Calling all the heroes
Bella Reay - Wor Bella
"The Alan Shearer of her day"
A collection will be held after each performance of Wor Bella to help the brilliant work of the Alan Shearer Foundation and its selfless staff. alanshearerfoundation.org.uk
Wor Bella - Wor Grandma
Despite Blyth Spartans Ladies being a team effort, Bella Reay was the undoubted star of the show. With 133 goals in 30 matches she was a prolific goal scorer and catapulted the team to the enviable record of never being beaten - and cup glory!
Born in 1900, "Wor Bella" was one of six siblings: five girls and one boy. Her father was a miner and her mother a housewife.
The family lived in Cowpen Square, Blyth, and she started playing football (at that point a "man's game") aged five on the grass outside the family home. Surprisingly it was neither her father nor brother who taught her the finer points of the beautiful game - her older brother wasn't sport minded; it was a neighbour who kicked a ball around with her.
Yvonne Crawford, 81, and William (Bill) Henstock Hamilton, 76, are Bella's grandchildren. Despite not being interested in football, Bill is extremely proud of his grandmother's achievements, as is Yvonne, who until relatively recently was a Newcastle United season ticket holder. Both live in Blyth and a Newcastle United emblem greets you as you enter Yvonne's spotless house - a trait she inherited from her grandmother.
"Bella was our grandma, so we never really got to know her until we were older and she was in her 50s," said Yvonne, whose mother Ann was one of two daughters to Bella and husband William Henstock. The second being Joyce, who had one son.
"She was a lovely person," continued Yvonne, "well liked and very kind. While she did speak about her time as a Munitionette footballer it wasn't very often. She was a modest person - although she did tell us she was a good player, which she obviously was."
"You don't score that many goals if you aren't," added Bill. "She was very proud of her two cup winning medals; one for Blyth Spartans Ladies in 1918 and the other for Palmers of Jarrow in 1919."
Both Yvonne and Bill said Bella mentioned she played at Wembley but frustratingly there is no written record of that, likewise what Bella did immediately after leaving school as a 14 year old in 1914.
It's highly possible she took up work in the Port of Blyth as a stevedore in the January 1917 intake, which would have made her 16 years old when she became a Munitionette, but her previous two years' employment remain a mystery.
While 47% of unmarried working class women went into service around this period, Yvonne is adamant Bella didn't enter domestic servitude.
Her job as a Munitionette on Blyth docks would have been 12-hour shifts unloading spent cartridges; a physical, back-aching and tiring job.
After the war, the munitions industries were disbanded and factory owners who converted from wartime to peacetime production kicked women out in favour of men who returned from fighting the war in Europe. A terrible time for working class women, but Britain hardly became "the land for heroes to live in" as promised by Lloyd George who led the Conservative/Liberal coalition government. Depression and mass unemployment followed: WWII (1939 to 1945) was the continuation of WWI.
After a rapid "demob" when hostilities were halted in November 1918, Bella managed to secure employment at Blyth shipyard. Again, there are no records of her actual work (her occupation is recorded as a "labourer" on her 1919 marriage certificate) but it is likely she was initially a cleaner who probably became a tack welder.
"She told us she ate her bait on the wall of the shipyard with the rest of the workers, who were mostly men," said Yvonne.
Just over a year after winning her first Munitionettes Cup Final in 1918 and six weeks after scoring the only goal at St James in the 1919 final for Jarrow Palmers, Bella married William Henstock, a miner aged 23, on May 6 at St Mary's Church, Blyth.
William was resident at 16 Kitty Brewster Square at the time and Bella was registered as living with her family at 88 Disraeli Street in the town centre. The wedding certificate said Bella was 18, although she was most likely 19 years old.
"Some men didn't like their wives playing football; it wasn't what women were "supposed to do", said Yvonne, "but our grandfather was a football fan and obviously very supportive because grandma continued to play after she got married.
"When Blyth Spartans went under she was invited to play for other teams, including Palmers of Jarrow. She told us she became the "best paid player in the region". By that I don't mean like today's players but she got expenses and a bit extra to cover her costs."
As the British shipbuilding industry declined (Blyth closed in 1966), so Bella's employment would have been terminated. It may have been she faced unemployment when women workers "weren't needed" after WWII. Again, there is no known record.
Sadly, William was killed in 1940. His boat was bombed off the Thames. By then, Bella was a widow with two grown up daughters: Ann was expecting Yvonne, who was born in 1940. Bella never re-married.
When Bella left Blyth shipyard is unknown but she found full-time employment at Tommy Morrison's farm at Bebside. It was just up the road from her home at 535 Cowpen Road, a council house three doors down from the former Kitty Brewster pub (previously called The Forresters Arms). Bella's old house still exits but the farm fields are long gone, although the farmhouse still stands.
Bella was at Morrison's farm until her retirement in 1965, when she was 65.
"It was tiring, physical employment on the farm but hard work never bothered her," explained Yvonne. "She'd been used to manual labour all her life and was physically strong and fit.
"William and I used to visit her there with our Mam. We saw her driving the thresher, picking tatties and turnips and plucking chickens. She never complained."
"Grandma always made sure we were well looked after," said William. "She'd slip extra money to our Mam and Aunty Joyce to help them out. Family meant a lot to her."
Bella kept her money in a biscuit tin that stayed on the top shelf of a cupboard by the side of the fireplace.
"Once there was a small fire in the front room. The only thing she was concerned about was rescuing her tin!" laughed William.
An unpretentious woman, at home Bella always wore a pinny.
"The house was spotless," explained Yvonne. "There was even a day every week for the brass to be polished."
Bella was called upon by neighbours to lay out the dead and she apparently never lost her competitive edge, even as she got older.
"Oh, grandma always had to win," giggled Yvonne. "She wasn't a pushy woman, mind, and was very quiet by nature but she played to win, and woe betide anyone who upset her or her family!"
Yvonne and William attended the annual Bebside Good Friday, men versus women football match.
"It was in the 50s and 60s," recalled Yvonne, "and there would be a festival atmosphere. Hundreds of people marched in a parade - sometimes behind a piper - to the school football ground.
"Even in her 50s, grandma would be running around scoring goals, she was a physical player and still a fast runner," said William. "She kept her boots from WWI, probably as a reminder of those glory days and always gave 100%."
Sadly, Bella in later years was diagnosed with dementia and died in Preston Hospital, North Shields, in 1979.
"She was never a passionate supporter of any football team," said Yvonne. " She never even filled in the football pools although she did like a game of bingo. Perhaps nothing could beat the thrill of scoring in front of 22,000 fans and claiming two cups as well as England appearances."
"Grandma" Bella as an older woman
Another WWI star was Marsden-born Minnie Seed who played for Sunderland, among other teams in the region.
