Women’s Right to Vote and Rugby League

With today (February 6) marking 100 years since women were granted the right to vote in the UK, totalrl.com is looking back to February 2013, when a Rugby League World article highlighted a little known link between the Suffragette Movement and our game.

One of the leading figures of the Suffragette Movement has given her name to a trophy played for each time the England Women’s Student side play their Armed Forces counterparts – the last occasion being as part of the 2016 Associations Cup.

The article, which can be read in full below, previews the 2013 meeting.


WHEN EMMELINE Pankhurst led the Suffragette Movement that helped British women win the right to vote, her pioneering campaigns would eventually result in many other previously closed doors being opened up.

Two such sectors were the military and universities, so when women from both these areas started to play a regular Rugby League match against each other it was only fitting that the trophy presented to the winners was named after the woman who inspired such fundamental changes to our society.

Since Autumn 2008 the England Students Women side have annually faced their counterparts from the Combined Services team comprised of players from the British Army, Navy and the RAF.

In each game so far the Combined Services have come out on top, but thanks to the hard work by the Students’ head coach Mark Brennan, hopes are high that his side can finally get his hands on the trophy when the sides meet again in October.

“We may have lost the last one 18-8 but it was a very close game,” said Mark, who has been in his role with the Students for the last two years.

“In my first year it was a lot closer than it had been but still not as close as it was this time.

“It was a freezing cold day and we arrived late because of traffic so that wasn’t the best preparation but we still played out a closely contested first half. The Combined Services only led 8-4 at half time and had we executed some of our own chances better we could have easily scored a couple more tries before the break.

“We’d kept them under wraps for a lot of the opening 40 minutes and controlled the game very well, but they came out brightly in the second half and scored a couple of quick tries.

“Even after that it as a very even game and we did start playing our way back into it but it just proved a little bit too late.

“After the first few games there was some talk of scrapping it altogether as the Combined Services were winning it annually by 40 or 50 points, so seeing it become so close in the last couple of years is a massive positive for us.

“I came in pretty late in my first year and our training sessions were in Derby for two hours at a time. It wasn’t great because some people were travelling for four hours to train for two. But last year we had a better training programme in place. We hosted 10 full training days at Cronton Sixth Form College in Widnes.

“We’d start at 10 in the morning and train until 12 before all sitting down and having lunch together. We’d then train again in the afternoon. It was actually fewer sessions than we’d had before but they were for longer and as a group we also had more video review sessions, more individual player reviews, we got out to watch more games and we created action plans for the players.

“That all helped in bringing us closer to the win in October and we’ll be keeping a similar schedule this year as well as looking to change a few things as well.

“We’ll continue with the training days but we’re also going to consult some of the senior players to see what they think we can do differently because they are the ones who have to do it.

“Ideally I’d also like to do a few weekend camps as well as the day sessions but that will come down to funding. The Students have to fund raise and get the money themselves to go on tour, get the kit – everything like that – but sessions over a Saturday and Sunday would take them out of their comfort zones a little bit and that could really help give us a chance to finally get a win against the Combined Services and get our hands on the Pankhurst Cup.”

It is not just in England where the Students will spend time gearing up for the annual one-off game.

“Last year we had a five-day tour in France and are going out there again in May,” added Mark

“We held a performance camp and played a couple of games out there which definitely helped to prepare us for last year’s game and I’m sure it will be beneficial again this year.

“Going there on a coach wasn’t ideal but it meant the players were all spending a lot of time together and it meant we could make them comfortable with the uncomfortable.

“Not many of them had spent over 24 hours on a coach before, or had been away for long or even out the country at all so there was a lot for them to deal with psychologically. They got a lot of personal benefits out of it as well as team benefits.

“Just before we go back to France again we will play a game against the Great Britain teachers, who we play every year. Then after we return we’ll have a bit of a summer break in June. It will pick it up again with more training days in September and another game against the Teachers before the Pankhurst Cup game itself.”

The game is hosted by each side on an alternate basis, and following 2012’s encounter at RAF Cranwell, this year the game will be put on by the Students and Mark is sure that is something they will be able to use to their own advantage.

“Travelling to Lincoln and playing on an RAF base in the middle of nowhere with a lot of military bods around but not many watching, wasn’t the easiest for us,” he added.

“It’s looking like it will be on the third week in October and we’re hoping to host it at a proper rugby stadium this year. There has been talk that we could maybe have it at Wakefield or somewhere else in Yorkshire.

“By hosting it, it will be a more familiar setting for us and we’ll have a few more home comforts, which will be good for us.

“This cup started up five years ago because the Students needed someone to play and the military were looking for someone as well to add to their Army v Navy v RAF games.

“It’s become an annual event now but the sooner we win it the better.”