Over 130 years of women’s football is set to unfold on stage during the prestigious Edinburgh Festival this August, it has been announced, in the shape of theatre production ‘Offside’.
The three-woman show has been tackling the challenges women have faced in football, using figures from history and modern-day fictitious characters. Since taking their opening bow they have not only engaged and enlightened, but also helped rewrite history regarding Britain’s first black female player.
Using interviews with players and staff up and down Manchester City and Millwall’s ladies’ teams, director Caroline Bryant formed the Fifa 17 Coins ground work for the play, eventually written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish. “One of the first players I interviewed at Manchester City was a goalkeeper for a number of years and right at the end of her career,” Bryant explained.
“I asked her how it felt to see these younger players being paid, whereas she had done the same without financial recompense alongside a full-time job. She said: ‘That’s fine, I’m a pioneer.’ That word pioneer really pulled me in.”
Early 20th century icon Lily Parr features, as well as Emma Clarke – a black Liverpudlian playing in Scotland in the 1880s. The latter has in fact transformed since the play’s inception, having inspired research into her history – having been confused her with team-mate Carrie Boustead.
“[Playing her] has been very moving,” said Tanya-Loretta Dee. “A black footballer at that time, who was a woman – it’s nuts that that she was allowed to play in the first place. All the discovery that has come about over the last few months has been awesome.
“It’s been great to see the reactions from women’s players who have really connected with the play. We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve learned and it’s making a difference in a positive way.”
Jessica Butcher, who plays Parr – an openly gay player who founded the Dick Kerr’s Ladies team, has been similarly affected. “I wanted to play her from the second I read about her,” she said.
“Predominantly I see her as an extraordinary woman who rose to this amazing level of professionalism when everyone was trying to stop her. Yes, she was [caught up in the FA’s ban in 1921] – which would have been incredibly difficult for her – but she kept fighting and being this powerful, important woman.”
“Playing a range of characters] has been great from the point of view of research and finding out what’s going on currently,” said Daphne Kouma, whose roles see her play all from referees to journalists.
“In an ideal world it’d be a case where gender isn’t even talked about; you don’t happen to be a female coach of a male team, you’re just a coach. It’s gradually happening and we’re moving in the right direction.”
With the growth of the women’s game continuing, Bryant hopes ‘Offside’ gets fans thinking on its evolution so far. “This is a time that football could fly for women, now,” she concluded. “It’s been a very long journey for women’s football.”