Sheila Capstick, equal rights campaigner

Sheila Capstick
Sheila Capstick
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Sheila Capstick, who has died at 75, was for three decades a scourge of traditionalists among the Yorkshire working men’s club fraternity, for the dogged campaign she waged to secure equal rights for women. It was a crusade which brought her national attention and heaped ridicule on the much-parodied phenomenon of “the committee”.

The comedian Colin Crompton had already done his best, on TV shows like Granada’s Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, to reduce committees to figures of figures of fun, but not even he foresaw the farce that began in the West Riding in 1978.

It was in that year that Mrs Capstick arrived for a game of snooker. She was a regular player, but the all-male committee at Wakefield WMC had decided that women should no longer be allowed at the tables.

“A bloke came in and said he was going to have women stopped from playing snooker,” she recalled later.

“The next thing, a sign went up banning women from playing. I complained to the committee but nothing happened.”

With the support of her husband, Ken, who was to be was vice-chairman of the mineworkers’ union in Yorkshire during the bitter dispute of the 1980s, she rallied friends and began to picket outside the club.

Signatures were gathered and a petition presented to the committee. It was ignored.

The campaign, “A Woman’s Right to Cues,” escalated, and quickly broadened into a demand for equal rights for women in all working men’s clubs, and for full membership rights within the Club and Institute Union, to which all the WMCs were affiliated.

Mrs Capstick wrote to Cosmopolitan magazine, and the article caught the attention of such opinion-formers as the feminist author Germaine Greer, who sent a postcard in support.

The wider campaign was named ERICCA – Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action. Its members won the support of many of the professional snooker players who among the best-known sporting figures of their time.

Year after year, the campaigners picketed the CIU’s annual conference in Blackpool, where delegates from progressive clubs proposed resolutions supporting equal rights. Every year they were defeated.

It was not until April 2007, a generation after Mrs Capstick had chalked her cue at Wakefield, that the CIU relented. By that time, Wakefield City WMC had already welcomed women to the fold.

Mrs Capstick called the decision “justice at last, and not before time”. She had, she said, been vindicated.

Her husband recalled that the campaign had been “bigger than the snooker”.

“When I see women playing fantastic football, or rugby, or see Nicola Adams climbing into the boxing ring and winning Olympic gold medals, I think to myself, if people don’t know Sheila Capstick, it’s about time you did,” Ken said.

ERICCA was not Sheila’s only battle. Following the bruising strikes, she was active in the Women Against Pit Closures movement, which fought the wholesale dismantling of the industry in the early 1990s.

She is survived by Ken, children David, Graham and Julie, and five grandchildren.