Developing Contemporary Collections in Museums and Archives: the unofficial Women’s World Cup Mexico 1971
Leah Caleb’s flight tickets to Mexico ‘71. The first time Leah had flown. She and Chris had travelled to Italy earlier that year to play in a tournament by train.
How can museums use a contemporary collections policy to add to established archival sources? jjheritage was reminded of this recently when English footballers Leah Caleb and Christine Lockwood came to talk to us and the National Football Museum Hidden Histories of Women’s Football project lead Belinda Monkhouse, about playing in the unofficial women’s world cup in Mexico in 1971. Leah was just thireen and a half when she got on the plane to Mexico, via a stopover in New York, and Christine was fifteen years of age. They were allowed to travel because the manager of the Chiltern Ladies Football Club Harry Batt, and his wife June, had visited their respective parents and assured them that the players would be well looked after. Nevertheless, this would be the first time that both girls would fly on a plane, let alone travel to South America.
A month or so before the trip to Mexico, both Leah and Chris had travelled to Sicily to play in an international tournament, the organization of which led by Martini and Rosso executive Mr Paterno. Importantly, although FIFA, the world governing body of football had taken control of women’s football in 1969 as a direct result of businessmen like Paterno promoting women’s access, including in professional leagues in Italy and a planned first unofficial Women’s World Cup in 1970 in the country, FIFA had no aspirations for a women’s world cup.
Harry Batt, Chiltern Ladies FC manager & promoter of women’s football.
This raises a whole agenda around how and why there were connections between Italy and Mexico, while FIFA, the world governing body for football would not organize an official women’s world cup until 1991 in China. Business historians often ask themselves, do entrepreneurial people respond to opportunities or do they make their own opportunities?
Very little has been written about how entrepreneurs have imaged and defined women’s sport as a commercial activity. It perhaps made sense that a company who targeted women with their aperitif should sponsor women’s football, after all, the logo of Martini and Rosso was a ball and bar design. It was also clear that there were connections between the Italian businessmen interested in organising women’s football’s professional leagues and world cup competitions that Martini and Rosso sponsored the Cup in Mexico. This provided an important entrepreneurial backing, evident in the scale of the undertaking in both Italy and South America.
Leah and Chris both have this players medal from Mexico ‘71.
(Unofficial) Women’s World Cup Products, Promotion and Profits
So what did the Mexican organisers learn from Italy, and from hosting the recent men’s FIFA World Cup in 1970? Firstly, they defined the product, with the mascot Xochitl, meaning flower, and stylized female players holding a football, and then diversified the methods of commodification, from attendance in the stadium to collectibles (pins, card figures, programmes and so forth). The opening game in Mexico was played in front of a crowd of 80,000 people. Sports products therefore included the player product, with crowds willing to pay to watch in large numbers. So there were clearly specialist spectator products and associated products for those who could not attend matches in person.
Secondly, sports entrepreneurs proved that women’s football could sustain a large tournament popularity amongst a paying public. Argentina, Denmark, England, France, Italy and Mexico sent representative teams, with England declaring themselves ‘Independents’ because neither the FA, nor the WFA would recognize their efforts. Effectively the England team was Chiltern Valley Ladie’s Football Club and a few additional squad players. The first games were played in front of 80,000 people and the final, in the Azteca stadium, hosted over 100,000 supporters, who saw Denmark win over the home team. Some historians have been restrictively defining entrepreneurs as ‘seeking a profit’ to date. However, entrepreneurship is not all about the profit motive, and women’s football promoters at the time might also be considered to be ‘soclal entrepreneurs’ who act as agents of change in the supply of sports products and who attempt to increase the output of the sports industry, improve the customer experience, or raise interest in sports products by such means as developing new markets or creating new products. Much to research here, then, in terms of refining our understanding.
The six national teams and their interpreters (in pink). Note the varied merchandise that the interpreters are holding.
Conclusion, the legacy of the unofficial ’71 World Cup
Legacy can be difficult to assess. Why? Because the sports product is 1. non-durable and time limited 2. it is often a complementary product bought alongside other experiences (travel, betting, catering, alcohol) and personalized by the consumer 3. merit goods have to be consumed and the outcomes of matches are unpredictable–that is precisely why sport is so exciting. However this can be useful as the greater the uncertainty, sometimes the larger the audience.
Although the business legacy of the unofficial women’s world cup in 1971 has largely been neglected, the psychic benefit and kudos to the players remains very strong, as we saw on 1 May 2018 when we interviewed Leah and Chris, who have remained good friends today. This includes personal kudos, such as publicity, local history and personal fame. Leah was on television five times in 1971 in Mexico and all the English players featured widely in the Mexican press. Two young men walked from the edge of Mexico City to the hotel to bring Leah flowers, as the youngest player in the team. Although the team was entirely amateur and proud to represent their country, the organization of the tournament was very professional, with each team assigned an interpreter and specialist training facilities. The team were in Mexico for a month and this enabled them to take in much more than the football, with tourism encouraged with specialist trips and Chris has a Mariachi record given to her from Nelly, the England team’s interpreter’s brother. Ruben Fuentes is considered a Mariachi maestro and still alive at 92. Chris still treasures the memento today. More cultural exchanges to explore here, as one of the Mexican team came over to Britain and played for Chiltern Valley for a while to improve her English, before returning home.
So contemporary collections can do many things to enhance existing archival holdings, including addressing assumptions about women’s sport making progress today and that entrepreneurs have neglected women’s sport. For museums, contemporary collections also allow recent history to be revisited, and encourages items held in the private domain to move into public exhibitions. Therefore, wider awareness of little known aspects of history can be evidenced in an engaging and entertaining way.