Celebrating Emma Clarke – Britain’s First Female Footballer of Colour

Emma Clarke poses alongside other players from Mrs Graham's XI in 1895.
Emma Clarke poses alongside other players from Mrs Graham's XI in 1895. [Credit: Public Domain]

Throughout the month of October, Her Football Hub celebrates Black History Month. The importance of this month-long observance is to put a spotlight on black identity. Here, we bring to you a series of articles that highlight the scope of black history through the lens of women’s football.

One of the biggest talking points to come out of this unpredictable year has undoubtedly been the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. It has rightfully woken up the world. Now, a spotlight shines on the discrimination, systemic racism, prejudice, injustice and police brutality meted against Black people.

As we observe Black History Month, it is important to make mention of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and its significance and impact in society. In the United States, where Black History Month is celebrated in February, the 2020 theme was ‘African-American and the vote‘. This is particularly relevant as we approach the upcoming US elections.

A pioneer of women’s football

In celebrating Black History Month, a significant name recently revealed in the history of women’s football comes to mind: Emma Clarke.

Known as the first player of colour, Clarke was born in 1876 in Liverpool. She became a pioneer and a point of reference in tracing back the history of the women’s game, in particular with regards to players of colour.

Clarke played as a right winger and was sometimes in front of goal as a keeper. She played for the British Ladies, which was the first female association club founded in 1894. It was during the following year that the team played its first public match.

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Perceived as just a “men’s game”, Clarke became the face, an identity for black footballers. She also represented the hardships of discrimination in the sport while displaying her talent, opportunity, pride and belonging. She paved the way for other black footballers and I’m glad that she is being celebrated today and that her name is being etched in history books.

Acknowledging the past to shape the present

The history of women’s football is not complete without mentioning Clarke. Representation, diversity and equality matter. This is what black people struggle for even within sports. It is therefore imperative that I celebrate some of the great women of colour making strides and carrying the baton handed over by the likes of Clarke.

First is the Senegalese-born FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura. In 2016, she became the first female and African SG appointed. One of her strongest beliefs is that women should never underestimate themselves.

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Former FA board director Heather Rabbatts is also an inspiring woman of colour within the sport. During her tenure on the board, she was the only woman and representative of colour. She used her platform to encouraged women’s leadership.

Hope Powell is another leader worth mentioning. The Brighton and Hove Albion manager and former England national team manager has seen the sport grow from all angles. “All I ever wanted was to play the game and fight for the cause of women’s football,” Powell told Sussex Life.

Finally, retired footballer Eniola Aluko is one to celebrate. The former Juventus and England player became the first British-African to reach 100 caps for England. She was also famously a whistleblower against racial discrimination within the English team. Now, she resides as the director of football at Aston Villa WFC.

Celebrating representation

The story of Emma Clarke teaches us that it is necessary to document the journey of a black footballer. Clarke’s footballing tale is a demonstration of success, power and inspiration. It’s of overcoming the many challenges black women face within their career.

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Young black girls who aspire to become footballers and administrators of the game need to know that they have women they can look up to. This can motivate them into writing their own piece of history.

Black History Month raises awareness about black people and their contributions in society. The month-long event exposes the gifts and talents of hidden figures, just like Clarke. It’s a celebration of how far they have come; their achievements; and, within women’s football, their significance.

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