This is an excellent essay by James Dutton about Minnie. [See here]
Mary Lyons, front with ball
Blyth Spartans with their supporters
Who was the youngest-ever player to score for England? The history books will tell us that was Wayne Rooney (Everton) when, aged 17 years and 317 days, he scored in England's 2-1 victory over FYR Macedonia on September 6, 2003.
The history books also tell us that the youngest-ever England international was Theo Walcott (Arsenal) when he appeared in England's 3-1 friendly win over Hungary at Old Trafford, Manchester, aged 17 years and 75 days, on May 30, 2006.
These "facts" are wrong!
Both honours can be claimed by 15-year-old Mary Lyons of Jarrow when she made her England debut in front of 20,000 people at St James' Park, Newcastle, in 1918 and netted at the end of the first half resulting in a 3-2 win against Scotland.
Mary was born in 1902 in Jarrow to Irish-born parents. Mary's father Patrick and six brothers were employed at Palmer's shipyard. The youngest of eight children, Mary also had a sister.
After leaving school at 14 in 1916, Mary joined Palmers Munitions Factory where bait-time kick-abouts led to her being asked to play for Palmers Girls.
Mary's skills rapidly gained the attention of newspaper sporting columns and in 1918, aged only 15, she was poached by the mighty Blyth Spartans - the best woman's team in the region at the time - for the Munitionettes Cup against Bolckow, Vaughn & Co at Ayresome Park. Mary led Blyth Spartans to victory, scoring in their 5-0 victory and won the accolade "Woman of the Match".
In addition, Mary took the Palmers team from a scratch side to the best in the region, bringing The Munitionettes Cup to Jarrow a year later in 1919.
She was only 17 years old.
Back row: “Easy” Baker, Hannah Malone, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless, Steve (surname unknown)
Third row: W. Fairless, G. Bird, Julia Stevens, Mrs Fawcett, M. Carr, Jim McNally, W. Campbell
Second row: R. Thompson, Agnes Sample, Martha O’ Brien, Bella Metcalfe, Ted Ellis
Front row: Dollie Summers, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dolly Allen, Jennie Morgan
Blyth Spartans Munitionette Cup Winners 1918
Back row: Hannah Weir, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless.
Centre row: Aggie Sample, Martha O'Brien, Bella Metcalfe
Front row: Dollie Summers, Annie Allan, Bella Reay, Dollie Allan, Jennie Morgan
Bob Thompson: Team Manager and "Crofter"
Blyth Spartans Ladies were managed by a young man called Robert (Bob) Thompson who led them to cup glory in 1918.
Born locally in October, 1894, Bob was a Blyth lad who it is thought became a miner after leaving school.
Attending Wright Street School, off Regent Street (today, almost opposite Herron's the jewellers by Morrison's car park) possibly from 1899 to 1904, Bob described (date unknown) his schooling: “I still vividly remember that everything about it was hard and grim. Even the canes used to maintain discipline seemed to carry a special sting.
"The entire atmosphere of education under hardship was completed by the cramped play yard and dry water closets which emptied into the back street in the time of the night scavengers. The rear part of the school is still simply part of a back-street, with terrace houses on the opposite side."
Wright Street School (opened 1876, closed 1972 and later became Blyth Town Boy's Club) shortly before its demolition.
Wright Street School pupils circa 1900. Bob, aged five, is likely to be on this photo. Canny uniforms!
He continued: “While I was a scholar at Wright Street School one of my friends was Edwin Madgwick, who afterwards had a brilliant career in the educational sphere. He went from success to success at Blyth Grammar School (then known as Blyth Secondary School), Armstrong College (Newcastle), Durham University, Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, and in 1927 was appointed Professor of Physics at Raffles College, Singapore.
"When I last heard of him he was living in the south of England, but he still has relations in Blyth. He qualified for a commission during the 1914-18 war, and was awarded the Military Cross.”
We know Bob attended the 1912 Blyth Spartans cup-tie (possibly the Northumberland Aged Miners Homes Cup, which they won in 1912) against [South] Shields Mariners. Spartans also won the Northern Alliance league that season.
It appears what skills Bob lacked as a footballer he made up for in management.
Blyth Shamrock 1912
Blyth Shamrock 1913
A team photo of Blyth Shamrock in 1912 with what looks like a league winner's trophy and medals sees Bob pictured looking dapper on the far left in the middle row. He'd have been 16 years old and on the club committee in some capacity, possibly secretary because another photo of Blyth Shamrock with their trophies, taken in 1913, sees Bob, aged 17, on the far left, second top row and he later penned a postcard that said on the back: "This team [1912/13] won the Northumberland Junior Cup and the Blyth Junior League. Yours truly was secretary.
The gentleman in the middle is Mr J Ridley who is now president of the Northumberland Football Association. Unfortunately five of our lads made the great sacrifice [in WW1]."
Postcard written by Bob Thompson
He later appears in a photo of Blyth Spartan’s Munitionettes (1917). Bob is on the far left of the second row.
Around this time, Bob passed the shorthand theory examination held in connection with St. Mary’s Church and a postcard mentions he was living at 89 Disraeli Street [see postcard image below] when he was awarded a shorthand certificate by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, Bath.
"This after barely a dozen lessons in the study of the “winged art”," said the report. "[Robert] has studied under the guidance of the Rev. R. W. Lambert, curate of St. Mary’s, to whom the success of the class is due."
At some point his sister moved to New South Wales, Australia, but we have no further information about her.
Bob's tenure as secretary of Blyth Spartans Ladies lasted until August 8, 1918, when he announced his retirement in the Blyth News and Wansbeck Telegraph. He was succeeded by Sammy Ryder, who lived at 30 Cowpen Square, but the season 1918/19 proved to be short lived for Blyth Spartans Ladies. The end of the war and demobilisation meant their last recorded match was on September 3.
Bob worked for The Blyth News in 1921 and went on to have a long career in journalism. His first pen-name was Nor’ Easter and he adopted the moniker ‘Crofter’ on August 23, 1928. In his book True Tales of Blyth and Other Places (2002) Jim Harland says "Crofter" was taken from his regular attendances at Croft Park (the home of Blyth Spartans).
Bob later became a Sports Correspondent for The Northern Echo, part of the same group of newspapers as the Blyth News.
In 1930, aged 36, Bob married 24-year-old Melissa Dixon (born 13 August, 1906).
Aged 45 when WW2 broke out in 1939, the family was living at 1 Third Avenue, Blyth, comprising Melissa (aged 33), twin sons Robert and Brian (born 1 February, 1932), and possibly his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Dixon, who was 74 at the time.
Writing in 1946 about Rev. Osmund Stock, who was vicar of St. Mary’s Church for 21 years before moving - accompanied by his two sisters - to Stratford-on-Avon in April, 1918, he said: "Many people felt that they had lost three very dear friends. As a boy I was a member of the Sunday School class carried on by one of the sisters, and my tangible recollection of Mr Stock is a book received from him 38 years ago. He wrote in that book that it was presented in memory of my confirmation on March 18, 1908."
