Meet Beverly Ranger, forgotten superstar of the women’s game

With the scoreline level, Bonner SC’s Beverly Ranger received the ball and maneuvered her way around five SV Bergisch Gladbach defenders, gliding with ease as the ball glued to her feet. The 22-year-old then did the same with the goalkeeper and tapped into the empty net to score a goal so impressive that it earned her ARD Sportchau’s Goal of the Month award for April 1975.

The Jamaican star became the first Black woman, and only the second woman ever, to win the prestigious prize for the best goal in Germany that was routinely dominated by male Bundesliga players. The wide media recognition earned her a sponsorship from sportswear giant, Puma, and she was even paid under a club contract. Given nicknames like “The female Pele,” Ranger achieved what seemed unattainable at the time, and it would take much of the next half-century for the rest of the women’s game to catch up. She was a true pioneer, yet her name has not carried through the generations.

“I knew nothing about her and honestly I’m shocked that I had never heard about her from at least anyone in the United States,” Cheyna Matthews, a striker in the Jamaica squad at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, told ESPN.

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When Ranger was born in Kingston in 1953, playing competitive football was unimaginable for women in many countries around the world, and Germany was no exception. “The attractiveness of women, their bodies, and souls will suffer irreparable damage and the public display of their bodies will offend morality and decency,” the German football federation (DFB) had claimed in 1955 when it blocked the formation of a national women’s league. That ban was finally lifted in 1970, a year before the English Football Association did the same.

As a teenager, Ranger moved from the Jamaican capital to London as a part of the major post-war migrants from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom that later came to be dubbed the “Windrush generation.” As a natural sports lover, seeing boys play football after school sparked Ranger’s curiosity. “I went up and I asked if I could join and, luckily, they said yes, and so it started from there in the park,” she tells ESPN.

Ranger was spotted playing by a journalist, who introduced her to an organized women’s team, Amersham Angels. Her performances there paved the way for her move to West Germany with SV Bubach-Calmesweiler at the age of just 20 years old. After just one season at the small club in the far south-west of the country she moved to the capital, Bonn, where she signed for Bonner SC just after the club had competed in the first-ever German Women’s Championship.

Despite moving to a second new country in the space of just a few years, with a new language to learn, Ranger made it her mission to settle in her new environment.

“I’d be very honest, I didn’t see any Black [women’s players], so that was a heavy load and I didn’t want to disappoint,” says Rangers, who turned 70 earlier this year. “I guess looking forward, you could say the Serena Williams, the Venus Williams of tennis, you wanted to set a stage for someone that looked like me for wanting to pursue sports. So that was always a motivation.”

This motivation led her to not only winning the Goal of the Month award but also multiple championships in West Germany as well as nationwide recognition.

The Puma sponsorship was an added bonus, and the result of the profile Ranger had achieved in 1970s West Germany.

When asked if the Goal of the Month award led to her earning the endorsement from one of Europe’s biggest sportswear companies, she says: “I think it did. And along with that, winning the German championship and also seeing the popularity, how the media gravitated towards me. I was pretty much the image of women’s football, so I think that had a lot to do with being offered the contract at that time.”

The crowds from Ranger’s games started small, with an attendance of 50 spectators considered an achievement in the early days f the women’s championship. But the numbers grew, and wherever Bonner played, more and more people would show up.

“I would say that was something magnificent to see that developed from just a handful of spectators to now we’re in the thousands of spectators,” Ranger said.

For her former teammate and captain at Bonner SC, Monika Lahrmann, it became clear early on that Ranger was destined for big things after she immediately made her presence felt both in the squad and on the pitch. “Beverly became a star quite quickly, not just because she was lethal in front of the goal, but also because of the colour of her skin,” Lahrmann, who played under her maiden name of Badorf, tells ESPN. “She was fast, strong in dribbling and with headers and she scored many goals.

“Sometimes she would fight with our forward, Charlotte Nuesser, though, they were kind of rivals. But both of them also scored the goals 1975 that won us the 1975 German Championship against Bayern Munich.”

While the recognition was increasing, the biases were ever-present within the headlines, both towards Beverly’s background and the success coming from a women’s team.

“We accepted nicknames such as ‘The Black Pearl’ for Beverly, the same way we accepted headlines like ‘Legs and boobs won for Bonn,'” says Lahrmann. “Back then the media used such outrageous insults often, but we just focused on our sports and did this with happiness and dedication to our training.”

Fast-forward almost 50 years and, in the headlines at least, it’s a different story when it comes to the media coverage of women’s football as the game continues to make huge strides. Attendance records at matches in domestic leagues, European competition and at international level are being continually broken, while FIFA surpassed it’s target of 1.5 million tickets sold for the 2023 Women’s World Cup during the first week of the tournament. Female players are becoming increasingly celebrated for their achievements, which is essential for representation.

“I think knowing about [Beverly] at a young age would’ve been so awesome for me, because growing up I only really had [former U.S. international] Brianna Scurry as a Black soccer player that I looked up to, but she’s a goalkeeper of course,” says Matthews, who played in Jamaica’s 1-0 win over Panama on Saturday. “So it was still so long before I was able to see a Black woman on the field, [like] scoring goals, that kind of thing,”

The Reggae Girlz, competing at only their second-ever Women’s World Cup, are one of 32 teams that qualified for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, the first to have as many sides as the men’s equivalent.

“How far we’ve come, you cannot put it into words,” says Ranger. “If a few years ago someone had said to me that this is where women’s soccer would be right now, I would say, ‘No way.’ It’s still progressing, and the women now are playing and they’re showing the world that they’re on the same level as the professional men.”

Despite moving to England and Germany, and finally settling in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ranger takes an immense amount of pride in her Jamaican roots. “My siblings are in England, but my heart is in Jamaica because it’s a deep pride. When I saw [Jamaica] qualify for the World Cup, it’s a joy overflowed.”

But there is still plenty to fight for; The Reggae Girlz recently hit out to the Jamaican Football Federation for their lack of support, and Ranger agreed with their efforts. “No other Caribbean nation has accomplished what they have and they’re going towards the second World Cup, support these girls,” she says.

Jamaica are one of several national team squads who have been fighting for more recognition from their own federations and the wider world; recognizing the voices of women speaking out for equality in sport, for equal treatment, equal pay, and recognition for the trailblazers like Ranger who set the precedent for the women that are stepping on to the pitch today.

“I think it goes without saying how much support matters at this point, and the more people are speaking up against these matters, especially prolific people like Beverly, I think the better off that we’ll be,” says Matthews. “I’m just hoping that for the future generations, there’s more money involved, more organization, a better overall environment in camps. Honestly, I just hope that more and more female footballers are inspired to take on the game and take it seriously and see where it could take you.”

While Beverly Ranger hung up her boots in the late 1970s, her career is a reminder of the pioneers who had the courage to play despite the lack of support around them. Her name deserves to be known around the world for her tremendous efforts in women’s football, in an era when it was still actively being prevented from taking place.

“I have to say that I had a wonderful time,” she says. “The German federation, maybe they didn’t acknowledge me as they probably should have, but I still look back and say I had a great time there. All I can say is I am deeply honored that I was part of it to start the evolution.”

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