Football on Tyneside 1914-1919

The history of the Football League during the Great War has been extensively covered by a number of authors. This account concerns itself with matters of local interest, in particular the measures taken to keep the game going, and the emergence of the "Munitionettes" teams set up by female workers in the munitions factories.

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Season 1914-15

Throughout the early part of 1914 international tension steadily increased on the Continent of Europe. On 2nd August the territory of Belgium was violated by German forces as they drove through into France, and Britain, as a guarantor of Belgian neutrality, at once declared war on Germany. This was the signal for the gutter press (not a modern invention, as some may think), to whip up anti-German feelings within the British population. The Government itself contributed to the mood of national hysteria, by rounding up enemy aliens 1, and posting armed guards at any site which might conceivably be the target of a German invasion 2. The outcome was that the first casualties of British action in the Great War were a handful of harmless pork butchers, and a number of innocent British civilians who were too slow to respond to the challenge of frightened and trigger-happy sentries - long before the battle of Mons which marked the beginning of hostilities in the field. In Jarrow alone eleven German nationals, mostly pork butchers, were arrested on 7th August 1914 and placed in custody.

1. "Enemy Aliens" included British women with German husbands, such as 60 years old Elizabeth Schonewald of Sunderland, who had lived all her life in England, and whose husband had been dead for more than 10 years.

2. The coastal road between Roker and Whitburn was closed to the public early in the war and remained closed until 6th January 1919.

Once all these dangerous enemy aliens had been safely locked up, the press cast about for another target to attack, and its attention alighted upon football. Prejudice against professionalism in the sport was still lurking beneath the surface. It was considered unpatriotic for able-bodied men to be earning money playing football during a time of national emergency. C.E. Sutcliffe, a member of the FA Council, writing in the Newcastle "Daily Journal", attempted to inject a note of rationality into the debate, pointing out that there were no more than 7,000 professional footballers in the country, most of whom had wives and children dependent upon their earnings. He also drew attention to the fact that the King had expressed a desire that horse racing should continue 3, and that the War Ministry had made no request for football to be suspended. In his view, what the nation wanted was the assurance "that football should not hold back any young man who wanted to enlist". To defuse the situation, clubs were encouraged to provide facilities at their grounds for the armed services, to recruit from amongst the spectators.

3. Horse Racing did in fact continue; the Government announced a ban in May 1917, but backed off after strong representation from the industry. Eventually, in May 1918, it was prohibited at all courses with the exception of Newmarket. Other professional sports which continued throughout the war included Billiards and Boxing.

There was, in fact, little fear of football holding back any young man who wanted to enlist. A patriotic fever had swept the country, the war was expected to last only a couple of months, and the young men were joining up in droves. So much so, that the major crises that football clubs were to face were (1) a loss of revenue from reduced crowds, and (2) constant difficulties in getting a team together. Players and spectators alike deserted the playing fields for the killing fields, and average Football League gates fell to 50% of normal as early as October. Clubs saw their revenues decline drastically, and schemes were introduced for the reduction of players' wages. A meeting of the North Eastern League was held in the County Hotel, Newcastle on 26th November 1914, and although the Press were excluded, the Newcastle "Evening Chronicle" was able to report that suspension of the League was one of the topics discussed. In the event, members decided that in view of the players' agreement to accept wage cuts, they should be able to continue to the end of the season if clubs were to support one other.

Most clubs did in fact struggle through to the end of the season, though some found it impossible to carry on. The Tyneside League lost three members - Wallsend Elm Villa, Willington UM and Coxlodge Villa, because they could no longer raise a team. The Northern Alliance claimed that at some of their clubs, two full sides had enlisted in the forces leaving only a third eleven to carry on. The Durham FA at its AGM in May 1915 reported that 3,605 players, 1,102 officials and 651 other members had enlisted. One notable local recruit was Charles Buchan of Sunderland, who joined the Grenadier Guards and found himself posted to London where, it was announced, "he would be available to play for Chelsea when his military duties permitted."

