Emma Clarke [1871 - 1905]
On a chilly spring afternoon in 1895, a North London Park became the venue for a football match which would make British sporting history. The assembled teams were made up of women, one representing the North and another representing the South. Although there had been other matches played in the UK previously, this match attracted over 10,000 paying spectators coming to witness British Ladies FC in action.
The date was Saturday, 23 March 1895, and match which took place on Nightingale Lane, eventually saw the North beat the South 7 - 1.
However, by a twist of fate, it was a Southern-born player who would later become the most famous of the 22 players who took to the field that day. Her name was Emma Clarke, and by taking part in that match, she went on record as being the first named “black” female footballer in the UK.
Emma Jane Clarke was born in Plumstead on 2nd December 1871 to John and Caroline Clarke. Her mother, Caroline, was born in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) and was said to be the daughter of a relationship between a British national residing in southern part of the country during the middle of the 19th century, and a dark-skinned local.
It is not yet clear whether the latter was one of the African people who had resided in South Ceylon since the 15th century (and still there today), or whether it was one of the indigenous South Ceylonese people of the region. Caroline, however, was accepted as the daughter of Mr and Mrs Bogg (Emma’s British grandparents), and taken back to England, where she grew up in mid-19th century London.
She would later marry a certain John Clarke and bore him 10 children. Emma was the fifth child, seven of whom were girls. One her younger sisters, Florence, was also a very talented footballer, and along with Em
ma also played for British Ladies FC.
To commemorate, the pioneering footballer Emma Clarke, her sister, and all the entire British Ladies football team of 1895, a blue heritage plaque was placed on Campsbourne School, on Nightingale Lane on 2nd December 2019. The school is the site of the former Crouch End FC, the club where Emma and her sister Florence once played their football. Before the plaque unveiling there was a girl’s football tournament in Nightingale Lane, where competing schools played for the inaugural Emma Clarke Gold Cup. Kick off was 10:00am!
Finally, after 148 years ‘the dark, fleet-footed girl on the wing’ will receive permanent recognition for kicking off a legacy of black female footballers. As a ‘coloured’ woman on the sports field the many obstacles she overcame will be familiar to present day sisters in the struggle. Black History Walks founder and plaque sponsor, Tony Warner
It is an absolute honour to pay tribute to Emma Clarke, a true pioneer for BAME women in football, and for women across the world. We are thrilled to have this plaque here in Haringey, where Emma once played football. What a great message for the girls and young women of Haringey – I hope it inspires generations to come. Cllr Sheila Peacock, Mayor of Haringey
We are immensely proud and excited to be taking part in this event to celebrate the life of Emma Clarke and her achievements, and to be able to play our part in reminding everyone of the fascinating history that is weaved through the fabric of the community we serve. Headmaster for Campsbourne School, Jonathan Smith
Uncovering the story of Emma Clarke has been quite a journey, working with limited information there has been a few false steps along the way. But together with others in the field, we have now had a good understanding of Emma and said that she played for. Girls coming to the sport today can take inspiration from the fact that diversity has existed in women's football for almost as long as the women's game itself. Historian and leading authority on Emma Clarke, Stuart Gibbs.
Although it gives me great pleasure to honour Emma Clarke with a Nubian Jak Community Trust blue heritage plaque, the plaque is also tribute to her sister Florence Clarke, to other footballing pioneers like Carrie Boustead, and for all the pioneering women of the last century and this, who had to overcome a number of barriers just to enjoy playing the game they loved. CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, Dr Jak Beula
This Gold Cup is a legacy of a Blue Plaque installed by Nubian Jak in honour of Emma Clark and the British Ladies Football team of 1895. The football trophy for girls is done in Association with Nubian Jak and Campsbourne School. The school is the former site of Crouch End FC where Emma Clarke and her sister Florence once played their football.
Location: Campsbourne School, Nightingale Lane, London, N8 7AF