WOR BELLA: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

The Word, South Shields (pic. Alikivi collection)

On Sunday March 6, The Word in South Shields is holding an event for International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s achievements.

Kicking off at 1pm the celebration will incorporate excerpts from Ed Waugh’s new play, Wor Bella, plus trailer films and talks by representatives of women’s groups in the region.

“Men were conscripted so women flocked into the workplaces to save the World War One effort. The heroic munitionettes worked a 60-hour week in dangerous conditions.”

Ed added “In 1917 football matches started to be organized for a bit of fun and to give people entertainment. Matches were played on Tyneside at Westoe while Palmers of Jarrow had a crack women’s football team based on the shipyards there.”

By the end of the war there were over 1 million working women, of these, 700,000 were employed in the munitions industry and 80 per cent of all weapons were produced by these working class women.

Things quickly became serious as women trained and dedicated their spare time to developing all-female teams that could compete against each other. Hundreds of teams formed spontaneously throughout the country –  often 2,000-3,000 people paid their 6d (£1.50 today) to be entertained.

In the North East teams were formed in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Darlington, Hartlepool and County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead 

Blyth Spartans Ladies in Northumberland became local and regional heroes, playing in front of an average 4,000. The Blyth women worked at Blyth docks in South East Northumberland unloading spent shells from France, and the biggest star was Bella Reay, their magnificent centre forward who notched 133 goals in 30 unbeaten games.

Wor Bella, who was ‘the Alan Shearer of her day’ and Blyth Spartans Ladies went on to win the 1918 Munitionettes Cup against Bolckow Vaughan of Middlesbrough in front of 22,000 people at Ayresome Park, then home ground of Middlesbrough FC.

Bella Reay played by Lauren Waine (pic. courtesy Shields Gazette)

The play Wor Bella is about women’s football as seen through the eyes of Bella Reay (played by Lauren Waine). The International Women’s Day Celebration takes place on Sunday March 6, at the Market Place venue in South Shields town centre from 1pm to 3pm.

For booking details visit:

https://theworduk.org/whats-on/international-womens-day-celebration/

Wor Bella, which is supported by Arts Council England, tours the North East in March /April. www.worbella.co.uk

ALIKIVI   February 2022

BOBBY ROBSON SAVED MY LIFE – a New Play by Tom Kelly

Theatre and football come together in a new play about the life of one of football’s most successful and well-known personalities. Sir Bobby Robson’s story has been written by North East playwright Tom Kelly (Geordie the Musical, The Dolly Mixtures, Nothing Like The Wooden Horse)….

‘The play looks at three characters and how Sir Bobby has had a real and lasting influence upon their lives’ explained Tom. ‘This is not only about football and Tyneside but hopefully underlines we each have a responsibility to care for one another.’

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Former Newcastle United number 9 and England international, now Match of the Day pundit, Alan Shearer has added his support. In a video message he is really looking forward to seeing the play’ and described Sir Bobby in three words ‘passionate, committed and professionalism’

A footballer who played for Sir Bobby at Ipswich Town was George Burley. The former Scotland international full back revealed in his message to describe Sir Bobby ‘Father-figure, determination and enthusiasm’.

I asked Tom what research he did for the play… ‘I read a great deal about Sir Bobby’s life and discovered he often sent messages of support to a wide variety of people which had a positive impact on their lives: It gave them hope. He had a real empathy for others. His life underlined, for me, the way we treat others is not just important but crucial.’  

Tickets are available for the play at South Shields’ favourite theatre, The Customs House. A portion of each ticket sold will go to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, a charity he and his wife, Lady Elsie, founded in 2008 to help find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

Curtain up on the first night is Tuesday 16th July at 7.30pm, running through to Saturday 20th with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday 17th and Saturday 20th.

Telephone 0191 454 1234 or check on-line for details https://www.customshouse.co.uk/theatre/bobby-robson-saved-my-life/

 Other shows are on July 31st at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich

https://apps.ipswich.gov.uk/en-GB/shows/bobby%20robson%20saved%20my%20life/events

And 2nd & 3rd August at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle.

https://tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk/events/bobby-robson-saved-my-life/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2019.