Bob officially retired on August 30, 1968 (aged 73) but continued to contribute to the Blyth News by letters. Historian Gordon Smith has traced Bob's last newspaper cutting to April 15, 1981. "But that's not proof of his very last submission," said Gordon. "There could be more and we are always keen to hear from anyone who knows."
Bob died in the first quarter 1982 aged 87. He too, is a forgotten hero.
Bob Thompson "Crofter"
Jennie, Jennie Morgan on the wing
Jean "Jennie" Morgan was so entranced by football and playing for Blyth Spartans Ladies she left her wedding reception on October 13, 1917, to turn out for her beloved team.
The nuptial ceremony took place at St Cuthberts Church, Blyth, when 21-year-old spinster Jennie was called Nuttall. But an hour or so after saying "I do" she was nearly seven miles away facing Burradon Ladies in aid of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Comforts Fund - except she was now called Jennie Morgan and married to William.
Wearing the famous green and white stripes and chasing up and down the left wing, Jennie celebrated her wedding by netting two goals in Spartans’ 4-1 win. Bella Reay, and Ada Reed who according to Jennie was "the fastest outside right in women's football", scored the other two.
Thankfully William was a football fan and continued to encouraged his new wife, so the peer pressure of playing a "man's game" never became a big issue for Jennie, although it was difficult for other women to play football at the time because of backward, conservative societal ideas and gender prejudices.
Jennie and William's son, John William Morgan, was born in 1926. An only child, John later joined the RAF and moved to Forest Hall from Blyth. After a stint of duty away, John and the family returned to the region and settled in Durham.
Sadly, John, aged 94, passed away in March 2021 (during the pandemic lockdown) and we lost with him an ever-decreasing verbal memory of Blyth Spartans Ladies. Thankfully, John kept a file of memorabilia and Jeanie's cup winning medal, all of which he passed on to his daughters Christina Watson, 66, and Sandra Kelly, 62.
"Dad was very proud of grandma and her achievements," said Christina, displaying the 1918 medal and press cuttings about the team and her grandmother.
"Although she never talked to us about her footballing days, a family story is that grandma got a black eye after bumping into the opposition goalkeeper," explained Sandra. "Grandma was worried about going home because her mam thought she shouldn't be playing football; it was supposedly "unfeminine"."
Born in 1896, near the Isabella pit in Bebside, Blyth, Jennie left school aged 14 in 1910 and went into service. Domestic servitude comprised long hours, few days off and poor pay. The lure of a job, albeit physical and dangerous, in the docks with decent wages, shorter hours and having other like-minded women for company led to her becoming a munitionette.
After the war, Jennie's munitionette job was rendered obsolete and she did what the vast majority of married, working class women did - she became a housewife.
"Grandma was only 5ft 4ins but she was physically strong," explained Christina. "While she had no pretentions she was a very popular, outgoing woman. She once made a clippy mat that the doctor's wife bought for £10 - a lot of money back in the day."
Jeannie and William lived in Percy Street, Blyth. William passed away in 1966. In 1973 Jeannie transferred to a retirement home nearby. Sadly, she died of salmonella poising in 1981 - two years after Bella Reay and Mary Lyons.
"Gin was her drink of choice at the pub," laughed Sandra. "She occasionally had a flutter on the horses and never lost her passion for football, especially Blyth."
"The Female Wilf Mannion"
Teesside during WWI saw many football heroines but the star player was Winnie McKenna, later affectionately dubbed as the female equivalent of Middlesbough FC super hero Wilf Mannion.
Sadly, like many of these working class WWI heroines, little is known about their lives because they never felt they were worthy of being documented.
Below are a few snippets of information about Winnie. If anyone can contribute more please get in touch with us here.
Like Wilf Mannion, who was born in South Bank (May 16, 1918), Winnie learnt her skills on the fields and streets near her Bessemer Street home in Grangetown, Middlesbrough; Bessemer Street being one of the original "eight streets" in the settlement of the industrial area of Grangetown.
One of these industrial giants was Bolckow, Vaughan & Co Ltd, an ironmaking and mining company founded in 1864. It was this enterprise that was largely responsible for driving the dramatic growth of Middlesbrough and the production of coal and iron in the region. Many thousands were employed by the company at any one time.
Wartime saw Bolckow, Vaughan & Co Ltd take on female workers, especially after 1916 when men were called up, and Winnie became a Munitionette.
A prolific goal scorer, inside forward Winnie captained Bolckow, Vaughan & Co Ltd and later played for and captained England representative sides.
Historian Patrick Brennan has painstakingly researched WWI women's matches (recorded in newspapers) that were played in the region between 1917 and 1919.
Winnie McKenna. This postcard picture was found in the home of Josephine Fox after her death. Winnie was her cousin.
We first encounter Winnie captaining her side on October 5, 1917, when Bolckow, Vaugham beat West Hartlepool Central Marine in a match played at South Bank. She scored both goals in the 2-0 victory. Her other recorded exploits include captaining Teesside Munitionettes when they played Tyneside Munitionettes in Stockton on February 2, 1918.
On July 20, 1918, she captained a North of England side that beat West of Scotland at St James Park 3-2. The England side also contained Bella Reay, Mary Lyons and Minnie Seed. What a team that must have been!
Another highlight was playing for England Ladies who beat Ireland Ladies 5-2 at St James Park in September 21, 1918.
Minnie played in the only two Munitionettes cup finals but, unfortunately, was on the losing side in both. In 1918 she played for her home team Bolckow, Vaughan when they lost to Blyth Spartans 5-0 at Ayresome Park after a 0-0 draw at St James Park. In the 1919 final (March 22) Winnie guested for Browns (West Hartlepool) in the final that was won 1-0 by Palmers (Jarrow and Hebburn).
Only Bella Reay and Mary Lyons were in teams that won both finals but for Winnie to be in such rarefied company locally and regionally reflects her obvious ability.
The Bolckow, Vaughan 1918 cup final team. Minnie has the ball at her feet
Thanks to the East Cleveland Image Archive, we have the names of the 1918 Bolckow Vaughan players in the photograph.
The team is named as:
Back row: Emily Milner, Amelia Farrell, Greta Kirk, Violet Sharples.
Front row: Elizabeth (Lizzie) Powell, Mary Mohan, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna, Gladys Reece, Florence Short, Anne Wharton
According to The North Eastern Daily Gazette (Thursday, May 16, 1918 - only two days before the final), a newspaper that was printed in Middlesbrough and distributed in the town and surrounding areas around North Yorkshire, the team would be picked from the following thirteen players:
Emily Milner, Amelia Farrell, Greta Kirk, Violet Martin, Lizzie Powell, Mary Mohan, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna, Gladys Reece, Annie Wharton, Milly Percival, E. Creer, and A. Adamas.
