The 19th century French writer Guy de Maupassant said this about memory, “Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.” Memory is something that we cherish but it’s also something that can become fuzzy with time. Facts act as a scaffolding and sometimes prompt that dozing memory back to life. Violet Connaughton nee Elliott is someone who is on a fact finding mission, she needs to know more about the summer of 1974.
“I couldn’t do my gym class because I had pulled a muscle in my leg. When the teachers asked why I was limping I told them I had pulled it playing soccer. They told me playing soccer was unladylike!” Violet is quick to add, “Our mothers, fathers and families encouraged and supported their girls into playing soccer.” Undeterred by her teachers disapproval Violet Elliott continued to play for the Dublin All Stars, a team that no longer exists but when it did it was prolific and the source of several Irish international players such as the iconic sportswoman Anne O’Brien.
The Start Of Women’s Soccer
Mr. McClone, a local man, formed the Dublin All Stars team, his daughter, Margaret, played center half/sweeper. In the 1970’s women’s soccer gained recognition due to the formation of three leagues, The Ladies League of Ireland, The Leinster Ladies League and the Civil Service Ladies. Violet’s team played in the Leinster League which had twelve clubs in it. In 1973 a meeting was arranged between representatives of the various leagues and officials of the Football Association of Ireland, and from this meeting the Ladies Football Association of Ireland was formed. It’s main objective was to foster the growth of ladies football throughout Ireland. One of the first undertakings was participation in international football. Their first ever game was against Northern Ireland on the 30th of June 1973 which the Republic of Ireland won 4-1.
The Dublin All Stars
It was a full year before Violet was called up to play for her country at the tender age of sixteen. Before that she trained with her teammates in the Phoenix Park and also at the Lawns Ballyfermot, a lot of men’s teams saw their needs superior to the women’s team and would see nothing wrong in trying to bump them off the pitch so that they could have it for themselves, even if the women had been there before them. Violet laughs at one memory, “We protested at them trying to remove us! We sang, We shall not be removed!” Not that it was always an us and them mentality. Their coach Tom Brennan encouraged local boys to play against his girls team, it was actually how Violet met her husband, “I took him down with a slide tackle! A couple of years after that we got together!”
Violet is a petite woman who looks and has the energy of a younger woman. There is a childish joy to her when she recounts her days of playing soccer. It’s easy to tell that it was one of the happiest times of her life. Playing soccer as a woman in 1970’s Ireland could not of been easy but there is no bitterness or resentment when Violet retells her time on the field. What comes through is a strong Dublin community of families that buffered them from archaic views, it was after all fathers that came together to encourage and support their girls into soccer. For Violet, the motivation was simple, “everybody knew they wanted to play with the All Stars, and we all enjoyed it so much. We just clicked as a team.”
Poor Treatment From The FAI
What frustrated Violet is that the FAI, Football Association of Ireland, kept vague and sometimes no records of their international games. “I just wish they kept clippings or records.” She went to Finland recently and was blown away by the national football museum that they have, it includes detailed recording of both the male and female players contributions to their national team. Violet played three times for Ireland against France, Northern Ireland and Wales. For the latter she scored the equalizer with five minutes left on the clock, “it was a slider,” she says proudly. Shockingly the FAI refused to give the women their international caps, (if you don’t know what international caps are, just click this link). “Mr. Mc Clone wanted the All Star girls who were selected to play for Ireland to get their International caps. He matched the money that the girls who worked put into the kitty and got the All Stars players their International Caps.” The FAI seemed to forget about these women and their contributions to their country. Without programs or records it’s easy to forget your teammates, without facts it’s impossible to stay in touch.
A Funeral Reunited A Team
It was at Ann O’Briens funeral in 2016 that these footballing women reunited and it also set Violet on her fact finding quest. As she sat in the pews of the church she recognised her teammates from the 1970’s, “We were all there at the mass. I can remember going into the church saying, I wonder if that’s one of the girls I know. Then, as it turns out, it was!” Her delight at reconnecting with these women is palpable, she explains that in her opinion it’s harder for women that have played together to stay connected, “I was having a conversation with a taxi driver and we started chatting about football. He asked do you still get together for a kick about like men tend to do and I said no… because we don’t which is a pity.” You can’t help but think the FAI’s indifference to these women made it that bit harder to stay connected.
Violet has travelled around the world for women’s soccer, she’s been to the women’s world cup in China and closer to home she attends every game the Irish women play at with some of her old teammates. “Some of the girls in todays Irish squad would recognise us,” she smiles. To think that the women that have paved the way for women’s soccer in Ireland are by in large still invisible in soccer history and present day is a real shame. Violet adds, “It would be great just to be acknowledged that you played for your country.”