Heroes from ‘Forgotten World Cup’ set to deliver talk at University of Sheffield

Three pioneering players who were part of an inspirational team that put women’s football on the international stage for the first time are set to deliver a talk at the University of Sheffield.

Leah Caleb, Gill Sayell and Chris Lockwood were members of the England team that played at the 1971 World Cup in Mexico – a tournament that has been deemed an ‘unofficial’ World Cup because it was not sanctioned by FIFA, who only supported a Women’s World Cup 20 years later.

Women from England were not supported by the Football Association (FA) to play or take part in the competition.

Despite the football authorities banning them from playing, the England women’s team ventured to Mexico and played in the tournament that captured the hearts and imagination of fans and TV broadcasters around the world.

The unofficial World Cup rivalled the men’s World Cup that had been held in the country just months before. It attracted huge crowds as more than 110,000 people attended the Mexico v Denmark final (still the largest ever crowd at a women’s football match) and 80,000 fans watched the England team play Mexico.

Following the success of Mexico ’71, England’s FA lifted its 50-year ban on women’s football later that year.

Now, the three ex-England players will share their experiences and reflections of how the game has changed at a public talk at the University of Sheffield.

Professor David Wood from the University’s School of Languages and Cultures is exploring the rise of women’s football in Latin America and how the sport is empowering women in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia to fight gender inequality. Professor Wood has organised the talk in collaboration with Professor Jean Williams, Academic in Residence at the National Football Museum.

Professor Wood said: “We are privileged to have these three ex-England stars coming to Sheffield to share their experiences with us. Everyone can conjure images of the Mexico 1970 World Cup – that save by Gordon Banks, Brazil winning the tournament for the third time in style – but the 1971 Women’s World Cup was arguably more important.

“At that time, women’s football had very little institutional support anywhere, including in England, and was still banned by law in Brazil. The huge crowds at matches in Mexico raised the international profile of the women’s game and confounded many of the prejudices that had plagued it for decades, in Europe and Latin America alike.”

He added: “The women who played there were trailblazers for today’s England team as they prepare for the World Cup in France this summer amid media coverage and public interest that was unimaginable then.”

The event, The Forgotten World Cup: The England Women’s Team and Mexico 1971, is being held in the University of Sheffield’s Diamond building on Thursday 2 May 2019 from 6pm to 7.30pm. The event is free and open to the public.

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