North Eastern League 1914-15

Northern Combination 1914-15
Tyneside League 1914-15

Northern Alliance 1914-15

1914-15 - final tables for the main Tyneside Competitions

The season had been a financial disaster. To some observers, the game might have been better served if it had, in fact, been banned by the Government. Ashington, for example, lost £164 6s 2d on the season, and South Shields £1145 0s 0d. Most clubs saw gross takings fall by 50%. They also had to cope with military usage of their grounds 4. In February 1915 the "Evening Chronicle" reported: "Hebburn Argyle's ground is occupied most days by the 'millingtery', and consequently the playing pitch is not what it might be."

4. The main stand at White Hart Lane was converted into a gas-mask factory for the duration of the War.

Season 1915-16

Something had to be done. A joint meeting of the Football League, Southern League and the Scottish and Irish Leagues was convened at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool on 3rd July 1915, and a number of resolutions were adopted, including a prohibition on making payments to players. (The Scottish League dissented from this latter measure, and professional footballers in Scotland continued to be paid). Furthermore, in order to prevent disruption to the war effort, all games were to be played on Saturdays or public holidays. Subsequent to this meeting the Football League, in a separate meeting, decided to abandon the League programme altogether for the 1915-16 season. After this somewhat hasty decision, wiser councils must have prevailed, for a fortnight later at the Football League AGM it was announced that League competitions would continue - but organised on a regional basis, with separate competitions in the North-West and Midlands. In the south, the London clubs got together with a number of Southern League members to form the London Combination. It was stressed however that all matches were to be regarded as friendlies, and no Medals, Shields, Cups &c. would be awarded. And of course, the players would not be paid.

In the North both the Tyneside League and the Northern Alliance announced that they would be suspending operations for the duration of the War. A more cautious approach was taken by the North Eastern League, which held its AGM at the County Hotel, Newcastle, on 24th July 1915. Delegates unanimously agreed that the league should suspend its operations during the coming season, however it was noted that the FA had "no objections to clubs getting together to arrange a few friendly fixtures among themselves." When a number of Tyneside clubs announced their intention to do just that, the League hierarchy stepped in to ensure that it would maintain a degree of control. On 21st August a meeting was held in the Metropole Hotel, Newcastle, to organise "a competition under the authority of the North Eastern League for the coming season." Seven clubs were represented at the meeting:- Hebburn Argyle, Jarrow, North Shields, Scotswood, South Shields, Sunderland Rovers and Wallsend. Within a week applications had been received from Boldon Colliery, Houghton Rovers, Leadgate Park, Marsden Rescue, Newburn and Willington Athletic. Only Houghton Rovers were admitted, making eight members in all of what was to become known as the "North Eastern League - Tyneside Combination". Players would not be paid, but referees would receive a maximum of half-a-crown per game plus their (third class) railway fare. Other local leagues to operate along similar lines were the Northern Combination, the Wearside League and the Stanley and District League.

The NEL-Tyneside Combination commenced on 18th September 1915. Because there were only eight clubs in membership it was decided to split the competition into two half-seasons, so that each club would play each other four times during the season. Although nominally under the auspices of the North Eastern League, the football was of a considerably lower standard, and clubs often had to borrow spectators from the crowd to make up their numbers. South Shields, who had been pushing for admittance to the Football League before the war commenced, were champions in both half-seasons.

NEL-Tyneside Combination 1915-16NEL-Tyneside Combination 1915-16

North Eastern League-Tyneside Combination - season 1915-16

Season 1916-17

When the North Eastern League held its AGM on 5th August 1916, the secretary reported a loss of £25 4s 5d for the year. Delegates from the 16 clubs present agreed that the League itself should remain suspended for the forthcoming season, but that the Tyneside Combination should continue as before. However, when they met on 14th August to discuss fixtures only six clubs were present, North Shields and Hebburn Argyle having dropped out. Houghton Rovers followed them after playing only three games, and their place was taken by Tyneside Electrical Engineers - a team comprised of serving soldiers which included Chris Duffy, a professional with Bury, who had been in the Newcastle United championship-winning side of 1905-06. The team played at Hawkey's Lane, formerly the North Shields ground.

