Hampden women's football exhibition re-opens
Monday, 06 August 2012
There is still time left to visit the fantastic ‘First Ladies of Football’ exhibition at the Scottish Football Museum, Hampden Park before it ends on 18 August. The museum has been closed while the national stadium hosted a number of Olympic men’s and women’s football tournament matches, but it re-opens tomorrow, Tuesday 7 August.
The exhibition features the work of Glasgow-based artist Stuart Gibbs, who has produced a series of paintings depicting some of the pioneers of the women’s game and some more recent memorable moments. Together with newly discovered photographs and commentary, they tell the story of women’s football from its humble origins right up until Glasgow City’s participation in last season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Sports minister Shona Robison was on hand to open the exhibition a few weeks ago in front of an invited audience which was a veritable who’s who of the woman’s game, including two pioneering Scottish legends from the 1970s and 1980s in the shape of Rose Reilly and Edna Nellis.
The man behind the exhibition, Stuart Gibbs, originally from Barrhead near Glasgow, is a Glasgow School of Art graduate and has worked as an artist for more than twenty years. His work has focused on a wide variety of subjects and has taken him all over the world, including exhibitions in Japan, Russia and the USA. We caught up with Stuart to find out what inspired him to focus on the world of women’s football and more about some of the surprising discoveries he made in the course of his research.
SWF: Can you tell us how the exhibition came about?
Stuart: “I was involved with another women’s football art project called ‘Moving the Goalposts’, which was about the history of the game in Britain. Besides contributing paintings, I also did some research for the project. It was then I started to discover information that I couldn’t find in any previous work on the topic, particularly about the game in the early nineteenth century. My interest snowballed from there. I’d been in contact with Richard McBrearty at the Scottish Football Museum about the possibility of bringing ‘Moving the Goalposts’ to Hampden but due to financial constraints we weren’t able to make that happen. It was then suggested that we put together a women’s football exhibition of our own, especially as it would tie in with Hampden hosting matches of the Olympic women’s football tournament. What began as a small case of material for the museum quickly expanded to two walls as these things often do.”
SWF: Did you know much about women’s football before you began working on ‘Moving the Goalposts’ and ‘The First Ladies of Football’?
Stuart: “I attend women’s football regularly. I attended my first match in the early 1990s, as far as I remember it was Scotland versus England at Love Street in Paisley. I started watching Glasgow City a few years ago and because they actually won things I stuck with them! I edited their matchday programme for a season and still occasionally write for it. I also help out with making videos of their games for the coaching staff and have even worked on the merchandise stall. So I thought I knew a lot about women’s football as I began work on the exhibition, but I soon found that I didn’t really!”
SWF: Can you tell us about some of the new information about the history of the women’s game that features in the exhibition?
Stuart: “The standard story of women’s football that appears everywhere is that it began in 1895 with the famous Nettie Honeyball and the British Ladies Football Club, but none of that is actually true. Thefirst organised match I found took place in Edinburgh 1881. And before the supposed first women’s match of 1895 that took place in London, I discovered a match that had taken place in Birmingham three weeks earlier! I also found that the famous Mrs Graham, one of those who pioneered the game in Scotland, was actually a Miss Helen Matthew, who had connections with the town of Montrose. During the course of my research I also came to believe that ‘Nettie Honeyball’ was a character invented by one of the British Ladies Football Club organisers, Alfred Hewitt-Smith, alongside his younger sister Phoebe, with it being them that actually came up with the idea of forming a women’s team. I think they came up with the character of Nettie Honeyball to represent the sport well and attract players. Halfway through the British Ladies Football Club’s inaugural tour her name disappears from the teamsheet, so they evidently didn’t need her anymore! In reality ‘Nettie’ appears to have been the name given to a Dublin-born woman named Mary Hutson, who moved to London in the 1880s. Mary and her sister Nelly were captains of the British Ladies first eleven and second string respectively.”
SWF: How did you go about your research?
Stuart: “I started by looking at archive editions of the Scottish Sport and Scottish Referee magazines in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at those before in relation to women’s football. They didn’t contain much detail, but what they did do was offer ideas on where to look for further information. For example, I travelled to places like Wishaw and Edinburgh to look at local newspaper articles that offered a much more detailed account of women’s matches that took place in those areas. From this I could build up a more accurate picture. I also visited the British Library which has a massive collection of local newspaper archives. I received help from a variety of people in the UK and beyond who were able to offer additional information and, crucially, photographs. I was working right up until the last minute as I was constantly finding new information that meant we had to revise what we already had. For example, we discovered a match in Edinburgh where the famous Dick Kerr Ladies took on local side Edinburgh City Ladies for what was essentially a championship of the world just as I was arranging material for the exhibition.”
SWF: How did you decide on what to depict in your paintings for the exhibition?
Stuart: “I basically picked out those figures who I felt to be the most important in the development of the women’s game from a variety of different periods. I also trace the theme of the changing crowd and urban landscape through the course of the paintings.”
SWF: How does it feel to have now completed the project?
Stuart: “The opening of the exhibition was the first time in years a lot of the older players had been together so it was quite an emotional event. I feel a bit lost coming to the end of the project as I’ve been working on the research for so long now. What I’d like to do going forward is to use the research I have for a book on the development of the women’s game. We would also like to take the exhibition around some venues in Scotland if possible. I feel privileged as it’s not often as an artist that you pick a subject then end up re-writing its history!”
SWF: Finally Stuart, do you view now women’s football with a different perspective after completing your research?
Stuart: “I would certainly say so. For example, I attended the recent SWPL Cup Final at Recreation Park in Alloa, which was fantastic as I had noted in the course of my research that Mrs Graham’s legendary side had played at that venue in the late nineteenth century. I also found that SWPL side Hibernian’s Broxburn Park was another venue that hosted Mrs Graham’s side, as were Love Street, Cappielow and Rugby Park among others. Moreover, when Glasgow City hosted the first UEFA Women’s Champions League match in Scotland at Petershill last season, I found that the game had taken place only yards from where a training match involving Mrs Graham’s XI, essentially a Scottish national side, had taken place in 1881, on the land where North Glasgow College now stands. So technically, the first domestic European match contested in Scotland was played on the very same site as the first women’s football match in Scotland that took place over 100 years earlier.”
Thanks to Stuart for his time. The First Ladies of Football exhibition runs at the Scottish Football Museum, Hampden Park until Saturday 18 August. You can find more details about the museum here
You can also read more about Stuart’s previous work on the ‘Moving the Goalposts’ exhibition here