If we contrast the two sets of names, we can see that Violet Martin is most likely the maiden name of Violet Shaples as the photo was captioned some time after the match. However, the team image includes Florence Short and yet she's not included in the squad named only two days before the final. Likewise, who were Milly Percival, E. Creer, and A. Adamas? All three were named in the squad of 13 and yet don't appear in the photograph.
It may well have been aliases were used because women's football was seen by the so-called moral purists as "unfeminine" and some families were opposed to their daughters playing. There were even instances of the women not being allowed into their boyfriends' homes because his parents objected to women playing football. Some married women used their maiden names (and vice versa) while others used nom de plumes, especially if the match was being reported in the newspapers.
Sadly, small-minded bigotry was rife despite these heroic women sacrificing for the war effort.
Joyce Henry said: "This picture shows my grandma Elizabeth (nee) Powell (front row, extreme left) kneeling. Her married name was Freeman.”
Arthur (Arty) Hammond, whose mother Mercy Page sits third from the left (front row), explained: "She married my father Joseph Hammond, a marine throughout WWI."
Writing in 2018, Arthur who lived in Fleet, Hampshire, said: "At 82, I am the youngest of five, we resided in Teesville. My eldest Brother John (Jack), OBE, and sister Rita (Murphy) passed away some years ago. Our sister Mercy resides in Calgary in Canada. My elder brother Joseph Peter Hammond, was chairman of Guisborough Sea Cadets for many years.
"My uncle Nelson Page - my mother's brother - was skipper of Smiths Dock Launch on the River Tees. Her sister was called Phyllis (Hinds) and her other brother, Bill Page, lived in South Bank."
Arthur, a former FA tutor, added: "The photograph has always been a link to the origins of myself and my eldest son’s deep interest of playing and coaching football at a reasonable high standard."
Teesside-based historian Martin Peagam, who is secretary of the Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society, said: "I organised a centenary football match on the 100th anniversary of the Munitionette’s Cup Final of 18 May 1918 as part of Middlesbrough Local History Month.
"Having learned about the events of 1918, female football students from Middlesbrough College and Gateshead College played each to honour their predecessors. The result was a resounding victory for the Teesside team." For the result and match report click here.
Although not mentioned in the squad two days before the final, the team photograph shows Florence (Florrie) Short second from the right on the front row.
Our thanks to Paul A Boden, the son of Florrie's first cousin and a family historian, for the following information.
"One of ten children, Florrie was born on the December 1, 1892, in Eston, to parents James Short and Annie Stephenson Sivil.
In 1901 her father and older brother William, a keen footballer, were working for Bolckow and Vaughan in Grangetown.
In 1911, aged 18, Florrie was a domestic servant at number 8 Lee Road. The rest of the family were living in number 38 Lee Road.
In September 1914 , William enlisted in the 8th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment known as The Green Howards. William's friend Francis Havelock also enlisted. I am not sure when Florrie started courting Frank Havelock. He was the nephew of Francis Havelock.
On August 6, 1916, William won the VC. Tragically, he died the next day.
Florrie's sweetheart Frank Havelock was with William when he died. Sadly, Frank died two months later on October 7, 1916.
I believe it was in 1916 that Florrie, who'd have been 23, started working for Bolckow and Vaughan. She would eventually become a crane driver and play football for Bolckow and Vaughan Ladies.
In 1918, Florrie played in a charity match against Smith Dock’s Ladies to raise money for Hemlington hospital and represented the team during the Munitionettes Cup run of 1918.
In 1920 Florrie married John O Hanlon. They had three children William, Annie and John.
During WW2 the family home at 22 Leighton Road, Grangetown suffered substantial damage when the house next door took a direct hit. Florrie was badly shocked for a long time.
Who knows what would have happened if Florrie and countless women like her had been allowed to continue to play football if it hadn't been banned by the FA in 1921."
(Left): Florrie in her late 20s.
(Right, standing) Florrie in her early 20s.
The image is believed to have been taken while
working for Bolckow and Vaughan.
The woman sitting is unknown.
Mary Lyons, probably aged 17, with the ball at her feet, pictured with Palmers (Jarrow) team mates.
Christopher Brown Munitionettes (Hartlepool)
Defeated finalists in the 1919 Munitionettes Cup final v Palmer (Jarrow). March 22, 1919.
Palmers won the match at St James' Park, Newcastle, (9,000 att) with the only goal of the game scored by Bella Reay.
The date of this photograph is unknown. Only eight of these players (names underlined) played in the 1919 Munitionettes final.
The likely reasons are because of injury, leaving the industry at the end of the war in November 1918, giving up playing for personal reasons, and we know Winnie McKenna was brought in from Bolckow, Vaughan (Middlesbrough) as an outside player, which may have meant a regular being "rested".
Back (L to R): M. Hodgson, E Cambridge, G. Kelley, M. McKenzie (at rear), N. Henderson, Harriet Knight, Matilda Booth
Front (L to R): Mary Dorrian, Norah Murray, Nellie Stott, M. McPherson, E. Ferguson
The Brown's cup final team was:
Florrie Holmes, E. Cambridge, R. Knight (likely Harriet Knight) , M. Hodgson, N. Henderson, Nellie Stott (capt), Mary Dorrian, Nellie Kirk, Winnie McKenna, M. McPherson and E Ferguson
The Palmers team comprised: Lizzie Green, A Malone, Lizzie Gibson, Bella Willis (Armstrong Whitworth's), Lizzie Form (capt), E. Drinkeld, Beattie Taylor, E. Graham, Bella Reay (Blyth Spartans), Mary Lyons, Minnie Seed (Gosforth Aviation).
Bella Reay (Blyth Spartans Ladies), Minnie Seed (Gosforth Aviation) and Bella Willis (Armstrong Whitworth's) were outside players drafted in by Palmers for the final.
High-flying Chelsea FC Women would offer Bella Reay a trial.
Women's football worldwide has never been as strong as it is now and this is especially the case in Britain. The Tokyo Olympics this summer will serve to bring the beautiful game to many millions more both internationally and nationally where Team GB includes the likes of Northumberland-born superstar Lucy Bronze, Lucy Staniforth, who grew up in Alnwick, and Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Demi Stokes - all of whom were either born in or with strong North East links. If they are not already, they will soon become household names in the world of women's football.
The top team in Britain is undoubtedly Chelsea FC Women who landed three trophies this season: the Community Shield, Continental Cup and FA Women's Super League (WSL), reached the UEFA Women's Champions League final and are still in the FA Cup (carried over until next season because of the pandemic).
The Chelsea FC Women general manager is Newcastle United supporter Paul Green. The son of two proud Geordies, Paul's late father Bill was an ex-professional player (he captained Carlisle United in the old First Division before signing for West Ham) and later became a coach, a chief scout and football league manager.
