Women's football first became popular on a large scale at the time of the First World War, when employment in heavy industry spurred the growth of the game, much as it had done for men fifty years earlier. The most succesful team of the era was Dick Kerrs Ladies of Preston, England, who made up most of the England team for the first Women's International (playing Scotland in 1920, and winning 22-0).
Despite being more popular than some men's football events (one match saw a 53,000 strong crowd), women's football in England suffered a blow in 1921 when The Football Association outlawed the playing of the game on Association members' pitches, on the grounds that the game (as played by women) was distasteful. This led to the formation of the English Ladies Football Association, and play moved to rugby grounds. The English Women's FA was formed in 1969 (as a result of the increased interest generated by the 1966 World Cup), and the FA's ban was finally lifted in 1971.
In the 1970s, Italy became the first country with professional women's football players, albeit on a part-time basis. The first full-time professional team was the American national squad, and in 1992, Japan was the first country to have a professional women's football league.
In 1937, Dick Kerrs played Edinburgh Ladies in "The Championship of Great Britain and the World", but there was no formal international tornament until 1982, when the first UEFA European Competition For Representative Women's Teams was launched. The finals, in 1984, were won by Sweden. In 1987, the first European Cup final was also won by Sweden.
The first Women's World Cup was held in China in 1991, and was won by the USA. The third Cup, held in the United States in 1999, drew worldwide television interest and a final in front of a 90,000-strong Los Angeles crowd, where the home team won 5-4 on penalty kicks. The image of American player Brandi Chastain celebrating the winning goal by stripping off her shirt (to reveal a modest sports bra) and waving it around, and finally sinking to her knees is perhaps the most famous image of this sport.