Play by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish celebrates women's football pioneers
A play about two pioneers of women’s football that has been written by performance poets Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish is beginning a national tour. Offisde focuses on the stories of two female footballers, Lily Parr, the only woman to be awarded a place in the English Football Hall of Fame, and Carrie Boustead, the first recorded black female footballer.
On Boxing Day in 1920, a women’s football match in Liverpool attracted a crowd of 53,000. The following year, the Football Association said that football was “unsuitable for women”. The ban was not overturned until 1971.
In an article in the New Statesman Hollie McNish said: “I’ve always loved football. But I find it fascinating how, more than any other sport, it’s still seen as so masculine. It stirs up more anger than women playing other sports, and it’s still seen as stepping on men’s toes - which is what they got flak for in the 1880s and 1920s. It wasn’t just the idea that they were unladylike, it was that this was a man’s domain.”
The New Statesman article says that In the 1920s, women’s matches were run as charity fundraisers for wounded men returning from the first world war. Offside tells the story of Lily Carr, a player for a team of workers from a Preston munitions factory who won a 4-0 victory at that Boxing Day match. She scored 43 goals in her first season aged 14, and was the first woman inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.
Carrie Bousted is believed to be the first black female footballer, with photographs showing her playing for Glasgow in 1881. The women’s game was popular in Scotland in the 19th century, with teams growing out of the Suffragette movement. “Because of our ridiculous, white-washed period dramas we tend to think that in those days everyone was white, which was not the case,” said Mahfouz.
The play also features two contemporary, fictional young players, based on interviews with real players. Mahfouz is a playwright as well as a poet. She had little interest in the sport before beginning the project, but was intrigued by the historical stories. Knowing of McNish’s love and knowledge of the game, she asked her to come on board. “We wanted [the writing] to match the movement on the pitch, for it to feel like they would be knackered by the end,” said McNish.
Offside will be performed by Futures Theatre Company at Harrogate theatre at Friday and Saturday, 24-25 March, and the tour also includes performances in London, Edinburgh, Havant, Bristol, Canterbury, Doncaster, Southen,d Oxford, Manchester, Cambridge and Newcastle.