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Soccer Stadium

WINNIE MCKENNA

The female Wilf Mannion

During WWI, Teesside saw many football heroines, but the star player was Winnie McKenna (1897-1971), later affectionately dubbed as the female equivalent of Middlesbrough FC superhero Wilf Mannion (1918-2000).

 

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.

Like Wilf Mannion, who was born in South Bank on May 16, 1918, Winnie learnt her skills on the fields and streets near her Bessemer Street home (no.5) 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. This enterprise was 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' and later played for and captained England representative sides.  

 

Historian Patrick Brennan has painstakingly researched WWI women's matchesrecorded in newspapers, played in the region between 1917 and 1919.

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Winnie McKenna
A postcard of Middlesbrough’s Winnie McKenna, born in Grangetown in 1897, found in the home of Josephine Fox after her death. Winnie was Josephine’s cousin.

We first encounter Winnie captaining her side on October 5, 1917,  when 'Bolckow, Vaughan' 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, Newcastle, 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 on 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 Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park after a 0-0 draw at St. James' Park. In the 1919 final, on 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.

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Winnie and the team in 1918
The Bolckow, Vaughan cup final team. Winnie McKenna (centre) has the ball at her feet (image provided by Peter McNaughton).

Thanks to the East Cleveland Image Archive, we have the names of the 1918 'Bolckow, Vaughan' players in the impressive photograph above. 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 "Florrie" 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 the 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 sometime 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 May 18, 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."

Discover more

Bolckow, Vaughan & Co., Ltd_

Teesside Live

News: Teesside News

Winnie McKenna: the Grangetown factory worker turned pioneering football star... (2023). 

Bolckow, Vaughan & Co., Ltd_

Teesside Live

News: Teesside News

History is repeated as women's football derby re-match is held exactly 100 years on (2018).

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