Paul, 45, was a professional footballer until rupturing his cruciate ligament. After gaining his UEFA 'A' coaching license, he was involved in the men's game, working as a scout for Derby County, Wigan Athletic, Leicester City, Hull City and Southampton.
Transferring to the women's game in 2006, he spent seven years at his hometown team of Doncaster Rovers Belles, during which time the club made the transition from the FA Women's Premier League to the FA Women's Super League (WSL). He was instrumental in the bidding process required to secure the Belles' WSL status in 2010.
During his time with the Belles, the club finished in the top four twice, reached the 2009 FA League Cup final and developed some of the best young players in the country.
An opportunity to join Chelsea in February 2013 was too good to refuse. As general manager he is responsible for overseeing everything from signing new players and dealing with contracts to departmental budgets and hiring.
Paul works closely with team manager Emma Hayes who recently steered the club to their fourth WSL title - a record in itself, and breaking records en route for the most wins (18) and most points (57) in a season, and becoming only the third team to defend the league title after Liverpool and Arsenal.
Despite a 4-0 reversal to Barcelona Femeni (May 16, 2021), in their first-ever Champions League final appearance, Suzanne Wrack of The Guardian stated that Chelsea are "best women's team to ever play in England's top flight".
Why is women's football so popular today?
"The growth in support and interest comes from a number of factors, really. In April 2011 the start of the WSL led to a lot of television exposure. Then the success of the GB women's football team in the 2012 Olympics and the England team reaching the respective semi-finals of the European Cup in 2017 and World Cup in 2019.
Young women have always had an interest in football - attending the men's games and playing - but they now have brilliant female role models and today there are professional careers in women's football.
In addition, many women became fans, following their team. Crowds of 30-40,000 attend matches at Wembley. There is an incredible buzz about the game."
Will women's football ever be as popular as men's football?
"The FA banned women's football in 1921 and only unbanned it in 1971. That's 50 years the women's game was set back and it inevitably meant a lack of opportunities. We're playing catch-up at the moment.
The past 50 years has seen a huge growth in support. The next, inevitable, step is the commercialisation of the women's game. Sky Sports and the BBC have bought the rights to show WFL matches next season so that will have a huge impact.
There are 12 full-time clubs in the WFL and below that a Championship comprising part-time teams. Will we ever catch up with the men's game? I honestly don't know, but what I do know is there are very exciting years ahead."
The North East is well represented at international level - why is this?
"The North East is a hotbed of football in general.
Success is obviously built on skill, but it also needs a work ethic, dedication and passion. The North East contains these attributes in abundance. At a grass roots level there are more opportunities than ever, and the young players are obviously well looked after and encouraged at local level.
On a national level, it's great to see Sunderland Ladies will be playing in the Championship next season. Sunderland have been responsible for six or seven players who have made it onto the national scene, so I fully expect to see more stars of the future from the region.
What sort of historical debt do the modern women footballers owe those who played in WWI?
"Obviously, it was these selfless women who were there when the ban happened in 1921, so without question players today owe a historical debt to the likes of Bella Reay of Blyth Spartans Ladies, and the Dick, Kerr Ladies team of Preston, to give just a couple of examples.
It would have been fantastic for the munitionettes of 100 or so years ago to see what is happening today; they would have been regarded as heroes and pioneers by modern players. I think they would be proud."
Would Bella Reay (The "Alan Shearer of her day") have got a game for Chelsea today?
"Bella scored 133 goals in 30 games for Blyth Spartans Ladies. With statistics like that she'd have definitely been given a trial here at Chelsea. No doubt! While she'd be up against stiff opposition, I have a sneaking suspicion Bella would give our centre forwards a run for their money."
Smith's Dock Ladies (South Bank, Middlesbrough)
Huge thanks to Bryan Stubbs for sending through this wonderful picture, believed to be of the Smiths Dock Ladies (South Bank, Middlesbrough) football team circa 1917.
Saltburn-born Bryan, 76, came across the image when sorting out his late mother's belongings after her recent death.
The lady in the centre, holding the ball, is Bryan's maternal grandma, Leah Margaret Edwards.
Born in Hartlepool on March 23, 1901, Leah would have been around 17 years old in this photograph. She married Albert Stimpson on August 21, 1922.
Bryan, who lived in Grangetown, Redcar and Normanby and attended secondary school in Middlesbrough, said: "I knew my grandma lived in South Bank and at one time worked at Smith's Docks painting ships but I can't be 100 per cent sure that this is the works' football team. She may well have played for other teams in the area as well.
"The location might be Ayresome Park, the then home of Middlesbrough FC. There's a sizeable crowd, too. Sadly, no record exists of the Smith's Dock Ladies team playing at Ayresome Park but we know many matches weren't covered in the press."
Bryan, Leeds-based for the past 55 years, continued: "However, we know that on Saturday, December 15, 1917, an L. Edwards is recorded as having played in a trial match to find a squad to represent Teesside against Tyneside, so we can confidently assume L. Edwards was my grandma, especially as it was stated she played for Smith's Dock."
The match, South Bank Ladies versus Middlesbrough Ladies, took place at Normanby Road, South Bank, with the proceeds going towards the Northern Echo Soldiers' and Sailors' Comforts fund."
The South Bank team had a pick of players from Bolckow, Vaughan & Co, Smith's Dock, Ridleys, Rise Carr, Railway Athletic and Stephenson's.
In his book The Muntionettes, Patrick Brennan lists the South Bank Ladies team that won 3-2 as: E. Wells (Smith's Dock), R. Wells (Smith's Dock), V. Martin (Bolckow's), Amelia Farrell (Bolckow's), E. Milner (Bolckow's), C. Conway (Smith's Dock), Sarah English (Smith's Dock), L. Edwards (Smith's Dock), W. McKenna (Bolckow's), Annie Wharton (Bolckow's), A Leach (Bolckow's).
The Middlesbrough team had a pick of players from Dorman Long's Britannia Girls no. 1 & No.2, Richardson Westgarth's No. 1 & 2, and Dorman's Port Clarence. It was recorded as follows:
A Briggs (Clarence), B. Quigley (Westgarth's), M. Barnett (Westgarth's), F. Agar (Dorman No.2), R. Boyle (Dorman's No. 2), L. Lawrence (Clarence), L. Dunn (Dorman's No 2), G. Jefferson (Westgarth's), M. Vinckely (Dorman's No. 2), A. McIntyre (Clarence). Reserves: G. Hawthrorne (Westgarth's) and J. Clay (Clarence).
It doesn't look like this photo was taken at the Teesside trial because the unmistakable Winnie McKenna was in the South Bank Ladies side and she's not in the team photo, so it is more than likely the Smith's Dock Ladies' eleven.
