EMMA CLARKE Pioneering 19th Century British Black Female Footballer to get Blue Plaque at North London School, on the same site of her former club
On a chilly spring afternoon in 1895, a North a 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 other representing the South. Although there had been other women 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 the match which took place on Nightingale Lane, eventually saw the North beat the South 7 – 1. However, by a twist of fate, it was 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 the 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 darker 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 of her younger sister’s, Florence, was also a very talented footballer, and along with Emma 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 will be placed on Campsbourne School, 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. The date of 2nd December was chosen to install the Nubian Jak Heritage plaque as it marks the 148th anniversary since the birth of Emma Clarke.
When: 2nd December 2019
Where: Campsbourne School, Nightingale Lane, Hornsey, London, N8 7AF
NB: Before the plaque unveiling there will be a girl’s football tournament in Nightingale Lane, where competing schools will play for the inaugural Emma Clarke Gold Cup. Kick-off 10:00 am.
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Mayor of Haringey, Cllr Sheila Peacock said: “Cllr Sheila Peacock, Mayor of Haringey, said: “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.”
CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, Dr Jak Beula said: “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.”
Headmaster for Campsbourne School, Jonathan Smith said: “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.”
Black History Walks founder and plaque sponsor, Tony Warner said: “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.”
Historian and leading authority on Emma Clarke, Stuart Gibbs said: “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 now have a good understanding of Emma and side 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“