selected as part of the team which toured Scotland that year. Interest in the tour was substantial and their matches regularly attracted crowds numbering in the thousands. As well as receiving payment for expenses, it is estimated that Clarke would have been paid approximately a shilling a week while on the tour.
In 1897, she made an appearance for a team described as "The New Woman and Ten of Her Lady Friends" against "Eleven Gentlemen". The ladies team were victorious 3–1, although the report at the time made it clear the feelings about the women's game at the time, describing the game as a grotesque, although conceding that "in the second half the ladies distinguished themselves". It is also thought that her sister played in this match.
Clarke's career as a footballer continued until at least 1903.
For decades, Clarke and her contribution to the game was mistaken for goalkeeper , once described by a journalist as "a coloured lady of Dutch build", who was later confirmed to be white. Clarke was rediscovered by artist Stuart Gibbs only when a photo of the team that toured Scotland was discovered. He then identified that the player in question was Clarke, not Boustead.
Theatre company, Futures Theatre, wrote a play called Offside, which celebrates the contribution women have made to the game and which dramatises the story of Clarke.
- There are contradictory records of Emma's sister's name, which might have been Jane or Florence. There may have also been a third sister, Mary.
- For their exhibition games, the British Ladies would often field two teams from the club, named either "North" and "South" or "Red" and "Blue"
- Variously reported in newspapers at the time as up to 11,000
- Kessel, Anna (28 March 2017). "Revealed: Britain's first black female footballer after case of mistaken identity". guardian.co.uk. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- Chowdhury, Saj (31 October 2018). "Emma Clarke: FA backs call to honour first British black female player". BBC Sport. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
- Brennan, Patrick. "The British Ladies' Football Club". donmouth.co.uk. Patrick Brennan. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- Domeneghetti, R. (2014), From the Back Page to the Front Room: Football's journey through the English media, p. 155 Ockley Books. ISBN 1783015586. Retrieved February 2015.
- "Grotesque Football at Alford". Hull Daily Mail. 2 April 1897.
- "Emma Clarke honoured with blue heritage plaque". Professional Football Players' Association. Retrieved 20 June 2021.
- "Women's football pioneer Emma Clarke and younger sister Florence honoured with blue heritage plaque". Women in Football. Retrieved 20 June 2021.
- Pickford, Freya. "Emma Clarke: Women's football pioneer honoured with plaque at a Hornsey school". Ham & High. Retrieved 20 June 2021.