The Lost Lionesses: Creatively commemorating the forgotten Women’s World Cup team of 1971

Led by creative director Craig Stronach, the project saw fun-filled photoshoot, as well as custom caps and footballs being created in honour of the players.

9 November 2023

The recent Women’s World Cup and the 2022 Euros placed women’s football in the limelight like never before. Now, the women’s game is getting the attention and respect it deserves. But did you know that as recently as the 1970s, women’s football was banned in the UK? In the Women’s World Cup in Mexico in 1971, England saw its first ever team represent them at a major competition, and they played to crowds of over 90,000. But, upon their return to England, they were disbanded, women’s football remained banned and the team fell into obscurity.

The story of the 1971 team – or as they have now become more commonly known, The Lost Lionesses – is one that moved creative director at Till Dawn, Craig Stronach. As the tournament was ‘unofficial’, the team is yet to be officially recognised, and he wanted to seek out a way to “creatively think about alternative ways to congratulate and commemorate this team for being true pioneers of women’s football,” Craig says. The resulting project centred on designing caps – with “the pure drive to get [them] capped” – and creating a football for the family of the women’s coach, Harry Batt, then bring it all together with a photoshoot featuring the caps, the balls and players from the Lost Lionesses team.

GalleryCopyright © Till Dawn Agency / Fresh Base Productions, 2023

To complete the project, Craig collaborated with the designers Sophie Hird and Jon-Paul Wheatley. Sophie – whose practice centres on upcycling and repurposing sportswear – says getting involved in the project to make the caps was a “no brainer”, but it was also no easy task. “I had never made any caps prior to starting this project and soon found out they were going to be a challenge for me,” she says. Though after a few “dodgy samples”, the caps started to come together, predominantly made out of jerseys worn by Lionesses that had succeeded the 71 team, as a way to “to highlight and celebrate the female players this team had inspired”, including a Kelly Smith- and Beth Mead-inspired cap. Though to root the designs in their history, Sophie added silver tassels and silk linings, to replicate the caps that would have been used in the 1970s.

Jon-Paul Wheatley worked alongside Mitre, who collaborated on the project, to create a ball that honoured the Lionesses. The thinking behind the ball was to “bridge the gap between past and present”, says Jon, with the ball being constructed from repurposed Mitre footballs from various eras. As Sophie discovered, the process wasn’t straightforward and Jon carried out a complex process to see the ball design to fruition. “I crafted a prototype to ensure both the pattern and dimensions were accurate,” he says. “Following that, custom dies were manufactured for stamping out the panels from the recycled balls.”

GalleryCopyright © Till Dawn Agency / Fresh Base Productions, 2023

Tying all of the aspects of the Lost Lionesses project together was the shoot, led by photographer Will Douglas and styled by Charlotte Kennedy, who provided a colourful and playful wardrobe. Having previously met and photographed the Lost Lionesses, Will knew them to have “young souls” and an “infectious” energy only amplified when they were all together. This time round, Craig was keen to create a “stripped back” aesthetic – using a subtle England blue backdrop and soft lighting. Will says that, like many footballers, some of the Lionesses were not overly keen on the camera – but this was nothing a bit of 80s music couldn’t solve. The shoot was also an emotional one, as Will recalls: “There was a moment where one of the husbands was telling me how proud he was, and he couldn’t hold back his tears. Their love of the game and determination for women football to be seen as equal is inspiring.”

Everyone involved in the project only has positive reflections. For Sophie, everyone she’s spoken to about the project and therefore the story has been “touched” and equally shocked about women's football being banned. “I think in the grand scheme of football their story is still very unheard of,” she says. “It’s been so great to bring this up with friends and family in conversation.” For Jon-Paul, seeing England’s women make it to the World Cup final felt like a “full circle moment” for the project, and Will hopes that such work helps the game move forward, progress, and learn from the past. “Young girls starting the game in today’s world see England women selling out Wembley every home game, however, 50 years ago these women sacrificed playing football to help create these opportunities – something we should never forget,” ends Craig. “I hope this sparks further conversations with the governing bodies that we need to acknowledge our history and recognise who paved the way for our hugely successful Lionesses of today.”

Now, plans are in motion to keep the project going, with caps to be made for other unrecognised women’s teams including the 1970 World Cup and the 1969 Euros.

GalleryCopyright © Till Dawn Agency / Fresh Base Productions, 2023

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Copyright © Till Dawn Agency / Fresh Base Productions, 2023

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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