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How FA chiefs refuse to recognise Lionesses’ 1971 World Cup campaign – and why they punished stars when they returned

STEPPING out into the sweltering Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Carol Wilson felt the ground shake as 97,000 fans went wild at the arrival of the two football teams.

Aged just 19, she was the youngest player ever to captain an England team — and she was doing so with a broken foot.

Manager Harry Batt with the 1971 England squad that played in the Mexico Women's World Cup - but were shunned and punished by the Football Association

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Manager Harry Batt with the 1971 England squad that played in the Mexico Women’s World Cup – but were shunned and punished by the Football AssociationCredit: © New Black Films ltd / Mirrorpix
Former England captain Carol Wilson received a six-month suspension for taking part in the tournament

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Former England captain Carol Wilson received a six-month suspension for taking part in the tournamentCredit: Supplied
At the 1971 tournament Paula Raynor, above, became England’s youngest goal scorer when she netted against Argentina aged 15

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At the 1971 tournament Paula Raynor, above, became England’s youngest goal scorer when she netted against Argentina aged 15Credit: Alamy

Yet until now Carol’s heroics at the 1971 Women’s World Cup have been forgotten and the Football Association still won’t reward any of the side with a cap, the usual recognition for players who represent their country in an international match.

At the same tournament Paula Raynor became England’s youngest goal scorer when she netted against Argentina aged 15.

But their names are unlikely to appear in any pub quiz, as those records are very much unofficial.

In Mexico we weren’t interested in the politics, all we wanted to do was play football

Carol Wilson

And rather than being feted for representing England, the whole team which went to Mexico were BANNED from playing for between three and six months.

Their crime was to have dared to stand up to the sport’s male rulers, who didn’t want women to take part in the beautiful game.

But now, thanks to documentary film Copa 71, produced by tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, their dedication to women’s football is finally being properly celebrated.

Carol, 72, from Shipdham, Norfolk, tells The Sun: “I was elated to represent my country.

“In Mexico we weren’t interested in the politics, all we wanted to do was play football.

“I got injured against Argentina, but there was no way I was going to miss the game against Mexico.

‘Pretty girls’

“It was painful playing with a broken foot, but at times the adrenalin was so high I didn’t notice it. It was only when I came off when I went ‘Ouch’.”

Paula Raynor became England’s youngest goal scorer aged 15 in the 1971 Women’s World Cup

Women’s football was popular at the start of the 20th century, with fans filling stadiums. But in 1921 the game’s ruling body banned women from playing in affiliated grounds.

That restriction remained in place for another half a century.

At home it would only be a few friends and family watching us on the recreational pitches. We weren’t allowed in the stadiums in England

Paula Raynor

It meant that neither Carol nor Paula could join a school team and had to pursue their sporting passion on park pitches in front of “one man and his dog”.

Then some enterprising Mexican businessmen made plans which would change all that. They realised they could make good use of the stadiums built for the 1970 men’s World Cup in the country by holding a women’s competition the following summer.

Here, Luton bus conductor Harry Batt petitioned the Women’s FA, which had only been formed in 1969, to allow him to put together a team to take to the tournament.

But rather than helping, the association is said to have told female footballers they faced being black-listed if they did go to Mexico.

Paula says: “The WFA restricted Harry on which players he could take. I have heard that some players were warned off going to Mexico.”

But with the help of his wife June, Harry managed to convince drinks giant Martini & Rossi to sponsor the trip and found 14 women to go.

Both Paula, who ran out for Chiltern Valley Ladies, and Carol, an RAF fitness instructor, had played for England at an unofficial World Cup held in Italy the previous year.

Achievement ignored

That gave them some experience of playing in proper stadiums, and Paula recalls: “We played in Milan and in Juventus (Turin).

“At home it would only be a few friends and family watching us on the recreational pitches. We weren’t allowed in the stadiums in England.”

The team finished third in Italy but because the tournament had been organised by the breakaway Federation of Independent European Female Football, the men’s ruling body refused to recognise the achievement.

Harry’s team entered the 1971 World Cup as the British Independents to get around the FA’s rules, yet the team was listed as England by the tournament organisers and they wore the traditional all-white kit.

On their arrival in Mexico the players were greeted by camera flashes as they got off the plane, with crowds outside the airport and locals throwing presents at their bus.

Nearly 400 children watched their training session and the local Press wrote about England’s “pretty girls”.

But nothing could have prepared them for entering Mexico City’s towering Azteca Stadium for their first match against Argentina.

Paula says: “The first thing that hits you is the heat, then the noise, and then the size of the pitch. You think, ‘Oh my God’. It’s a very big pitch. It takes you by surprise, then, once the whistle goes, it blocks out.”

Until Paula watched the new documentary, she could not remember scoring her equaliser.

