Lesley Lloyd’s afternoon started with a cheese and pickle sandwich and ended with a moment that would forever change football.

It was May 9, 1971. The Southampton women’s captain sat on the bank outside the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre with her teammates, munching on their packed lunches and counting down the minutes until they would challenge Scottish side Stewarton Thistle.  

Lloyd’s squad was one of two who had beaten out 69 other teams for a chance to hoist the Mitre Challenge Trophy. The FA had recently lifted a half-century ban on women’s football, and the brand-new tournament was about to reach its thrilling conclusion.

There were no plush coaches in sight. Lloyd, 23, arrived in a car with her husband, Graham. Some players didn’t drive, so they hitched a ride with someone who did. 

No showers were available, so, as usual, the whole team sported blue tracksuits to throw over their muddy kits until they could draw a well-earned post-match bath back home.

But that didn’t matter to Lloyd, now 73, who last week visited the venue for the first time since that ground-breaking day—and brought her 16-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, along to share in the memories. And boy, did they flood back.  

“I told her, ‘It was like our Wembley,’ Lloyd recalled. 

“It was our Wembley final. At the time we got there, we thought, ‘Oh gosh, the grass is very long.' 

“Some of us went for coffee, and some of us just sat on the banks until it was time to go and get changed.” 

Manager Norman Holloway gave a pre-game pep talk to the squad, which also included England international Sue Lopez, Southampton’s star player. Lloyd recalled: “She was tall, strong, and looked like a footballer. She could kick with both feet.”  

Outspoken goalkeeper Sue Buckett “used to stand there and shout”, and "nobody could get past" formidable centre-half Jill Long.  

Then there was the diminutive Pat Davies, 16, who stood at just five feet tall and who midfielder Lloyd remembers as “quite quiet” before adding, “we were all different.” 

But they were united on one crucial point. Holloway left the room, and the significance of the Cup began to sink in. 

“[He told us], ‘This is a game we want to win. We’ll be the first name on it," Lloyd recalled.

“We were talking between ourselves, saying, come on. We’ve got to do this.  

“We knew it was history. We knew this would be history.  

“But we didn’t know, I didn’t think it was going to be, that ladies would be playing 50 years later at Wembley, in the FA Cup.” 

It would take another half-century before the Lionesses would fill all 90,000 seats at the home of football, but for Lloyd and her teammates, the Crystal Palace crowd was more than enough to set adrenaline alight. 

She said: “You could hear them, you could hear people shouting and it just felt like a real occasion, because we had a stand full of people.  

“There were a lot of people there.” 

Hillingdon Times:

Lloyd might remember Davies as quiet off the pitch, but she let her performance do the talking on that fateful Sunday, netting two goals within 20 minutes before Thistle’s Rose Reilly clawed one back just before the break.  

Southampton’s dominant display continued in the second half, with Dot Cassell firing in a third early on. Then, with Thistle down 3-1, shy striker Davies completed her hat trick and clinched the cup for Southampton.  

Lloyd said: “I heard the final whistle and I thought, great, brilliant. 

“Winning, and being handed the trophy… we’d actually won something. 

“We’d won something that was, you know, it was the FA Cup final. 

“It was the first of its kind. That was the moment that stood out with me then, and it still stands out today, because it was the first.” 

Southampton would win eight out of the next 11 Cups—still good for the second most in the competition’s history.   

The game has changed immensely in 50 years, but some things, insisted Lloyd, have stayed consistent since that cloudy Sunday in ’71.   

She said: “Our competitiveness would be exactly the same.   

“We’d go out there and we’d try to win. I know people that have still got scars on their legs.”  

The grandmother-of-three has the squad photo hanging in one of her guest bedrooms—Lucy often asks her about it. The midfielder, who considered herself a spotlight-shy peacekeeper, sat on the end, letting more extroverted teammates hold their prize in the middle.  

But there’s a secret, she confessed, about that priceless picture.  

There was no big celebration. Lloyd and her teammates briefly chatted on the field. Then, they simply pulled on their blue tracksuits and went their separate ways. 

The official photograph was taken a week later in Hampshire, at AFC Totton’s ground.

Lloyd explained: “We couldn’t have it done on the day, because we were all too… we couldn’t go and comb our hair.  

“They wanted us to have white shirts. In the official photograph, if you look at our shirts, they’re all very white.” 

The real image, of a group of mud-covered women with messy hair who made history, might not be framed on anyone’s wall. 

But 50 years later, it lives on in the imaginations of girls and women dreaming of Wembley.