Because of the reduced number of clubs the first half-season was completed earlier than anticipated, and it was announced that the second half would commence on 9th December 1916. The difficulties of getting a side together were increasing however - most able-bodied young men who were not at the Front were engaged on "War Work", and Munitions Tribunals had been established, with the power to fine workers for any unauthorised time lost. Faced with these difficulties, South Shields decided to withdraw before the second half commenced. The first half-season ended on 2nd December 1916, with Scotswood finishing up as champions.

The second half-season had some elements of farce. Sunderland Rovers announced that they would not commence their fixtures until February. In Jarrow's opening game against Tyneside Electrical Engineers they had to borrow four players from the crowd. They chose well, winning 6-1! At another match between these teams, this time at Jarrow, the ground was in such a poor condition that the game should have been postponed, but rather than disappoint the spectators the teams agreed to play a friendly. The competition finished with one match unplayed (or at least unreported), but there was no doubt whatever as to the championship, Scotswood claiming the title once again. This was to be the last season for the NEL-Tyneside Combination.

Other local leagues functioning during this season were the Tyneside Works' League, the Tyneside Munitioneers' League, the Mid-Tyne Amateur League, and the United Free Churches League. Despite its name, the latter was not solely a Church League, and included a number of factory sides, including one from the Aircraft Assembly Factory on the Town Moor - Aviation Athletic. (The Northern Combination had given up after 1915-16, and did not resume until after the War).

NEL-Tyneside Combination 1916-17NEL-Tyneside Combination 1916-17

North Eastern League-Tyneside Combination - season 1916-17 (TEE and Houghton results consolidated)

The season also witnessed the emergence of a new phenomenon 5 - the Munition Workers Girls' teams. When so many young men marched off to war in 1914 it had fallen to women to pick up some of the tasks they normally performed. Initially this had involved them in relatively light jobs such as acting as tram conductresses, and delivering the mail. However, by 1916 the war was going badly, despite jingoistic reports in the newspapers, and the opposing sides had fought themselves to a virtual standstill. Despite the introduction of conscription the British Army was running out of men. To replace them, women were encouraged to take up jobs in industry to release more men for the front. Many young working-class women were only too ready to respond to this call, not just for reasons of patriotism, but to break free from the domestic drudgery that was their only other hope of gainful employment. The manufacture of munitions in particular attracted large numbers of women, and by March 1917 they comprised 80 percent of the workforce. Never before had such a large cohort of young women found themselves thrown together so closely, and they enjoyed their new-found freedom, even though they worked in dangerous conditions, with rates of pay approximately half that of their remaining male co-workers. They organised social activities among themselves, and one of the recreational outlets they explored was football. They did not play in organised leagues, but staged friendly matches for charitable causes. Women's football teams sprang up all over the country, and Tyneside was no exception. One of the earliest recorded games on Tyneside between teams of female munition workers was on 3rd February 1917, when The Wallsend Slipway Company played North East Marine to raise funds for the Queen Mary Needlework Guild. Initially the Press did not know how to refer to them - "Female Munitions Workers", "Munitions Ladies", "Munitions Girls" and "Fair Footballers" being some of the titles they were given. In the following season they would come to be known generally as "Munitionettes". Sadly, few photographs of these teams have survived.

