Women’s football was first permitted in Germany 50 years ago by the DFB. The association is celebrating this in 2020 and I watch the festivities with a suspicious eye. Because I fear that they will fuel the myth that there was virtually no women’s football in Germany before 1970. But that is by no means the case. This is evident simply from the fact that the DFB banned women’s football in 1955. Why should it have banned something that virtually did not exist back then?
DFB should not celebrate “50 years of women’s football”, but “50 years ago we were open enough to allow women’s football”. But … Even that is not true. The scepticism, teasing and aversion were not suddenly history from October 31, 1970 onwards.
The DFB allowed women’s football 50 years ago because it feared for its influence. After all, the ban in 1955 in no way meant that no women played football in those 15 years. Quite the opposite.
Women’s football in Germany 1970
At the end of the 1960s, the pressure on the DFB with regard to women’s football grew more and more. Since separate associations and structures had developed in this area, the DFB was forced to move if it did not want to finally give up the matter.
Just imagine: The reservoir was full, but the wall was old and the first cracks had appeared. And just before the wall could burst (the foundation of a German women’s football association), the association opened a small gate to take away the pressure (loss of power). If that’s not cause for celebration, huh?
In order to forestall the founding of a German women’s football association and to take the reins in its hands while it could, the DFB decided at its Bundestag meeting in Travemünde on 31 October 1970 to lift the ban on women’s football within the association “due to the developments that have taken place”. However, initially with restrictions: From then on, women were only allowed to play with a ball for youth football that was lighter than the men’s ball, a game lasted only twice 30 minutes and the women’s shoes were not allowed to have cleats. Other dress regulations, including a “breastplate”, were also discussed, but were ultimately not implemented. The scepticism towards women’s football remained enormous overall, as illustrated by an excerpt from the Aktuelles Sportstudio from 1970, and presumably the DFB only accepted it in its ranks in order to prevent a loss of power.
Of course, it was the first and above all decisive step. Women’s football was officially allowed in Germany for the first time! But I think it would be appropriate to also remember what was before. Especially during the 15 years of the ban, when women had a really hard time being allowed to play football.
Let us look back into history.
Football playing women in Germany before 1955
There is no evidence of women playing football in Germany before 1920. Except for the game in which women stood in a circle and passed the ball to each other – and even this was considered morally reprehensible.
In the period between the world wars, Lotte Specht is perhaps a household name, who founded a women’s football club in 1930. But she was not the first either.
For Germany, football began to boom during the First World War, and the war period also led to the emancipation of women (not only in Germany). So it is not surprising that the first women’s soccer teams were founded during this time. In contrast to countries such as England and France, the women playing football in Germany hardly pushed themselves into the foreground. But in the early twenties the type of the sports girl developed. Young women under 21 years of age who tried out various sports for themselves. Football was played here mainly by female students.
In 1921, teams in Chemnitz, Dresden and Radebeul were occupied (the cities are all located in what is now Saxony), in 1922 female students played football at the German University Championships – according to the regular Laws of the Game and in 1923 the “Weibliche Studenten Sport Verein” (“Studentinnen-Sport-Verein”) of Berlin’s Friedrich-Wilhelm University had a “women’s football team”.
In the German Workers’, Gymnastics and Sports Association there were the first (few) women playing football in 1925. The association was suspicious, because it found women’s football frowned upon. However, not like the DFB and large sections of society for medical or aesthetic reasons, but also commercial ones: One could not imagine that a woman would come up with the idea of playing football on her own initiative. There must be a commercially greedy man behind it, or so the assumption goes.
She must not be missing from any history of German women’s football. Similar to Nettie Honeyball in England in 1884, Charlotte Specht, 19 years old, published an ad in the newspaper. The ad was answered by 35 young women of Lotte Specht‘s age. (Lotte is the German abbreviation of Charlotte.)
In March 1930 the 1st DDFC, the First German Ladies’ Football Club (“Erster Deutscher Damen-Fussballclub”), was founded in her parents’ house, the “Stone House” in Frankfurt am Main. They played in improvised jerseys, short trousers, oversized boots and berets as head protection.
However, the club only existed for a few months and this had two main reasons. Firstly, there were no opponents. In the beginning the club played against men’s clubs. But – and this is the second reason – there was more and more confrontation and insulting of the women while playing football and also in their everyday life. In the end the women always played only against themselves. And even then the aversions did not end. Lotte Specht’s mother tolerated her daughter’s sport, her father only to a very limited extent. The customers of his butcher shop complained about his daughter and stayed away. In the time of the Great Depression this led to serious concerns.
So the 1st DDFC only lasted for a short time and after the Second World War Lotte Specht became a regionally known cabaret artist and actress who founded the first dialect stage in 1955.
Interviewed about the year 1930 she told:
“We weren’t revolutionaries, we just enjoyed football. […] My idea came not only from my love of football, but above all from women’s rights, I said, ‘what men can do, we can do too’. That was my basic idea to found a women’s football club. […] They even threw rocks at us. And the newspapers were ranting and raving about us all the time. Even in the shop, in the butcher’s shop, people said: Mr. Specht, that you tolerate such things, that’s terrible. And then we only existed for a year. The press worked against us and after a year the dream was over.”
Fellow player Kaethe Stumpf also remembered the harassment:
“We dribbled and made starts, quick starts, yeah, overtaking one or charging, header … we learned all that. We trained in the morning, on Sunday mornings, but by then the men were already on the football field and were bawling. It wasn’t nice.”
