The origins of women’s football to be explored in ITV drama Honeyballers

Following England’s sad exit from the Women’s World Cup, ITV looks to capitalise on the growing enthusiasm for the women’s game with a drama based on the real life formation of the first ever team

The World Cup dream of England’s women may be over but ITV is keeping the flame of the ladies’ game alive with a potential new drama commission about its origins, can reveal.


The network is developing a six-part drama from Midsomer Murders producer Bentley Productions called Honeyballers which tells the true story of Nettie Honeyball and Lady Florence Dixie who were the first women to establish a women’s football team in 1894.

The two women from very different backgrounds shared a friendship which crossed the social divisions. Nettie was from a working class, northern family whilst Lady Florence was a famous travel writer and war correspondent and had a privileged, aristocratic upbringing. Together they changed the world of sport forever and their influence is very much felt today.

Their story began when Honeyball placed an advert in the press and persuaded thirty young women to join the British Ladies Football Club.

She also recruited JW Julian, who played for Tottenham Hotspur, to coach the women and enlisted Lady Florence to be president of the club.

Lady Florence was the youngest daughter of the Marquis of Queensbury and a feminist who agreed to be involved on the condition that “the girls should enter into the spirit of the game with heart and soul.”

The first official match played by women took place in London on March 23rd 1895 between teams representing north and south London.

The Manchester Guardian reported on the event and wrote:  “Their costumes came in for a good deal of attention…. one or two added short skirts over their knicker-bockers… When the novelty has worn off, I do not think women’s football will attract the crowds.”

However, the idea of women playing the game met with strong opposition, including from the British Medical Journal which published an article saying: “We can in no way sanction the reckless exposure to violence, of organs which the common experience of women had led them in every way to protect.”

Despite this the game flourished and more fixtures were arranged.


An ITV spokeswoman confirmed that it was developing the drama but added that it was “early days”.