5. Strictly speaking ladies' football was not a new phenomenon. Tyneside had witnessed it before. In 1895 Miss Nettie Honeyball and her "British Ladies' Football Club" visited the North-East during their tour of Britain, and staged three exhibition matches - at Mowbray Road (South Shields), Feethams (Darlington) and at St James's Park. The latter, played on 20th April 1895, attracted a crowd of 8,000, a record for the time. For more information on the British Ladies Football Club click here

Armstrongs lady footballers - April 1917

Armstrong's (Elswick) Lady Footballers - April 21st 1917

Season 1917-18

Following the demise of the NEL-Tyneside Combination the Northumberland and Durham Football Associations were concerned to ensure the continuance of a league competition on Tyneside. It was suggested to the United Free Churches League that they drop their title temporarily, making it easier for outside clubs and Church of England teams to join in. A public meeting was held at the Roma Cafe in Newcastle on August 3rd 1917, at which this suggestion was favourably received, and on a motion from Boldon Colliery, seconded by Pandon Temperance, it was agreed that a league should be formed for clubs within 10 miles radius of the Newcastle Central Post Office, the arrangement to be for the duration of the war only.

The United Free Churches League met on 9th August and voted in favour of this proposal, subject to their already-elected officials remaining in position in the new league, to be called the Newcastle and District United League. On 10th August a joint meeting of the Northumberland and Durham Associations sanctioned the new league on this basis.

The new league was a very mixed bunch, bringing together clubs from the old Tyneside League, the Tyneside Works League and the United Free Churches League, together with a number of new works teams and one from the Royal Flying Corps. A surprise inclusion was Newcastle United. The club had applied to join the Football League (Lancashire Section) in July 1916, but had to withdraw as several of their players were munitions workers and could not be away from home overnight. After two seasons kicking their heels the club management was keen to see a representative side in action once more. To reflect the fact that they were playing in company beneath their normal station the side was named Newcastle United Juniors, a name which they changed at the last minute to Newcastle United Swifts. The full line-up of clubs at the start of the season was as follows:- Aviation Athletic (the works team of the aircraft assembly factory situated near Grandstand Road); Benton Square Mission (home ground Holystone, near Shiremoor); Boldon Colliery (a former Tyneside League club, home ground Station Road); Brighton West End (a former Tyneside League club, home ground Nuns Moor); Burradon Mission; Felling (based at Old Fold); Gateshead Victoria; Heaton Celtic; Hebburn Caledonians and Hebburn Colliery (both based at Hebburn Colliery); Munitions United (a works team from Backworth); Newburn Grange; Newcastle United Swifts; North Shields Prudhoe Villa (based at Hawkey's Lane, the old North Shields Athletic ground); Pandon Temperance (based at the former Newcastle East End ground at St Anthony's); Royal Flying Corps (possibly based at the Town Moor - played matches at the College of Medicine, Heaton); Smith's Dock (based at Percy Main)

Of these, the weakest teams were the RFC and Heaton Celtic; by the end of September they had conceded 31 and 45 goals respectively without a single goal in their favour. Heaton Celtic left the league shortly thereafter, accompanied by Gateshead Victoria, and were replaced by Electric Supply from Wallsend, and Derby Street Guild from Elswick. Felling Colliery also joined the league at this time, but unlike the two previous clubs they did not have to inherit a disastrous playing record! Other casualties during the season were Hebburn Caledonians, who were replaced by Bentonians, and the RFC, who were replaced by another, equally unskilled RFC team. By the end of the season the Royal Flying Corps had the unenvied record of having played 23, won 1, drawn 1, lost 21, goals for 12, goals against 145. All of the scheduled matches were not completed, and a final League Table did not appear in the usual newspapers, but the following, which I have put together from the last published table plus subsequent results, shows that the clear winners were Pandon Temperance. Newcastle United, to the surprise and disappointment of their management, could only manage third place.

Newcastle District United League 1917-18

Newcastle and District United League - season 1917-1918

Other local competitions during this season were the Tyneside Works League, the Tyneside Munition Workers League, the East and West Tyne League (2 divisions), and the Tyneside Amateur League.