Leah never played in the Teesside Munitionettes v Tyneside munitionettes match which was held in Stockton in front of 2,000 spectators on February 2, 1918 (it had been postponed from January 19 due to inclement weather). A number of players who represented Teesside never played in the December trial. Again, this could have been due to injury (at the time of, and after, the trial), people leaving the workplace or retirement from football.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw. The scorers were Bella Reay for Tyneside and Winnie McKenna for Teesside.
The links below contain tremendous images and interviews of WWI footballers.
Even when contemporary newspapers reported the names of Munitionette footballers they were often misspelt. Hence, Bella Metcalf is often written as Metcalfe. Bella was Christened Lizzie (her middle name was Isabella), so she was initially recorded as E Metcalf(e), then B(ella) Metcalf then I(sabella) Metcalf.
Some women were initially listed in teams under their maiden name and later under their married name, giving the impression that they were two different players. In the case of Sally Matthews (see below), she started off as S. Matthews and when she married became S. Cornforth which morphed into Sarah Cornforth in later reports; Sally being the popular moniker used for people called Sarah.
Bella Metcalf: Blyth's Inspirational Captain
All great teams - sports or otherwise - are led by inspirational captains and Isabella (Bella) Metcalfe can claim that honour when we talk about Blyth Spartans ladies Munitionettes.
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, 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 WW1, Bella's parents moved to Durham with Bella's younger brother (and only sibling) William Metcalf (born circa 1895) but Bella stayed in Blyth town centre with a maternal aunty in Gladstone Street and it was here she lived when she became a docker in 1916.
Sadly, in 1916, aged only 21, William lost his life at The Somme. He was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericort-L'Abbe in France. All the men he enlisted with at the same time in the 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.
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 by 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.
Image: Sheila with Bella's winners' 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 in 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 WW2, in the 1950s, Bella and Stan ran the Station Hotel (opposite Woodcocks) 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 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.
A portrait of Bella, probably in her late 20s
Bella on her wedding day
Bella in older age
Bella in what could possibly be her
Are you related to any of the Blyth superstars?
The winning Blyth Spartans Ladies team in May 1918 was: Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless, Hannah Weir (formerly Hannah Malone), Agnes Sample, Martha O'Brien, Bella Metcalf (captain), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Mary Lyons and Jennie Morgan.
A brief Evening Chronicle article (May 18, 1948) with the headline "Spartan-ettes recall soccer win of '18" was written to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Spartans Ladies winning the Alfred Wood (Munitionettes) Cup.
Of the eleven-woman team nine were still living in the Blyth district and all were married or widows.
Striker Bella Reay, a widow, worked on a farm in Bebside while left-half Bella Metcalf ran the popular Market Inn, Blyth, with her husband Stan Gray. The article tells us Lizzie James (goalkeeper) lived in Cambois. It also lists Jean [Jennie] Morgan (ouside left), Ada Reed (considered the fastest outside-right in women's football) and centre-half Nellie Fairless, although these are their maiden, not married, names. And finally it mentions how inside-forward Dollie Allen, was now called Raffell after marrying J.D Raffell, a former member of Blyth Town Council.
Dollie (Allen) played in the first cup final at St James Park in April 1918 when it was a 0-0 draw but she had left the team by the time of the replay at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough, (six weeks later) when that re-match took place in May, 1918.
Of the other five players, Mary Lyons lived in Jarrow - she was a guest player for Blyth Spartans Ladies in the cup final replay at Ayresome park, Middlesbrough.
That left Annie Allen, Hannah Weir (who married shortly before the final and was henceforth called Hannah Malone), Agnes Sample and Martha O'Brien.
In the Ministry of Munitions of War report (December 16, 1916), an A. (Agnes?) Sample aged 19 of 39 Disraeli Street, and J (Jennie?) Nuttall (later Morgan) aged 20, of Middle Row, Isabella Pit, were about to leave their employ at Blyth Salvage Depot within the Port of Blyth. Jennie married William Morgan on October 13, 1917 and played matches under her married name of Jennie Morgan.
The who's who of Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies 1917/1918
Tracing the teams back to the opening match in August 1917, it's evident Blyth Spartans Ladies played with the core of a settled team from early on.
Other names to appear on the Blyth team sheets before the "classic" team was formed were:
M Robinson, who we know definitely played in the team's second-ever match against Blyth United Munition's Ladies and probably the first match too, against the Jolly Jack Tars (a team of male sailors who played with their hands tied behind their back, although their keeper was allowed to use one hand). This took place on August 4, 1917 at Croft Park, Blyth. M Robinson played only a couple of matches.
Throughout August/September/October 1917, M. Shields played a single game, M Lowery (inside forward) played in seven matches and H. Carnaby appeared in two. While D. Summers and F Harris were often listed as reserves, the latter appeared in the starting line-up twice. There we no substitutes in those days.
By the end of November 1917, the team has a familiar and consistent appearance:
Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless, Hannah Malone, Agnes Sample, Martha O'Brien, Bella Metcalf (captain), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dollie Allen and Jennie Morgan. The regular reserve was D. Summers.
In December an F. Forster is listed as a reserve with D. Summers.
On February 21, goalkeeper Lizzie James was unable to play in a match against Armstrong Naval Yard Ladies, but her replacement is listed as AN Other. It is possible she was M. Spinks who had been listed as a possible replacement for Lizzie James in the team on February 9 against Palmers. That match was the nearest Blyth came to defeat. Two goals down at half time, they came back to win 4-2 through a Bella Reay hat-trick and a Jennie Morgan single strike.
On March 30, 1918, the team for the munitionettes' cup final at St James' Park, Newcastle, was:
Lizzie James, Hannah Malone, Nellie Fairless, Agnes Sample, Martha O'Brien, Bella Metcalf (capt), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dollie Allen, Jennie Morgan
Spartans drew 0-0 with Bolckow, Vaughan of Middlesbrough, forcing a replay.
In April 1918, Dollie Allen played her last game for The Spartans and the search was on for a suitable replacement. Why Dolly never played again is open to speculation. It may have been because of sustaining a career-ending injury, marriage or she was too far pregnant to continue playing. We do know she still lived in the Blyth area, though, and was later called Dolly Raffell after marrying J.D Raffell, who became a member of Blyth Town Council.
The upshot is Dolly was obviously such a vital cog in the successful Spartans wheel that her replacement needed to be a player who was a huge talent and someone who could blend into an unbeaten team that had boasted a settled line up for many months.
With six weeks before the cup final replay in May 1918, the search for a suitable replacement must have been frantic.
Additional players drafted into the squad in April 1918 - to face the rapidly improving Birtley Ladies - were Violet Bryant and J. McConnell (both of Wallsend Slipway). J. McConnell could have been either Agnes or Elizabeth McConnell who both played for Wallsend Slipway (many people were called by a middle name rather than their Christian name back then).
