Wor Bella is the incredible story of women’s football during WWI, and how Blyth Spartans Ladies won the Munitionettes Cup in 1918, led by the exploits of their star centre forward Bella Reay.
We have all heard of, and some of us seen, the legend Jackie Milburn, and football fans world wide are aware of the scoring exploits of Alan Shearer, but not many of us know about the local centre forward who’s goal scoring stats top both of them.
Bella, born in 1900, was the free-scoring centre-forward of undefeated Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies. In just 30 matches she netted an unbelievable 133 goals.
And now the tale of ‘Wor Bella’, the munitionettes, and Blyth Spartans heroic victory, have been made into a play, and is coming to Newcastle Theatre Royal. Playwright Ed Waugh is bringing this incredible story to the North East for two nights, on April 27th and 28th.
The staggering exploits of Bella Reay will be brought into sharp focus by the new play, as well as the incredible story of the rise of women’s football during the First World War, when teams were formed throughout the country to raise money for wartime charities, through to the ban in 1921.
When male military conscription was introduced in 1916, hundreds of thousands of women flooded into the munitions factories to save the WWI war effort.
The “munitionettes” worked long, hard, dangerous and physical 60-hour weeks in shipyards, armaments factories, docks, steel mills etc, yet still found the energy to play football to raise money for maimed and blinded soldiers, widows and orphans.
Womens matches were initially played on minor football grounds and miners’ welfares but, as women’s football was taken more seriously, and became more popular, the teams graced professional stadia.
Men’s football had been suspended in 1915, and some of the 7,000 professional footballers joined the armed forces while others entered the domestic workplace. Many of them helped train the women and organised the games as secretaries or match officials.
Blyth Spartans Ladies won game after game, with Bella scoring at a rate of over 4 goals every match!
Lauren Waine, who will play Bella Reay on stage, recalls: “The 1918 Munitionettes final was on March 30 between Blyth Spartans Ladies and Bolckow Vaughan from Middlesbrough. The match was at St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United, and attracted 18,000 people. It ended in a 0-0 draw.
“The replay six weeks later was switched to Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park, and saw Blyth Spartans win 5-0 in front of a crowd of 22,000. Bella Reay scored a hat-trick.”
Women’s football continued, even when the men returned from war, and it continued to be popular, with crowds of over 50,000 for some games.
However, seeing it as a threat to the men’s game, on December 5, 1921 the FA took the unprecedented decision to outlaw female teams from playing on FA grounds and using FA officials or any FA-run facilities thus, in one dramatic gesture, effectively killing the women’s game.
The ban wasn’t revoked for 50 years until 1971 when, thankfully, women’s football was once again allowed to take place in the same conditions as mens – and we all know how popular the game has become once again.
For more information on Wor Bella’s story, and for ticket information, visit www.worbella.co.uk