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Soccer Stadium

BELLA METCALF

Blyth Spartans Ladies' team captain

 

All great teams - sports or otherwise - are led by inspirational captains and Isabella "Bella" Metcalf (1892-58) can claim that honour when we talk about Blyth Spartans Ladies.

 

The steely left-half played every match for the Spartans from their inception in August 1917 to their demise in August 1918. During these 12 incredible months, the team notched 30 competitive matches, never lost, played the first match outside the area (against Carlisle Munition Girls) and won the 'Alfred Wood' trophy (Munitionettes' Cup), seeing off 25 other teams from throughout the region.

 

Typically, like her heroic Spartans comrades, Bella Metcalf rarely spoke about her on-field exploits in later years, although in 1948, while living in Union Street, Blyth, she told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle: "We made munitions during the day and devoted our spare time to football. We had a large following."

Blyth-born, and christened Lizzie Isabella, she was known in her youth as Lizzie.

 

As a young woman, after leaving school (almost certainly aged 14), Bella became a fish gutter and worked along the North East coast from Blyth to Whitby, wherever the herring boats came in.

 

Around the start of WWI, Bella's parents moved to Durham with Bella's younger brother (and only sibling) William Metcalf (born c.1895), but Bella stayed in Blyth town centre with a maternal aunt in Gladstone Street. It was here she lived when she became a docker in 1916.

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Bella Metcalf
A Crown Studios (Blyth) portrait of Bella, probably in her late 20s

Sadly, in 1916, aged only 21, William Metcalf lost his life at The Somme. He was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Méricourt-l'Abbé, northern France. All the men he enlisted with at the same time in the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) were killed on the same day.

 

Aged 24, in 1916, Bella was a bit older than her Port of Blyth contemporaries, but her age and obvious life experiences meant she had the right aptitude to captain the team.

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Sheila Angus who lives in Blyth readily recalls her grandmother "as a fantastic person, a proper nana".

 

Sheila, 74, and her late sister Brenda Hall (nee Hook) who died in 1998 aged 52, were close to their grandmother.

 

"We were immensely proud of her," said Sheila. "Nana rarely spoke of her footballing exploits but we knew about them; I have photographs and newspaper cuttings about her and the team."

 

The 1918 Cup winners' medal is now a family heirloom and will be passed on to future generations.

 

Sheila continued: "I was only eleven when nana died but remember her vividly. She was very kind and spoilt my sister and me rotten. Happy days!"

 

Bella Metcalf was born in 1892 and married Stan Gray in June 1919.

Sheila Angus, granddaughter, with Bella's winner's medal

Stan, who was born in 1897, trained as a riveter in Blyth shipyard but opted instead to pursue a living as a professional sportsman; he was a regular runner at the elite Powderhall in Edinburgh. Stan later followed his parents into the publican trade.

 

The newly married couple set up as licensees of the Market Inn (later Hotel) in Blyth Market Place and resided on Union Street.

 

"The pub was very popular," said Sheila. "Nana would put food out for the customers and organised trips out, charity events and darts teams.

 

"The licensed trade is hard work today but back then it was even harder. Nana told us she never went to bed the same day she got up. After the pub closed, they'd have to clean up and sort out the drinks so the pub was ready for the next day. "

 

Bella and Stan had two daughters: Olive, who was born in 1920 and Isabella (Sheila's mam, known as Bunty), born in 1925.

 

"Aunty Olive never married and lived with nana and granddad, working in their pubs until retirement beckoned," said Sheila.

 

After WWII, in the 1950s, Bella and Stan ran the Station Hotel (opposite Woodcock's) in the town and lived in a flat, with Olive, above the pub.

 

Sadly, Bella Metcalf - captain of the great Blyth Spartans Ladies' team - died in 1958 aged 66 in Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI). She was buried in Cowpen cemetery.

"When granddad retired aged 65, in 1963, and moved into a flat with Aunty Olive in Wellington Street," explained Sheila. "They lived four doors down from Jennie Morgan, one of the 1918 cup winning team. My Aunty Olive was friends with Jennie, so I got to know her well back then."

 

Stan died in 1973, aged 75, and Olive passed in 1995 aged 74.

 

Sheila's mother, Isabella, married Ron Hook in 1945, and their offspring were Sheila (born 1946) and Brenda (born 1945).

 

"Mam died in 2009 aged 84," said Sheila. "Dad passed in 2007 aged 86." They were extremely proud of Nana's football achievements.

 

Today, Sheila's son Darren, 52, is a staunch Blyth Spartans fan and never misses a home match. While Darren's oldest son Matthew, 17, has little interest in football, the mantle has been taken up by Connor, aged nine, who accompanies his father to Blyth matches and is football daft. He turns out for Blyth Town under-9s.

 

The knot of history is well and truly re-tied.

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Bella posing

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Bella in later life

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