The Munition Girls' teams also continued to go from strength to strength. During this season the most successful team was Blyth Spartans Munitions Girls. Having begun with informal kick-abouts on the sands, watched by admiring sailors, the girls had progressed to form a regular team, and adopted the green and white strips of their local club. On 18th August 1917 they met Blyth United Munitions Girls at Croft Park in a match for the benefit of the Cowpen and Crofton Workmen's Patriotic Fund. Spartans were far too strong for their opponents, and ran out 10-1 winners. Two days later the Newcastle "Daily Chronicle" carried an article entitled "Munition Girls' Challenge Cup". A trophy had been donated for a knock-out competition to be held between Munition Girls. The competition would be organised along the following lines; charitable organisations would apply for cup-ties to be allocated to them, and they would be expected to make all the necessary arrangements. The teams would turn up on the day and play, and whatever takings were made at the gate would go to charity. It was clear the term "Munition Girls" was to be interpreted rather widely; "Ladies' teams from Tyneside District drawn from any establishment or concern such as works, factories, mills, railways, tramways, collieries, shops etc. will be allowed to compete". The article did not reveal the donor of the trophy, but its official title was the "Tyne Wear & Tees Alfred Wood Munition Girls Cup", suggesting that it may have been given in memory of Alfred Wood, a partner in the Hartley-Wood Glass Company of Sunderland, who died in 1916.

Blyth's star player was their centre-forward, Bella Reay. During their cup run she scored 13 times in five games, including a double hat-trick in their 2nd round victory over NEM Engineering at St James's Park. The NEM team hotly contested her fifth goal, claiming it was offside, and eventually walked off the pitch. After 15 minutes they agreed to carry on, but the referee refused to have anything more to do with them, and a substitute referee had to fill in for the rest of the game.

A key figure in the organisation of these matches6 was Bill McCracken, the Northern Ireland international, who had joined Newcastle United in 1904 (and would play for them until 1922). He acted as referee at several of these games, for example between Palmers (Jarrow) Ladies and Wallsend Slipway on 1st September, which Wallsend won 2-0. The match was played at Morpeth in aid of the Morpeth V.A.D. Hospital, illustrating the distances these teams would travel in order to play. On another occasion Palmers played the Birtley Cartridge Case Factory at Bishop Auckland in aid of "Jack's Bairns Day", whatever that was. Through his Northern Ireland connections, McCracken also organised the first ever international ladies' match 7 when he arranged for a team from Tyneside to play Belfast Ladies at Grosvenor Park. Surprisingly Bella Reay was not picked for the side, though she did feature in the Probables v Possibles trial match on 15th December, playing for the Probables. The team which did travel proved strong enough for the occasion, winning 4-1 on Boxing Day 1917 before a crowd of 20,000. The Tyneside line-up was as follows: Margaret Scott (Palmers), Hilda Weygood (NEM), Maggie Short (Wallsend Slipway), Bella Willis (50 Shop), Bella Carrot capt. (NEM), Bella Turnbull (Wallsend Slipway), Mary Dorrian (Brown's), Nellie Kirk, (Brown's), Sarah Cornforth (Birtley), Ethel Jackson (NEM), Lizzie McConnell (Wallsend Slipway). Tyneside's goals were scored by Dorrian, Jackson, Cornforth and Kirk (pen). The "Tyneside Internationals", as the Press referred to them, (although two were from Teesside), would later play a team representing the North of England at St James's Park on 4th June 1918, on this occasion the honours falling even with a 2-2 draw.

6. McCracken also organised men's charity games, for example on 13th April 1918 St James's Park was host to "McCracken's XI v Tyne Anti-Aircraft Defences" in aid of the Royal Artillery P.O.W. Fund. Despite their amateurish-sounding name, the AA team members were all professional footballers.

7. The official FA record credits the first international match to the Dick, Kerr Ladies team who played a French representative side in April 1920 - the Tyneside Ladies' match in Belfast predates this by 28 months.

The first Munitionettes' Cup Final took place at St James's Park on 30th March 1918. It brought together two geographical extremes - Blyth Spartans' Munition Girls and Bolckow, Vaughan's Ladies of South Bank, Teesside, and ended in a tense 0-0 draw. This match alone raised £691 for charity. The replay on 18th May 1918 was an emphatic 5-0 win for Blyth, Bella Reay scoring a hat-trick and the Spartans' captain, Bella Metcalfe, getting the remaining two goals. Spartans also fielded a "ringer" - Mary Lyons of Jarrow.

