1. ITV Report

Pioneers of the pitch: the women who kept football alive

Blyth Spartans Munitionette's football team. Photo: Patrick Brennan

On April 17th a new chapter will begin in the story of women's football in England and Wales. The new Women's Super League will kick-off featuring teams from across the country.

Among those flying the flag for our region are Sunderland and Durham Women.

It's an exciting development for the game and for those involved it has taken many years to get this far.

So it may be hard to believe that a century ago it was women who dominated the beautiful game.

The women's game is looking forward to an exciting new chapter Credit: ITV News

During the First World War the professional men's game was put on hold. Women found themselves manning production lines in munitions factories doing their bit for the war effort.

It's widely believed that during their tea breaks some munitionettes played football with young male apprentices and before long they were forming their own football teams.

Playing against other teams from munitions factories across the country they blazed a trail for women's football. Playing in front of crowds of thousands and filling a void that had been left by the men who had left for war.

The money raised from these matches went towards the war effort.

Bella Reay from Blyth Spartans was one of the best players in the country Credit: Patrick Brennan

Of the munitionette teams that played the beautiful game, one played it more beautifully than others.

Blyth Spartans were undefeated in their two seasons and won the Munitionette's Cup in 1918, playing in front of a crowd of 22,000 at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough.

Bella Reay scored a hat-trick in that game. The star striker scored a staggering 133 goals in just one season.

But not everyone was happy with the development of the women's game. Caroline Nielsen, a researcher at Newcastle University, says some thought women's bodies were not up to the rigours of the football field.

Durham Women's Football Club features some of the best up-and-coming talent in the game.

Their players hold down jobs or are in full-time eduction and know first-hand what it must have taken for munitionette footballers to spend their days on the production line and their free time on the football field.

Durham Women Football Club Credit: ITV News
Durham women in action Credit: ITV News

Watch Kenny Toal's full report here:

More on this story