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Soccer Stadium

BLYTH SPARTANs LADIES

Who's who of the mighty 1917/18 team

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Champions
Blyth Spartans Ladies in 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 backs, 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 had 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 halftime, they came back to win 4-2 through a Bella Reay hat-trick and a Jennie Morgan single strike.

On March 30, 1918, the Blyth Spartans Ladies' 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 (captain), Ada Reed, Annie Allen, Bella Reay, Dollie Allen, Jennie Morgan

 

Spartans drew 0-0 with Bolckow, Vaughan & Co., Ltd., 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 the Blyth Town Council.

 

The upshot is Dolly was 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 lineup 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, Northumberland, never took place because the County Durham team took the wrong train and arrived at the ground after 5 pm (it was scheduled to kick off at 2.30 pm). 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's 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's St. James' Park with Minnie Seed (Gosforth Aviation, Naval Yard and later Sunderland) in the starting lineup. However, it was Mary Lyons who donned the Blyth colours in the cup final at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough, on May 18, 1918. Mary scored a goal in the 5-0 victory and was also awarded the prestigious Woman of the Match accolade. 

 

A return match against Carlisle at Blyth's 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.

Britain's women workers
A WWI postcard promoting the women war workers in the aviation industry.

 

Robert Thompson, team secretary, stood down in early August 1918 and Samuel Ryder, of 30 Cowpen Square, Blyth, 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 (captain), 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 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 (captain), 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 Ladies henceforth ceased to exist. The armistice, on November 11, 1918, meant shells and weapons were no longer needed. The women were made unemployed.

 

Blyth Spartans 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 WWI. 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".

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