The Female Football-Playing, Factory Workers of World War One

Photograph courtesy of  David Herrmann.
Photograph courtesy of David Herrmann.

During the Great War when the men were drafted into the conflict, thousands of women took to the football pitch to keep football fans’ spirits high, but there was one team that stood above the rest: the Blyth Spartans Munitionettes in Northumberland. Taught how to play football on a nearby beach, the Blyth Spartans remained unbeaten throughout their two-year existence. The star player of the team was Bella Raey, the daughter of a local coal miner, who scored 133 goals in one season, and even went on to play for England.

The highlight of the female football calendar was a knock-out tournament called the Munitionettes Cup, held in 1918, which attracted 30 teams and saw the Blyth Spartans as the eventual winners, beating Bolckow-Vaughan of Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park in front of a crowd of 22,000. Bella Reay scored a hat-trick.

However, as soon as the men returned from war, the munitions factories disbanded along with the female football teams. Several women tried to continue playing, but in 1921 the FA banned women’s football at their grounds, ending their hopes. Their story will be told as part of new series that explores the tales of the British women who kept the UK moving during World War One, called World War One at Home.