This April 17, 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of what is considered the first official women’s match, a friendly match won 4-0 by France against the Netherlands. A page of history was written that day, but it took years for the players to realize their pioneering role.
“That time was a dream. Heaven”, smiled Marie-Louise Butzig, who had a sweet retirement in the Ardennes before dying in 2017. 50 years ago, she kept the goals of the Tricolor during the first official match during the first official match of women’s football, against the Netherlands in Hazebrouck, a small town in the north of France. If they were not aware of it on April 17, 1971, Butzig and her teammates (Régine Pourveux, Marie-Bernadette Thomas, Nicole Mangas, Colette Guyard, Betty Goret, Marie-Christine Tschopp, Jocelyne Ratignier, Michèle Monier, Jocelyne Henry, Claudine Dié, Maryse Lesieur, Nadine Juillard, Marie-Claire Harant and Ghislaine Royer) can consider themselves to be the pioneers of international women’s football.
A little over a year earlier, the Federal Council of the French Football Federation (FFF) had officially recognized women’s football at a meeting on March 29, 1970. A first step concretizing the progress made since the time, not so distant, where it was still written in February 1965 in the magazine France Football: “Any organized attempt can seem it only doomed to failure. Once again, football is not addressed, in our opinion , only to the male sex. “
The appearance of women’s clubs all over France, especially in Alsace, had nevertheless forced the leaders to accept the idea of seeing girls playing the good game. Schwindratzheim was one of the first women’s clubs founded in the middle of the years 1960, and at the end of the 1970/71 season, France had 2,170 women among its 758,559 licensees. Despite their new “official” status, however, they were the target of much hostility. “At the time, we heard a lot of unpleasant remarks,” Marie-Louise Butzig recalled. “At my work, some people said that I had better go mend the socks rather than go play football. Things then changed a bit. I even saw a women’s football match attracting 1,100 spectators in Vrigne. -aux-Bois, while the boys never played in front of more than 150 people. “
Substitute during this first official meeting, Ghislaine Royer-Souef also remembers the derogatory remarks that she had to ignore at the time. “At the beginning, I accompanied my two older brothers when they went to play football on the field next to us”, she told in 2011 to FIFA.com. “I was picking up the balls. And then I finally started playing. Back then, it was hard to play football when you were a girl. You would hear a lot of jokes. So you were smart in letting people say it. . We were indulging our passion and that was the most important. “
The French national team had, in fact, already played several friendlies before this meeting against the Netherlands, including a duel against England in 1969 and two confrontations with Italy in 1969 and 1970. It is however the match of April 1971 which the FFF finally decided to accept – once the match had been played – as being the first official international women’s match.
However, it was not until the beginning of this century and the research carried out by FIFA to create the FIFA / Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking for this meeting to be officially designated as the first international women’s match in history. For the record, the second was played between Scotland and England in 1972, near Glasgow, almost a hundred years to the day after these two countries played the very first official men’s international match in 1872. He It is therefore not surprising that the French women who traveled by bus to Hazebrouck in 1971 had no idea of the historical importance of this meeting.
Retired postman in the Marne, Colette Guyard remembers. “I was barely 18 years old. The atmosphere in the coach was always very friendly. We sang slightly bawdy songs, we played belote, we told each other stories and on the way back, the bus stopped in the my parents’ farm and all the girls came down to eat. It was party time. “
From this match against the Netherlands, played in the cold and in front of 1,500 spectators – and which left very few traces in the media of the time – she remembers France’s large victory (4 -0), in a white jersey, and the hat-trick of Jocelyne Ratignier, player of Flacé-Macon, with a fourth goal scored by Marie-Claire Harant at the end of the match. “We weren’t very physical and our small builds were often a handicap,” she recalls. “Fortunately we compensated with the technique.”
After the match, their coach Pierre Geoffroy had reserved a surprise for Blue : he told them that this victory qualified them for the unofficial women’s world cup, contested in Mexico, where France would ultimately take fifth place. “He hadn’t told us anything before!”, Assures Guyard. “The return by coach was a bit hectic. We celebrated it. We were all a bit ‘tipsy’.”
The players of the time also keep the memory of having had the opportunity to sing the national anthem. “From the first notes of the Marseillaise, tears come “, confessed Butzig.” This is the highest level and it is an honor to represent your country. It is a privilege to be aware of and take advantage of. You don’t always notice it right away, but it’s a great chance to be able to experience it all. An international match is above everything. “
On the bench of France, Pierre Geoffroy marked the history of French women’s football. Daily journalist L’Union, he was also correspondent for The team and France Football, which gave her the opportunity to promote women’s football. Supported by his deputy Louis Petitot, Pierre Geoffroy was the driving force behind the renaissance of women’s football in France. By a small advertisement, he recruited enough girls to set up a team under the colors of the Stade de Reims. “He deserves a statue,” said Marie-Louise Butzig without hesitation. “He was the one who brought women’s football back to life in France. He was a very, very great man and I will remember him forever.”
Michèle Wolf was the great lady of the 1970s: French international (35 caps), she was deprived of this match against the Netherlands and the Mexican competition because the boss of the grocery store where she was a saleswoman had not wanted free her. She remembers Geoffroy with tenderness … and exhaustion. “Mr. Geoffroy knew how to steer his boat, and it has never taken on water,” she explains. “He knew how to find the right words. In the field, he made us work according to our qualities. He really made us work, made us climb sand pits. We were completely exhausted when we returned.”
With the Stade de Reims, which then formed the bulk of the France team, Geoffroy carried women’s football around the world. “All our vacations were devoted to football,” recalls Ghislaine Royer-Souef, whom fate has pushed well beyond the balls exchanged with her brothers. “This sport has given us an incredible openness to the world. In 1971, we played at the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City in front of 60,000 people. We also toured Taiwan (1978), the United States and Canada (1970 ), in the West Indies (1974) and even in Indonesia (1984). Moreover, Americans discovered football thanks to us, when we toured there with the Stade de Reims and AS Roma. “
At that time, it was not always easy to devote a lot of time to football, a practice far from being anchored in mores for women. “For the August tour, I took all my time off,” said Marie-Louise Butzig. “When I had to leave again in September and October, I went to my boss to ask him for unpaid leave. I didn’t want to lose my job. He was very good and told me to leave without worry, that my work would be waiting for me when I get back. “
Fifty years later, although much remains to be done, the situation for girls has greatly changed. The France team has become a high-level nation. Little by little, the fight of many women, but also of men, led the Blue to the upper echelons of women’s football.
The “pioneers”, they remained passionate and continue to vibrate for the round ball. “Every time a women’s match is broadcast, I watch,” said Marie-Louise Butzig. “Generally speaking, it has progressed well. The girls can now train more and fortunately are starting to earn some money. Now they should be a little more highlighted by the media and that they have more recognition. Women’s football is a little more aesthetic. And then the girls make less films. When they are on the ground, it is because they are really injured! “
Sometimes present in the stands of the Auguste Delaune stadium in Reims to see the men’s team, Ghislaine Royer-Souef has not lost the footballing fiber either. “I have always liked this sport and of course I continue to follow the news of football. With the girls of that time, we continue to correspond. We see each other sometimes and we quickly go back to the ‘you remember that match … ‘”
However, five decades after the historic victory against the Dutch, Royer-Souef modestly rejects the symbolic role that she played with her teammates for the women who have succeeded them. “We weren’t really pioneers,” she insists. “We just laid the foundation. And then the floors were built one after the other.”