Coming to North East Theatres March/April 2022
This might just be the greatest football story - ever!
That's a big boast but, well, it's probably true.
You see, Wor Bella is played out during WW1 when the war was raging. In a little over a year from 1916, 750,000 men fighting at the Front lost their lives while hundreds of thousands more were injured, both physically and mentally
It was women who moved into the industrial workplace when the men left for the death fields of France and Belgium.
Men's professional football was banned in 1915, so in order to raise money for the injured soldiers (and widows and orphans), women throughout the country started playing football. Entry was 6d (the equivalent to £1.50 today).
At first, these "munitionettes" played in novelty matches - against men with both arms behind their back and a goalkeeper who could only use one hand. They even played in costumes. It was a right laugh...initially.
Then something happened that would change the face of women's football. Some of these teams - despite a 60-hour working week in hard, dangerous conditions - took football seriously. They trained regularly and were coached by male ex-pros.
In the North East, a Sunderland Businessman called Alfred Wood sponsored a Munitions Football Challenge Cup. It was this cup competition that separates the North East from hundreds of teams nationally. Ours was the only region that had a knock-out cup competition!
Of the dozens of teams in the region, twenty-six teams from the North East entered the competition that was split into two divisions. The "South" of the region comprising North Yorkshire, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Darlington and the "north" consisting of teams from Wearside, Tyneside and Northumberland.
Matches were attended by thousands, often around 5,000 people. Some attracted 10,000 and more. The quality of football got better and better. Matches were played at St James Park, Roker Park, Ayresome Park, Feethams and Victoria Park as well as local grounds.
As a result of this competitiveness, many female superstars began to emerge.
The likes of Minnie Seed (Sunderland), Winnie McKenna (Middlesbrough, "the female Wilf Mannion") Mary Lyons (Jarrow, the youngest ever player to be capped and score for England, male or female), Mary Dorrian (Hartlepool), Sarah Cornforth (Birtley) and, of course, the" Alan Shearer of her day", Bella Reay who scored 133 goals in 30 games for the all-conquering Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies.
There were many other top-notch players but too many to mention here. The truth is all of these brilliant women went on to represent regional X1s and England teams. They would no doubt have been playing professionally today.
Wor Bella is the deeply emotional but funny and inspirational story of these selfless munitionettes who not only saved the war effort on the home front but also entertained and raised lots of money for wartime charities.
Sadly, after WW1 not a single plaque or war memorial was dedicate to these munitionette heroines. They have almost been erased from history...until now!
Wor Bella is touring North East Theatres in March and April 2022. You can find out more and purchase tickets here: https://www.worbella.co.uk/