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The story of Victorian black female footballer, Emma Clarke, only came to light in 2017. Why are black female narratives routinely missing from mainstream history? And in unearthing Emma’s story now, what can we learn about black excellence in 21st century Britain?
To celebrate Black History Month 2018, we gather a stellar panel of black cultural commentators in broadcaster and author Emma Dabiri, Grenfell campaigner and footballer Eartha Pond, and Gal-Dem deputy editor Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff. Actor Tanya Loretta Dee brings Emma Clarke’s story to life with a live performance from Hollie McNish and Sabrina Mahfouz’s hit play ‘Offside’.
Emma’s status as a professional footballer, in one of Britain’s earliest women’s football matches in 1895 attended by thousands of paying spectators, is hugely significant. That she travelled the country, accompanied by widespread media coverage, demonstrates the profile she would have enjoyed in the 1890s. But while her male contemporaries are championed as global icons with statues, TV dramas and fame, Emma’s life slipped into obscurity.
This unique event, co-curated by leadership consultant and activist Michelle Moore and sports writer and campaigner Anna Kessel MBE, 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.
Emma Clarke, a brief biography
Emma Clarke was born in Liverpool in 1876. A confectioner’s apprentice, she likely grew up playing football on the streets of Bootle. Aged just 19, Emma made her professional debut for the British Ladies team in 1895, in London’s Crouch End, in front of a crowd of 11,000 in a match covered by the mainstream media. Emma also had two sisters, and it is believed that they joined her on Mrs Graham’s XI tour of Scotland the following year. In the 1890’s interest in women playing football was high and thousands of spectators attended matches, prompting widespread press coverage. Sadly, there are no known interviews with Emma, but the coming to light of her existence – through the work of historian Stuart Gibbs - is a big moment for the game.