The interviews have been published as a documentary by Eduard Hoffmann and Juergen Nendza: Frauenfußball – Eine Emanzipationsgeschichte (“Women’s Football – A History of Emancipation”), 2011, on the radio station SWR 2. You can listen to the episode here via internet, but it is also available as a podcast episode and as a manuscript. (All in German only.)
1955: The interdict of Women’s football in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)
Germany was divided after the Second World War. We must therefore look at developments separately. It is also important to know that the German Football Association was (and is) the football association for the Federal Republic of Germany. This means that its ban in 1955 and its lifting in 1970 did not have a direct influence on women’s football in the German Democratic Republic.
After the victory of the World Cup of the German national team, the enthusiasm for football was great. Baerbel Wohlleben was the first woman to score a goal of the month. For in September 1974, she and her club, TuS Woerrstadt, won the first (national) German championship in women’s football. At that time she had been playing football for almost 20 years. She started playing shortly after the DFB banned women from playing football. 1957. she remembered in the radio documentary linked above:
“I had to pass very special exams there, the boys had asked me to fight wrestling matches against them in the long jump pit, and as I then defeated some boys, I was recognized and had since then played four years in the C-youth in Ingelheim.”
She had been granted an exemption by the Southwest German Football Association. This was contrary to the ban of the DFB: no woman was allowed to play in a club that was a member of the DFB. And no DFB member was allowed to make its sports field available for a game of women. Referees and assistant referees were not allowed to conduct women’s football matches in Germany.
This was because on 30 June 1955, the DFB had decided at its Association Congress to ban women’s football in the DFB. The ban was primarily justified on the grounds of alleged health consequences for women and the reputation of women, which suffered as a result of these movements, also because a woman could not fight. For example, the DFB described women’s football as “displaying the body” and spread the word, for example, that it would have a negative impact on women’s ability to give birth and on their soul and “female grace”.
“Women’s football would touch on fundamental issues and not do without rule changes (lighter ball, jostling, etc.). Football would no longer be a real martial art. From an organisational point of view, there is hardly a more cohesive sport than football – perhaps because there are no women in it…”
– DFB Youth Chairman Prof. Dr. Zimmermann, Kicker, 9 May 1955.
“We will never seriously consider this matter. It’s not a matter for the DFB […] If a dozen women get together in some cities and found a football club, that’s their business. But the question always remains open as to where these teams want to play. The shortage of sports fields in the larger cities already forces the clubs to shift their youth games mainly to Saturdays anyway.”
– DFB President Peco Bauwens, Neue Ruhr Zeitung 7 May 1955.
1955-1970: Women’s football in the FRG takes shape despite the ban
Although the clubs in the DFB adhered to their association’s ban on women’s football, it was not possible to prevent the establishment of separate regional women’s football associations. In addition, two women’s football associations were founded, namely the West German Women’s Football Association in 1956 by Willi Ruppert and the German Women’s Football Association in 1957 by Josef Floritz. Both associations had their own women’s football team as a national team and together they played about 220 international matches between 1956 and 1965. These were mainly against England, the Netherlands and Austria, whose women’s national team played at the same good level as the German team.
The very first of these international games was organized by the West German Women’s Football Association for September 23, 1956, and took place in the private stadium of the Mathias-Stinnes-Zeche in Essen. In front of 17,000 spectators*, the players, who all came from the Ruhr area and its immediate surroundings and some saw each other for the first time shortly before the game, won 2:1 against the Dutch national women’s team. The game was played according to FIFA rules, but with a shortened playing time.
In 1957 the counterpart to FIFA was founded in Nuremberg: the International Ladies Football Association. It brought together women’s football associations from England, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany and had its headquarters in Luxembourg.
In August 1957, businessman Willi Ruppert was dismissed as chairman due to irregularities in the treasury of the West German Ladies Football Association. Shortly afterwards he founded a new women’s football association, the Deutscher Deutscher Fußball-Bund, and together with Gert Bernarts organized a European Women’s Championship, in which ILFA members took part. However, only a fifth of the anticipated spectators* attended the games on November 2 and 3, 1957 in Berlin, hotel bills could not be paid. Arrest warrants were issued against the two responsible persons because of strong suspicion of fraud.
Although the women’s national team did not play well (they were thrown together again), the press was full of praise for the women’s skills – and full of criticism threatening the city of Berlin that no more major men’s football matches would be played in Berlin if women’s football were once again to be tolerated. The city of Frankfurt had already received this threat a year earlier, and like Frankfurt, Berlin now also defied the DFB. There were probably no actual consequences.
Women’s football in the German Democratic Republic
In the GDR, women played football since the end of the 1950s, but not in clubs. As in the Federal Republic of Germany, functionaries were sceptical or hostile when it came to the question of whether women could and should play football.
In 1968 a women’s team was founded in the club BSG Empor Dresden-Mitte, which after initial suspicion was granted the right to play. Further women’s teams were founded in the same year. So many that the football association of the GDR also launched a competition for women’s football teams in 1968 – but initially only regional competitions at district level.
It is not surprising that the beginnings of women’s football are in the GDR as they were in Saxony around 1920. More precisely in Dresden and Leipzig. In 1971 the German Football Association, the football association of the GDR, reacted. But not with a ban. Women’s football was included in the official game regulations as a popular sport and this gave the sport a powerful boost, which meant that the development of women’s football in the GDR was ahead of that in the FRG until the 1980s.