Celebrating Emma Clarke, Britain's first BAME female footballer

Friday 26 Oct 2018
Emma Clarke (back row, second left) pictured with players from Mrs Graham’s XI in 1895

A number of players can rightly take credit for helping the women’s game grow into the hugely popular sport that it is today – none more so than Emma Clarke, Britain’s first BAME female footballer.

Born in Liverpool in 1875, Clarke made her professional debut for the British Ladies team in 1895, in Crouch End, London, in front of a crowd of 11,000.

She would have earned around a shilling a week playing football at a time when huge numbers of spectators would attend women’s matches, garnering widespread press coverage.

Celebrating Emma Clarke
  • 6.30pm, Tuesday 30 October
  • RSA House, London
Clarke’s career was discovered by accident by Stuart Gibbs, an artist with an interest in women’s football, and subsequently turned into a play by Futures Theatre called ‘Offside’ which toured last year.

And as Black History Month 2018 comes to a close, Clarke’s life will be put under the spotlight once more when a panel of black cultural commentators convene at the Royal Society of Arts in London on Tuesday 30 October to discuss and celebrate a true pioneer.

Anna Kessel MBE, sports writer for The Guardian and co-founder of Women in Football, co-curated the event with leadership consultant and activist Michelle Moore.

Kessel said: “We think it is crucial that Emma’s story doesn’t get lost.

“It is so important for people to realise that women have been playing football for a very long time. It isn’t a recent phenomenon.

“Emma played in front of 11,000 people way back in 1895. To all intents and purposes she was a professional player; she was earning a shilling a week to play. She was getting media coverage and there were a lot of photos and illustrations of her in newspapers of the time, not to mention the match reports of games in which she played.

“She played all over the UK in some really famous stadiums like Wembley, St James’ Park and Portman Road.

“Her contribution to football history is really significant. It was recognised at the time in contemporary coverage but it has got lost along the way.”


The 'Celebrating Emma Clarke...' panel comprises broadcaster and author Emma Dabiri, footballer and Grenfell campaigner Eartha Pond and Gal-Dem deputy editor Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff.

The event, which is free to attend, is supported by the Runnymede Trust, Women in Football and the Blue Plaque Rebellion.

Kessel added: “The main purpose of the event is to highlight Emma’s story and share it more widely. This is a narrative that hasn’t been established at all.

“Stuart Gibbs uncovered Emma’s story by accident and he has done a marvellous job, dedicating so many hours to researching her life.

“But Emma’s story hasn’t yet been put into the context of black history or black culture, so we wanted to create a forum for black women to bring their expertise to the discussion around her life.”

‘Celebrating Emma Clarke…’ is funded by the Fare Network and is part of the #FootballPeople action weeks, a global campaign to tackle discrimination and celebrate diversity in football.

Join the conversation using #BlackHistoryMonth

By Glenn Lavery