Blyth Spartans Ladies 1917-18

Blyth Spartans Munition Girls - Munitionette Cup Winners 1918
Back Row: Hannah Weir, Lizzie James, Nellie Fairless
Centre Row: Agnes Sample, Martha O'Brien, Bella Metcalfe
Front Row: Dollie Summers, Annie Allan, Bella Reay, Dollie Allan, Jean Morgan
(photograph courtesy of Mrs. Sheila Angus)

Bolckow, Vaughan Ladies 1917-18

Bolckow, Vaughan Ladies - Munitionette Cup Runners-up 1918
Back Row: Emily Milner, Amelia Farrell, Greta Kirk, Violet Sharples
Front Row : Elizabeth Powell, Mary Mohan, Mercy Page, Winnie McKenna, Gladys Reece, Olive Percival, Anne Wharton
(photograph courtesy of Peter McNaughton; identifications thanks to John O'Neill, Grangetown in Times Past)

Alfred Woods Cup - winners medal (front)  Alfred Woods Cup - winners medal (rear)

Cup Winners medal awarded to Bella Metcalfe
(photograph courtesy of Mrs Sheila Angus)

The Munitionettes took their football seriously, but they could not, unfortunately, avoid being treated on occasions as curiosities. Occasionally their opponents would be a team of men, who would play with their hands tied behind their backs (apart from the goalkeeper, who had one hand free). An example of such a game is shown below. A more bizarre example was a match at Stanley on 24th November 1917. A team from Armstrong-Whitworth's No 43 Shop (Elswick) played a side comprising ex-soldiers from the Joseph and Jane Cowen Rehabilitation Home at Benwell. To add novelty value the organisers fielded a team comprising eight one-legged and two one-armed men (one assumes the goalkeeper was not an amputee). The final score was 6-4 in favour of the "Wounded Warriors", who were assisted by the award of two penalties. Although the event undoubtedly raised much-needed funds for local charities, it is hard not to feel that the women were being subject to a certain amount of exploitation on this occasion.

Haslemere Ladies versus the Seaforth Highlanders

Haslemere Ladies' versus the Seaforth Reserves - North Mail, 26th June 1917

As they were mainly concerned with raising money for charities, Munitionettes' games continued throughout the close season. One of the more interesting games was that played between the so-called "Tyneside Internationals" and a team representing the North of England. This took place at St. James's Park on 6th July 1918 and resulted in a 1-1 draw. According to press reports, the "Woman of the Match" was Mary Lyons of Palmer's, Jarrow, playing for the North of England. This was quite a remarkable feat, as Mary was only 14 years old. She seems to have been something of a dynamo, and was selected to play for England in the return match against Northern Ireland on 21st September 1918. Mary got 2 goals in England's 5-2 win, and thus became the youngest ever footballer to play for England - male or female.

Season 1918-19

1918-19 commenced with the same arrangements as the previous season. The Lancashire and Midland Sections of the Football League continued as before, with the London Combination in the south. On Tyneside the Newcastle and District United League embarked on another campaign, but with a number of changes to its membership. Aviation Athletic, Benton Square Mission, Burradon Mission, Electric Supply, North Shields Prudhoe Villa and the Royal Flying Corps had left, to be replaced by Close Works (Felling), 29 Shop (Elswick), Palmers (Jarrow) and Walker Celtic.