However, the Birtley match, due to happen at Seaton Delaval, never took place because of the County Durham team taking the wrong train and arriving at the ground after 5pm (it was scheduled to kick off at 2.30pm). As The Blyth News & Wandsbeck Telegraph reported (April 8, 1918): "Owing to severe weather conditions and late arrival, it was impossible to play the game." Therefore Violet Bryant and J. McConnell may have donned the famous green and white stripes while waiting for Birtley but never actually got to play for the mighty Spartans.
Intent on finding a suitable replacement for Dollie, Blyth's next match in Carlisle (Brunton Park) on April 20, included Ethel Jackson (North East Marine) and 15-year-old Mary Lyons (Jarrow Palmers) who was born on September 2, 1902 . For some reason Ada Reed was absent from the game, hence the two "ringers".
A week later, Ada Reed was back in the team that included Ethel Jackson but not Mary Lyons, who was on duty with her own Jarrow Palmers side. The squad also included reserves S Rhodes and D Summers.
On May 6, Blyth played Armstrong Whitworth's No 60 shop at Alnwick (St James' Park) with Minnie Seed (Gosforth Aviation, Naval Yard and later Sunderland) in the starting lineup but it was Mary Lyons who donned the Blyth colours in the cup final at Ayresome Park on May 18, 1918. Not only did Mary score a goal in the 5-0 victory, she was awarded the prestigious Woman of the Match accolade.
A return match against Carlisle at Croft Park on June 1 saw S Rhodes come in for Mary Lyons. Mary was to play six games for Blyth and score three goals.
S Rhodes replaced Hannah Malone when Blyth played a North of England team in June at Croft Park, which marked the end of Blyth's incredible 1917/18 season.
Robert Thompson, team secretary, stood down in early August 1918 and Samuel Ryder of 30 Cowpen Square took up the position. Goalkeeper Lizzie James also retired. The season started again on Saturday, August 31, 1918, with a game against Angus Sanderson Motor Works, Birtley.
It was scheduled to be the last game at Croft Park that year because the Navy and Garrison department were to take possession of the ground the day after, on September 1.
M. King is named as the new goalkeeper (and captain) while S. Rhodes now appears to be a mainstay of the side.
The team and reserves were: M King (capt), Nellie Fairless, Hannah Malone, Agnes Sample, Martha O'Brien, Bella Metcalf, Annie Allen, S Rhodes, Bella Reay, Jennie Morgan, M. Jayne, N. Cocks, N. Scruffin (who could also have been listed as M. Scuffam, see below).
Blyth won 3-0 with Bella Reay notching all three in the match. It was to be Bella Metcalf's last game. She got married in the June and started running The Market Inn, Blyth, with her husband Stan Gray. As described in a previous feature, long hours at the pub in Blyth Market Place meant Bella would have had little or no leisure time to play football, so the transfer of the captaincy to the new goalkeeper under the guidance of a new manager was more than likely an amicable arrangement.
The next game was to be against Burradon on Saturday, September 7. The named team was: M. King (capt), Nellie Fairless, Hannah Weir, S Rhodes, Agnes Sample, Martha O'Brien, N. Cocks, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, M. Scruffam and Jennie Morgan. Mary Lane was named as the reserve.
The game was cancelled for an unknown reason and Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies henceforth ceased to exist. The armistice meant shells and weapons were no longer needed. The women were made unemployed.
Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies had played 30 matches, won 26, drawn 4 and lost none. Bella Reay scored 133 goals in that time; an incredible record at any level.
On March 31, 1921, the mines were returned to private ownership after being nationalized during the war. On April 1, the coal owners demanded a huge wage cut for workers - up to 45 per cent to maintain "profitability" despite being well compensated by the government for the use of the mines during WW1. The miners, who had been instrumental in the successful war effort on the home front, refused the bosses' demands and were locked out. The miners and their families, thrown out of their coal-owners' company houses, suffered severe terrible hardship, depravation and hunger.
In response, innovative women formed teams and played football to raise money for soup kitchens to augment the local Relief Fund.
The Blyth News (Monday, June 27, 1921) stated: "Blyth Spartans Ladies entertain Barrington Ladies on Wednesday night at 6.30 on the Shipyard Ground in aid of the Central Distress Fund"
Lillian Ritchie, aged 14, of Barrington Colliery had scored 45 goals in 23 games during which Barrington had recorded 23 victories. She was regarded as the "new Bella Reay".
1921 - Barrington Ladies, Barrington Colliery, Northumberland
(footballers only) back row: Ida Moody, Annie Graham, Edie Scott, Gladys Saunders, Jane Reed, Jennie Gutteridge
centre row: Mary Reed, Ena Taylor, Lillian Ritchie, Mary Kilgour, Ella May Tait
The Spartans team was: Lizzie James, S. Rhodes, M. Long; Agnes Sample, M. Douglas, A. Snowdon, Annie Reed, M. Reay, Bella Reay (capt), M. Scuffham and Jennie Morgan.
M. Reay is more than likely to have been Bella's younger sister Meggie, who later moved with her husband to Gateshead.
A 0-0 draw in front of 5,000 people meant both sides maintained their unbeaten record.
The same Blyth News article also added: "The Spartans Ladies are open for engagements. S. Ryder, 30 Cowpen Square, Blyth, is the secretary, from whom dates and terms can be obtained."
No more Blyth Spartans Ladies games were however, recorded. In December 1921 the FA banned women's football. A barrage of sexist government propaganda was leveled at former munitionettes via the newspapers, reflecting the patronizing and hostile attitude towards working women by the Establishment. It was a call for these females, who had selflessly saved the war effort (and were not even allowed to vote), to effectively get back to "where they belong" - in the home, rearing children and looking after "their man"!
This is from the Blyth News (Monday, December 19, 1921).
A wartime expedient which did much to amuse and entertain the people of Blyth and district is recalled by the embargo that the Football Association has put on women’s football. When, owing to the war, Blyth Spartans dropped out of football on account of the more serious business on hand, a team of women was formed, and their record proved them to have been a skilful side.
But even the most enthusiastic supporter of football for women must admit that it is not really a suitable game for them.
The Blyth Spartan’s Ladies’ Club recognised that their sphere of usefulness on the field ceased when the boys began to come back, but unfortunately the same good taste was not shown by other bodies of a similar character.
The result has been the ruling authority [The Football Association] in the football world has had to put the foot down on the extension of the game to women.
Anti-working class women newspaper propaganda was backed up by "experts" from the medical profession saying physical sports like football were dangerous to the wellbeing of women - a complete turnaround from when women had been actively encouraged by the government to play football during the war as a means of physical and mental exercise, and as a means of raising money for injured soldiers that the government had patently failed to plan for.
Women's football wasn't unbanned by the FA until 1971 - 50 years later!
