Playwright aims to tell story of pioneering female footballer

Mary Lyons, front centre, with her team
Mary Lyons, front centre, with her team

A playwright plans to put the boot on the other foot by penning a production to popularise a trailblazing – but largely forgotten – South Tyneside female footballer.

Ed Waugh says the time is right to set the record straight about Mary Lyons - a goalscoring heroine from Jarrow who holds two distinctive but little-known English soccer records.

South Shields playwright Ed Waugh.

South Shields playwright Ed Waugh.

He will do so in The Lion’s Roar, a soon-to-be-written play which he hopes to bring to the stage next year starring North East-based actress Viktoria Kay.

Mary Lyons was born in 1902 and died in 1979, and is the youngest person to have both played and scored for England – even eclipsing modern stars Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney.

In 1918 - aged just 15 - Mary made her international debut against Scotland in front of 20,000 fans at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park.

Mary, a munitions factory worker, netted just before half-time in the 3-2 win.

In the same year Mary, the youngest of eight children, was poached by Blyth Spartans, then the best women’s team in the North East.

Playing for them in the Munitionettes Cup final, she scored in a 5-0 victory at Middlesbrough’s former Ayresome Park stadium and was ‘woman of the match’.

The following year she helped the Jarrow-based Palmers shipyard team to glory in the same cup.

Sadly, her heyday was short. In 1921 the Football Association banned female soccer, and by her late 20s she was confined to a wheelchair.

Ed, 59, from South Shields, whose previous hit works include Hadaway Harry and Mr Corvan’s Music Hall, said: “Like most people, I’d never heard of Mary Lyons.

“As soon as I looked into it, I thought hers was an incredible story. It’s about football and it’s about women’s rights. It’s an important piece of social history.

“During the war, women went to work in munitions factories. When these women started playing football they were seen as a bit of a joke but that soon changed, Huge crowds would turn out to watch them. They were real pioneers.”

Mary left school at 14 and joined the Palmers munitions factory. With men away fighting, women’s football grew rapidly from 1915, with teams from factories across the region playing competitively.

Later, history shows that, robbed of her main passion, she became embittered, alienating friends and family and died a childless spinster in a Jarrow nursing home.

Her story was suggested to Ed by Viktoria, a long-time collaborator who will play Mary in the planned stage production.

She had heard about Mary from her soccer-mad close friend Jackie Fielding, a theatre director who died in 2015, and felt compelled to act on her idea.

Ed and Viktoria have been unable to trace any of Mary’s surviving relatives but would like to do so.

Anyone with information can contact Ed at ed.waugh@blueyonder.co.uk or 0191 455 0608.