For the first three months of the season the Newcastle and District United League remained the premier league for the area, but following the declaration of an Armistice on 11th November 1918 it soon had stiff competition. Representatives from six northern clubs (Durham City, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Scotswood, South Shields and Sunderland) got together on 6th December at the Grand Hotel in Sunderland to discuss the return of first-class football to the area. On a motion proposed by John French of Middlesbrough, seconded by Robert Kyle of Sunderland, they agreed to form a league of eight clubs to be called the "Northern Victory League". In addition to those present, it was anticipated that Hartlepools and Darlington would wish to join the competition, which would commence on 11th January 1919. Hartlepools signed up as expected, but Darlington were unable to get themselves organised in time, and their place was taken by Darlington Forge Albion, a scratch team from the Forge Tavern. Although they were out of their depth, Forge Albion did not collect the wooden spoon as the final table below shows. In fact their record for the short season included a 2-0 win over Newcastle at St James's Park.

Northern Victory League 1919

Northern Victory League - 1919 half-season

The Victory League attracted a lot of spectators away from the Newcastle and District United League. Munitions United withdrew around the turn of the year to join the reformed Blyth and District League, of which they eventually became champions. Nevertheless, it continued until the end of the season, even though only two clubs were able to complete their full programme. This did not prevent a clear champion emerging however, and Felling took the honour by a large margin. The league had served its purpose however, and at its AGM on 5th June 1919 it was formally disbanded. During its life it raised £247 for local charities. It had also organised the Tyne Charity Shield competition which raised a further £465 7s 11½d for charity. This competition had an unusual outcome; the finalists, Walker Celtic and Close Works, played two full games plus extra time without resolving the issue, and it was decided therefore to award the trophy to them jointly, and two sets of winners medals were distributed to the teams.

Newcastle District United League 1918-19

Newcastle and District United League - season 1918-1919

Matches between teams of Munitionettes also continued, but once the War was over there was no further need for the Munitionettes themselves, and they were speedily discharged from employment, or "demobilised", to use the euphemism of the time. Most received a few week's unemployment benefit, and were then expected to return to women's work - i.e. as a domestic servant or as a mother/housekeeper 8. Boxing Day 1918 saw another big crowd at St James's Park, when 18,000 spectators watched Tyneside defeat Whitehaven 3-0 with goals from Mary Dorrian, Winnie McKenna and Mary Lyons. This was no mean feat - it was Whitehaven's first defeat, their record to date being played 25, won 23, drawn 2.

The Munitionettes' Cup managed to run to completion, although in the latter stages guest players from other teams were drafted in to create more interest and attract larger crowds. The winners were a combined team from Palmers Jarrow and Hebburn Works, who included three top-class guest players - Bella Reay from Blyth Spartans, Bella Willis from Armstrong-Whitworths and Minnie Seed from Gosforth Aviation. They disposed of Hood Haggies Girls 4-0 on 23rd November, and Armstrong-Whitworths 4-1 on 8th February. This latter match was played at St James's Park, and Palmers' star player was Bella Reay, who scored a hat-trick. In the semi-final on 2nd March Palmers met another local team, Foster, Blackett and Wilson's, led by Palmers' former goalkeeper, Maggie Scott. In a closely contested game Palmers emerged the winners by the odd goal in five. The final, in which Palmer's met Brown's of West Hartlepool, was contested on a snow-covered St. James's Park on 22nd March 1919, in front of 10,000 spectators. Brown's also had a guest player in their line-up - the redoubtable Winnie McKenna of Bolckow, Vaughans. She was unable to prevent Palmers winning 1-0, the goal being scored by Bella Reay, who together with Mary Lyons achieved the distinction of being the only double winners of the Munitionettes' Cup in its short history. (At the same time Winnie McKenna became the only double winner of a runners-up medal)

8. Foster, Blackett and Wilson of Hebburn had a more enlightened attitude. In April 1919 they converted part of their premises into a toy-making factory, trading under the name of "Bairntoys", the aim being to provide continued employment for some of the girls who had manufactured shrapnel during the war.

Bella Reay

Munitionettes' Cup 1919 - Bella Reay scoring at St James's Park

Palmers Lady Footballers

Palmers Munitionettes - Munitionette Cup Winners 1919
Front row: centre - Mary Lyons, far right - Beattie Taylor
The matronly figure is Mrs Ornsby, the Female Factory Superintendent.

