In Women’s World Cup Origin Story, Fact and Fiction Blur

Organized matches between women’s teams in France actually began in Paris in 1917, and a French women’s league was formed in 1919, according to the historian Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff, author of a history of French sport called “The Making of Les Bleus.” But in 1941, a year after France was overtaken by the Nazis, the collaborationist Vichy government banned women’s soccer under the pretext that “there was too great a risk” that the sport would make women “more masculine,” according to a study by a French research organization called Iris.

That stereotype persisted in France as late as 1965, according to an article on FIFA’s website in 2011, which pointed to an article in France Football magazine that declared, “in our opinion, football is only for men.”

But attitudes about women and sports began to shift in the late 1960s, a period of social upheaval and second-wave feminism. In 1970, the French soccer federation officially recognized the women’s game. That same year, said Ghislaine Royer-Souef, a goalkeeper and central defender, her French club team from Reims toured several American cities, playing matches against an Italian team.

“We were told we were the ones bringing women’s football to the U.S.,” Royer-Souef, 66, said through an interpreter. “I’m very proud of it.”

The coach of that Reims club, Pierre Geoffroy, also coached France’s national team. For the 1971 match against the Netherlands, players remembered training on sandy hills and taking long hikes through a forest.

A surviving poster from the match, now part of a touring World Cup exhibition, mentions that it was preparation for the “world championship.” Royer-Souef remembered Geoffroy telling the team “to play well because with a victory we would be able to go to Mexico.” France scored early, she said, and the team was able to relax.