She says: “Because of how the WFA treated us, a lot of stuff was blocked because I didn’t talk about it.

“I knew I scored a goal but it was not until I watched the premiere of Copa 71 that I knew I headed it in.”

Carol broke her foot going for a 50-50 ball and England lost 4-1 to the South Americans.

The next match against the hosts Mexico proved to be even bigger.

 Carol says: “I remember standing in the tunnel for Mexico and it didn’t affect me until then — my legs turned to jelly.”

The 97,000-strong crowd is the biggest for an England women’s game, but sadly they lost 4-0. Yet despite the disappointment, Carol says she was not too downhearted.

She recalls: “I know all the girls had tried 110 per cent and to think we had come from six people and a dog on a Sunday, I thought at the time women’s football was going to be massive.”

Although they had been knocked out, England were invited to stay in Mexico until the tournament ended.

They were treated as celebrities, appearing in newspapers and magazines and opening shops.

The final, in which Denmark beat Mexico 3-0, had a crowd of 110,000, proving there certainly was an appetite for the women’s game.

My achievements were never announced at school and because we arrived back from Mexico a week after the school term had started I got into trouble with the headmistress

Paula Raynor

The tournament also showed that women could be just as hot-blooded about this physical sport as the men, because in the semi-final between Mexico and Italy play was stopped ten minutes early due to an on-field brawl. After the tournament was over, the joy for Harry’s team turned out to be short-lived.

There was no one to meet them at the airport back in England and only one journalist turned up to ask them about the tournament.

The WFA banned Harry from football for life, Carol received a six-month suspension and the rest of the players three months.

Carol’s treatment on her return from Mexico took away the joy from playing the game she adored.

The Lionesses of 1971 training in the familiar England strip - but the team's achievements were ignored by the FA

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The Lionesses of 1971 training in the familiar England strip – but the team’s achievements were ignored by the FACredit: Mirrorpix
England players training with coach Pat Dunn in Mexico

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England players training with coach Pat Dunn in MexicoCredit: Mirrorpix

When she attended an event at Newcastle United, the team she had supported since childhood, a compere ridiculed her on stage in front of her father.

And her newlywed husband told her to give up football.

Ticking off at school

Carol recalls: “He didn’t approve. We had just been married and he didn’t think women should play football anyway and he whinged about me having to go away.”

Paula, meanwhile, received a ticking off at school.

She says: “My achievements were never announced at school and because we arrived back from Mexico a week after the term had started I got into trouble with the headmistress.”

After leaving school she joined the RAF and kept playing until her first pregnancy at 25.

Without them, and many others, the women’s game would not be where it is today

FA spokesman, 2024

Today, the authorities are finally recognising these sporting pioneers.

Last year a blue plaque was unveiled in Luton to honour the team and its founders Harry and June Batt.

And the FA acknowledges that the players who went to Mexico changed the face of the game.

A spokesman told The Sun: “The talented and courageous women who travelled to Mexico in 1971 significantly contributed to the formation of the England women’s team in 1972 and without them, and many others, the women’s game would not be where it is today.”

But they still only issue caps to England’s women players who were given permission to play by the FA from November 1972 onwards.

Mother-of-three Paula, 67, from Southport, Merseyside, is pleased by how much has changed for women’s football in the past few years.

England’s Lionesses winning the Euros in 2022 and reaching the World Cup final last year has made modern players such as captain Leah Williamson household names.

Paula says: “The women’s game is so different now, it’s fantastic. The recent growth, since the Euros, it’s phenomenal.”

  • Copa 71 is in cinemas from March 8.
Carol and team mate Yvonne Bradley arrive home from Mexico in plaster

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Carol and team mate Yvonne Bradley arrive home from Mexico in plaster
Denmark's Inger Pedersen lifts the trophy in an echo of England's Bobby Moore in 1966

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Denmark’s Inger Pedersen lifts the trophy in an echo of England’s Bobby Moore in 1966Credit: TopFoto

CELEBRATE THESE COPA HEROINES

By Sandra Brobbey, Women’s Football Reporter

IT’S a travesty that Carol Wilson, Paula Raynor and their team-mates were treated so shabbily for daring to play in a tournament worthy of more recognition than it currently gets.

And it’s bizarre that those who chose to represent England at this unofficial women’s world cup come home to face bans and suspensions.

While there is much to do to help the sport continue to grow, the women’s game has thankfully come a long way since England went toe-to-toe with Mexico in the Azteca stadium.

On these shores a record crowd of more than 87,000 flocked to Wembley to watch the Lionesses win the Euros two years ago.

The success of the 1971 tournament helped pave the way for such moments and for the women’ game to become what it is today.

The efforts of Wilson, Raynor and all the women who competed in this contest should be more widely celebrated.

Hopefully the release of Copa 71 will lead to that.

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