Updated: Jan 30
Emma Clarke was born in 1876 in Bootle, Lancashire in England. She and her sister are known to be the earliest known Black women footballers in Britain. She worked as a confectioner’s apprentice from the age of 15, and received her formative sporting education playing the game in her neighbourhood streets of Bootle.
Clarke normally played as an outfield player and she also played as goalkeeper. She made her debut in 1885 for the British Ladies’ Football Club.
Photographic evidence shows her lined up in the official team photo for the "South" team of the British Ladies in their inaugural exhibition match, a game watched by more than 10,000 people at Crouch End, London, a game that Clarke's "South" team lost 7–1.
A year later she played for Mrs Graham’s XI that toured Scotland. Interest in the tour was substantial and their matches regularly attracted crowds numbering in the thousands. As well as receiving payment for expenses, it is estimated that Clarke would have been paid approximately a shilling a week while on the tour.
In 1897, she made an appearance for a team described as "The New Woman and Ten of Her Lady Friends" against "Eleven Gentlemen". The ladies’ team were victorious 3–1, although the report at the time made it clear the feelings about the women's game at the time, describing the game as a grotesque, although conceding that "in the second half the ladies distinguished themselves". It is also thought that her sister played in this match too.
Clarke's career as a footballer continued until at least 1903.
In 2019, a blue heritage plaque commemorating Clarke was unveiled at Campsbourne School, Hornsey, which is the site of her team, the former Crouch End FC.