Browns Lady Footballers

Browns Munitionettes - Munitionette Cup Runners-up 1919
Back row: M. Hodgson*, E. Cambridge*, G. Kelley, M. McKenzie (at rear), N. Henderson*, H. Knight*, M. Booth
Front Row: M. Dorrian*, N. Murray, N. Stott* (capt.), M. McPherson*, E. Ferguson*
( * indicates players who appeared in the final)

The last really big crowd for a Munitionettes' game on Tyneside was on 22nd April 1919, when 30,000 spectators saw Tyneside take on Dick, Kerr's Ladies of Preston. The first encounter between these teams, at Deepdale on 6th March, resulted in a 1-0 win for the Preston side, and hopes were high for a Tyneside victory. In the event the result was a disappointing 0-0 draw.

Munitionettes' games continued into the summer of 1919, with representative matches between Tyneside v Teeside, Durham v Northumberland and Newcastle v Sunderland. The difficulties the organisers faced in getting teams together is revealed by the fact that in the latter match, the "Sunderland" team was made up almost entirely of girls from Teesside, plus Bella Reay. The industrial base on which these teams were founded had now vanished, and this unique phenomenon passed into history. The "Evening Chronicle" (Football Edition) carried the most perfunctory of epitaphs in its issue of 15th January 1921:

"Ladies' football, which we never appreciated, is going strong in the Preston area9. The team of females connected with some works there have raised £15,000 for charity in the last four and a half years."

9. This was a reference to the Dick, Kerr and Company team, who had set a gate record for a women's match. On Boxing Day 1920 they defeated St Helen's Ladies 4-0 at Goodison Park in front of a 53,000 crowd, raising £3,115 for charity. They also toured France and the United States. The Football Association had become concerned, however, by alleged irregularities in the disbursement of funds raised for charities. In December 1921 it issued an instruction that women's teams were to be banned from all Football League grounds. This prohibition remained in place for the next fifty years, finally being lifted in July 1971.


The North-Eastern League recommenced operations in season 1919-20, but was missing several of its pre-War members. South Shields, the last champions, had been elected to the Football League, but maintained representation through their reserve team. North Shields Athletic had changed its name to Preston Colliery and joined the Northern Alliance. Darlington, Gateshead Town, Hebburn Argyle, Jarrow, Newcastle City and Sunderland Rovers had become defunct. The town of Darlington maintained a presence however, as Forge Albion changed its name to Darlington FC and joined the North Eastern League after the breakup of the Victory League. Jarrow too were represented through the election of the team from Palmer's. During the summer of 1919 a few individuals had formed a company - the "Palmer's (Jarrow) Association Football Club Ltd" which had taken over the club. The club played as Palmer's Jarrow for most of the season, but in March 1920 changed its name to Jarrow to carry on a tradition which had begun in 1894.

One final issue which remained to be resolved concerned players who had taken part in "unaffiliated games" during the war. After much discussion the Northumberland F.A. issued the following statement on 21st August 1919: "This Association has decided to grant a General Amnesty to all players who have played in unaffiliated football during the war period, but their names must be sent to the secretary on or before August 28th next." Normality had finally returned!


1. Archives of "The Journal", "North Mail", "Evening Chronicle", "Daily Chronicle", "Illustrated Chronicle", "Jarrow Guardian" - Local Studies section of the Newcastle Central Library.
2. Archives of the "Shields Gazette" and "Jarrow Chronicle" - Local Studies section of the South Shields Central Library.
3. Minute book of the Northumberland Football Association 1913-1920 - Tyne and Wear Archives.
4. "In A League Of Their Own" - history of the Dick, Kerr Ladies' Football Team by Gail J Newsham; published by Scarlet Press 1997, ISBN 1-85727-029-0
5. "Belles of the Ball" by David J Williamson; published by R & D Associates 1991, ISBN 0-9517512-0-4
6. "Women's Factory Work in WWI" by Gareth Griffiths; published by Alan Smith 1991, ISBN 0-86299-795-X

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