The journey to becoming Northern Ireland’s first ever goalscorer began with an innocuous advertisement put out by the Mayfair stitching factory.
Players wanted for women’s football team.
Despite the old building on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown employing hundreds during the final years of its heyday in the 1970s, uptake was never to be enough to field a team solely from those who spent their days on the factory floor.
As such, Louise Fleming (now Lawson), a worker in Irwin’s Bakery, had her interest piqued.
A relative of Vic Fleming, a star for Portadown who had trials with Newcastle and Dundee before a leg break put paid to hopes of a cross-Channel move, Louise knew her father had been a keen footballer before he died, but in her early twenties had no closer influence driving her towards the game.
In reality, it was nothing more than curiosity and a competitive streak that saw her answer the call.
On the pitch adjacent to the factory, she found enough like-minded souls to silence the many sceptics who even then still thought football was no game for women.
“As soon as we started, we all loved it,” Lawson, now 74, recalls. “We would have been playing two or three times a week.
“Nobody would have gone out on a Friday night or anything like that because we took it very seriously.
“Without a doubt, we were all very dedicated, every one of us that played.
“The men weren’t taking us seriously though, even those who worked in the Mayfair. Back then they wouldn’t have thought it wasn’t a women’s game.
“We proved them wrong. We wouldn’t have tolerated men saying that we didn’t play the game well or anything like that.
“We were plenty rough and tumble enough for it, we wouldn’t have been pulling out of tackles.
“We actually challenged them to a game a few times and they refused.”
A league was organised in 1971 and it was only two years later that what has come to be recognised as the first Northern Ireland women’s international was played — a cross border meeting with the Republic of Ireland staged at the ground of Bluebell United FC, a club where Brian Kerr once had a brief playing stint on the Naas Road in Dublin.
Managed by a 25-year-old cabaret singer named Carson Reid with Lawson’s Mayfair coach Alec James having a hand in selection, Lawson remembers the thrill of coming through a series of trials to become an international 49 years ago this week.
“It was a big achievement to play,” she says. “To leave Portadown and go and play in another country as such, that was an experience in itself.
“But you’d never have dreamed that you’d be playing football for Northern Ireland, especially when we played against the likes of England (later that year) and that there.”
Played at the height of the Troubles, Lawson doesn’t remember the political tensions of the time having any impact on the game.
“To me football was a great leveller,” she says. “Some of the places we played, what we went through to play, it would have brought you down a peg or two.
“If you were playing then it was because you loved football and the girls on the opposition would have had to love it just as much.
“And if you loved football that much, all you thought about was trying to win the match.”
While the game was not wholly ignored by the media — indeed the BBC sent Gloria Hunniford to the team’s training in the build-up to the game — facts today are somewhat sparse.
Suffice to say, Northern Ireland were well beaten with Lawson’s goal a consolation in a 4-1 defeat.
Still, it remains a slice of history that will be brought into sharper focus this month when her successors in the green jersey take centre stage at the European Championships.
While Lawson’s football career was short — she would actually win more international caps in hockey than football and these days she’ll sate that competitive streak at Portadown Bowling Club — she has maintained her passion for the sport and is looking forward to watching Rachel Furness, Simone Magill et al. at their first major championship.
Those games against Norway, Austria and England at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium will all feel a far cry from that first international played in the shadow of the Red Cow pub.
“It’s all changed now,” she agrees. “Then, every penny you had to raise yourself in order to get things. If not for the Mayfair factory, we wouldn’t even have had strips or anything like that let alone the minibus to bring you to the matches.
“The game itself has changed a lot too. It’s more technical and more tactical.
“Then you just had the odd bit of coaching but it would mostly just be three-mile runs two or three nights a week.
“You were put on the pitch and chased the ball as such.
“Now the standard is excellent, it really is worth watching.
“I think it will encourage younger ones here to play the game when they can see how far Northern Ireland have got. The way it’s highlighted now on TV I think is absolutely brilliant.
“They’ll have a tough time but it’ll be a great experience. The England team I think is way above everybody else, and it makes it ten times harder when you’ve a small population like us, but it’s great that they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved.”
The next time a Northern Ireland player hits the back of the net, it will almost certainly instantly become the side’s most famous goal.
The record book will always show that the first was scored by a Louise Fleming.