If you are related to any of these heroic women or have any further information, please get in touch.
1918 - Birtley Cartridge Case Factory
front row centre - Sarah Cornforth, team captain; back row 4th from left, Julia Turnbull, left back
(photograph courtesy of John Smith - son of Julia Turnbull)
Sally Cornforth: "The young lady with the big kick"
The Evening Chronicle (May 18, 1948) carried a brief interview with North East munitionette star Sally (aka Sarah) Cornforth, who played for Birtley Cartridge Case Girls (CCG).
The article says Sally was better known by her maiden name of Matthews.
Thanks to Patrick Brennan's incredible research on the subject, the first written record we have of Sally (in Patrick's book The Munitionettes: A History of women's football in North East England during the Great War) was on May 26, 1917, when Birtley Shell Shop Girls played Birtley Cartridge Case Girls (CCG) at the Cricket club in Chester le Street. Sally played for Birtley CCG in the 5-0 victory, scoring a penalty. The Shell Shop Girls played in blue and the CCG in pink. More than 1,000 people attended the match.
The next entry is on June 9 when Birtley CCG played Birtley Cartridge Case Fitters, a men versus women costume match which the fitters won 3-2. The next recorded fixture is Birtley CCG beating Sacriston 2-0 with Sally scoring one of the goals.
The Chronicle article says Sally was a member of the "unbeaten" Birtley Women's football team... "was known on most grounds in the region as the young lady with the big kick" and "the penalty kick champion of Tyneside". It continued: "It is on record that she won a penalty kick competition at St James' Park, beating [then Toon] keeper Jimmy Lawrence. "
On October 3, 1917, Birtley Munitions Girls (aka CCG) took the impressive scalp of Scotswood 60 Shop by 2 goals to 1, and later that month (27th) drew 0-0 with Palmers of Jarrow in the first round of the munitionettes' cup, played at Bishop Auckland. The replay, at Chester le Street, was on November 10 and ended in a 2-2 draw with Sally scoring both CCG goals, one a penalty three minutes before half time.
The disputed penalty decision and the resulting goal caused the Palmers players to leave the pitch in protest. The result stood and two days later the cup committee awarded the tie to Birtley.
The Chronicle article states: "She possesses four medals together with a number of trinkets as a result of her football career during which she raised much money for charity." Adding: "Mrs Cornforth played in many representative women's football games, notably for England against Ireland."
If our line of research is correct, Sally gets married in either November/December 1917 and next appears on December 15 as Cornforth (her married name) when she is seen as an elite player and is selected to play in a trial match at Wallsend for a North East team to play the North of Ireland Munitions girls in Belfast on Boxing Day.
Around 20,000 people watched the match in Belfast. England won 4-1 and Sally (recorded as Sarah) scored a penalty.
On December 29, Birtley CCG lost to Armstrong Whitworth 57 Shop 1-0 in Round 2 of the munitionettes' cup at Scotswood. It's possible Sally never played due to her international commitments.
Sally never played in the Tyneside v Teesside representative match on February 2 at Stockton (2,000 attended) although her Birtley team mate Julia Turnbull did. However, she was in the side for the return match (and 3-0 victory) on March 2, 1918, at St James' Park, Newcastle
Later that month (18th) Sally played for an "Internationals" side that took on Hood Haggies Munitionettes of Wallsend at the latter's Old Cycling Enclosure Ground. The Internationals won 4-0 with Sally notching a hat-trick.
Eleven days later (29th) Sally turned out for Durham against Northumberland at St James' Park before 5,000 spectators and bagged all four goals, including a penalty. Julia Turnbull was also in the winning side.
Back representing Birtley CCG, on April 1, 1918, the side drew 0-0 with Angus Sanderson at the University Ground, Durham. All credit on this occasion to Angus Sanderson, though.
Birtley had been due to play Darlington but they failed to show. Hence, Angus Sanderson played again, after beating Horner's Dainty Dinahs 6-0 earlier in the day.
A prolific goal scorer, Sally bagged the only strike on April 20, when Birtley defeated Elswick Works 58 Shop 1-0 at Pelton Football ground.
Selected to play for the North of England against the West of Scotland at St James' Park, Newcastle on July 20, 1918, Sally had reached the pinnacle of elite football in the North East at this time. More than 4,000 attended the match. Playing alongside the likes of superstars Bella Reay, Winnie McKenna, Mary Lyons and Minnie Seed, Sally scored in the 3-2 victory. The other scorers were Mary Lyons and Winnie McKenna.
The full North of England team was:
Jennie Hodge (Dorman's, Middlesbrough), Hilda Weygood (Wallsend NEM), Nellie Fairless (Blyth Spartans), Bella Wallis (60 Shop Scotswood and Prudhoe), Sarah Cornforth (Birtley and Pelton), Minnie Seed (Armstrong's Naval Yard, late Gosforth Aviation and Sunderland), Mary Dorrian (Brown's West Hartlepool), Winnie McKenna (Bolckow's South Bank, Middlesbrough, captain), Bella Reay (Blyth Spartans), Mary Lyons (Palmer's Jarrow), Lizzie McConnell (Wallsend Slipway).
On September 21, 1918, it was posted that Sally played in an England international match (comprising North East players) versus Ireland at St James' Park, when England won 5-2. With the war almost over, the attendance was a disappointing 2,000. Sally was listed as playing for West Pelton at this time, though Birtley Munitions girls recorded a 1-1 draw with Wallsend Slipway on September 28. Neither team is listed.
It's more than likely, being a cartridge shop, the Birtley women - like Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies - were made redundant and Sally became a guest player. Her final mention in dispatches is when she turned out for Armstrong Whitworth's against Vickers of Barrow at St James' Park on November 23, scoring the only goal of the game in front of 5,000 people.
The 1948 Chronicle article says Sally was a widow of 4 Washhouses, Birtley, and a member of the canteen staff at Ravensworth Colliery, near Birtley, four miles south of Newcastle.
Interestingly, she recalled her Birtley team beat Blyth at Blyth. "I have reason to remember the game for I was chased to the station with one shoe on and the other in my hand," she said.
There is no record of Birtley ever beating Blyth Spartans, and the only recorded time Spartans played Birtley was on April 27, 1918 (the match had been rescheduled from April 4 due to Birtley taking the wrong train and turning up too late to play).
The re-arranged game, played at Seaton Deleval, ended up 0-0. Sally was in the Birtley team, and Seaton Delaval had a station at the time. However, there is no report of this unsavory incident in the Blyth News & Wandsbeck Telegraph (April 29, 1918) which said: "[The match] provided few thrills, a strong cross wind taking the effect from the play. Neither goalkeeper was seriously troubled, play reigning for the greater portion of the game on the wing receiving the force of the wind, so that each had to be content with a goalless draw."
Perhaps a few disgruntled fans weren't content with a goalless draw!