The origins of Brighton & Hove Albion Women can be traced back to the Brighton GPO team of the 1960s. We were delighted to welcome members of the original team to Crawley last Sunday afternoon as our very special guests, including Eileen Bourne, who turned out as left-back until finally hanging up her boots aged 41…
Eileen, when were the Brighton GPO team formed?
In 1966 following the success of England winning the World Cup. The victory sparked a lot of interest in football among women and girls, and the local Brighton GPO [General Post Office] had a social club, where the idea of forming a women’s team was suggested. It soon came to fruition and was originally made up of telephonists, who would play in various charity matches. My first match was as a 17-year-old and I remember playing against a team of over-50s postmen.
Things then became more serious, right?
Teams began to form within various companies and although women’s football was banned by The FA at the time, we had, by the early 1970s, enough teams and players to form the Sussex Martlet League. We couldn’t play on FA pitches or use FA referees. Once our league was up and running, it went from strength to strength and later expanded to two divisions.
Our younger readers will find it difficult to believe that there was such prejudice about at the time…
Football-wise, it went from the top down. There was simply no provision for girls to play football. At primary school, I was allowed to play in the boys’ playground, but when my headteacher asked the education authority if I could play in the school team, they said no – but I could go along and watch! When we started the GPO team, some men would laugh, but others were very supportive. Even at work, I was doing exactly the same job as the men but there was a different pay scale for women. People wouldn’t believe it these days but that’s how it was.
When was the team’s most successful period?
In 1979/80 we won the Sussex Martlet League title, the League Cup and the Division One Cup. We’d changed our name by then to C&C Sports, who sponsored our kit, and we went on to join the Home Counties League, which was a stronger league. Home games were played at Southwick FC and while it involved more travelling and more commitment, we won promotion from Division Two after a couple of seasons. We played in that league until The FA took over women’s football. A proper pyramid structure was then formed and we played in the new South East Counties Women’s League.
C&C Sports became affiliated to Brighton & Hove Albion in 1990 and went on to compete as Brighton & Hove Albion in the new Women's National League Division One South. Did things become more professional?
We always prided ourselves on our professionalism, from the first day we were formed, and I didn’t even go out on a Saturday night if we had a game the following day. We’d always worked hard to attract sponsors, even having Virgin Atlantic on our shirts at one point after knocking on their office doors in Crawley. Being part of the Albion did give us the opportunity to play at the Goldstone Ground, against Milton Keynes, in which I put my boots back on for one game only. We won 8-2.
How proud does it feel to be a founding member of the club that we see today?
I’ve been to the training ground, I’ve seen the team in the WSL, and it makes me immensely proud to know we were the forerunners. I’m not in the least bit jealous, I’m just very happy for the players of today, being professionals, something I could only dream of, and for the opportunities now available to young girls and women to play football. Now that the threat of COVID is subsiding, I’m looking forward to returning to the Amex as a season-ticket holder for the men’s team next season. I’m sure there are other things in the world still to discover, but I just love football and I love the Albion!
* Members of the Brighton GPO squad who were the club's special guests on Sunday and who visited the training ground at Lancing: June Jaycocks, Eileen Bourne, Julie Hemsley, Chris Wickham, Allyson Penn, Janet Gilbert, Lesley Vidler, Anne West, Jo Davis, Yvonne Gale, Karen Peacock, Joanne Gale, Julia Brunton, Angela Banks, Jan Francis, Mary Hobden, Marian Bunker, Mick Gale.