THE LYONS’ ROAR
A TALK BY NORTH EAST ACTRESS VIK KAY
So you think you know about football?
OK, who was the youngest ever player to score for England? The history books will tell us that was Wayne Rooney (Everton) when, aged 17 years and 317 days, he scored in England’s 2-1 victory over FYR Macedonia on September 6, 2003.
The history books also tell us that the youngest-ever England international was Theo Walcott (Arsenal) when he appeared in England’s 3-1 friendly win over Hungary at Old Trafford, Manchester, aged 17 years and 75 days, on May 30, 2006.
These “facts” are wrong!
Both honours can be claimed by 15-year-old Mary Lyons of Jarrow when she made her England debut in front of 20,000 people at St James’ Park, Newcastle, in 1918 and netted at the end of the first half resulting in a 3-2 win against Scotland.
Just as a North East team (West Auckland) won the first world cup in 1909, the region can boast another brilliant football record that today has been largely forgotten by officialdom.
The success of the West Auckland team was portrayed on film in A Captain’s Tale and on stage in the acclaimed Alf Ramsay Knew My Grandfather by Ed Waugh & Trevor Wood, who also penned the hilarious history of the Lindisfarne Gospels, called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Durham, which starred Vik Kay,
Now it is time for Mary Lyons’ inspirational story – The Lyons’ Roar – to be told.
Mary was born in 1902 in Jarrow. Her Irish-born parents – Julia and Patrick – came to South Tyneside as a young married couple. Patrick and Mary’s six brothers were employed at Palmer’s shipyard. The youngest of eight children, Mary also had a sister
In 1914 war broke out. The war, supposedly to be “over by Christmas”, was to last another three years, becoming bloodier and messier. The “shell crisis” of 1915 saw ammunitions factories spring up all over the region (and throughout the UK) with female labour much sought after. After the mass slaughter of Ypres and The Somme in 1916 followed by conscription of males, even more women entered the factories. By early 1917 80 per cent of the munitions workforce was female.
After leaving school at 14, Mary joined Palmers Munitions Factory where bait-time kickabouts led to her being asked to play for Palmers Girls. Women’s football grew rapidly from 1915, with teams from munitions factories competing against one another. Teams were based throughout the region (especially the industrial centres) and regularly attracted crowds of 20,000-plus. The interest was incredible. The proceeds would go to war-related charities.
Mary’s skills rapidly gained the attention of newspaper sporting columns and in 1918, aged 15, she was poached by the mighty Blyth Spartans Ladies – the best woman’s team in the region at the time – for the Munitionettes Cup against Middlesbrough’s Bolckow, Vaughn & Co at Ayresome Park. Mary led Blyth Spartans to victory, scoring in their 5-0 victory and winning the accolade “Woman of the Match”.
In addition, Mary took the Palmers team from a scratch side to the best in the region, bringing The Munitionettes Cup to Jarrow a year later in 1919.
When the war ended and soldiers were demobbed, women were no longer expected to do “men’s work” in the factories and many were expected to return to domestic servitude.
As a consequence, women’s football quickly became a shadow of what it was in those heady wartime days.
During the miners’ strike of 1921 women’s football had a resurgence to raise money for destitute families of miners. The English Football Association banned – yes “banned” – women’s football in December 1921. Mary was just 19 years old.
Sadly, in her late 20s, illness confined Mary to a wheelchair. She had trained as a nurse maid.
Understandably, robbed of her main passion in life, Mary became embittered and consequently alienated friends and family. She never married and bore no children. Hence, on May 29, 1979, when she died in a Jarrow care home, tales of her footballing heroics appeared to have been buried with her…until now!
Women’s football today
*In 2018, 12.6 million TV viewers watched Arsenal and Chelsea battle it out for the Women’s FA Cup Final
*According to UEFA, there are more than 1,270,482 registered female footballers in Europe (more than 100,000 are British)
*Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the UK with the FA looking to double the number of women and girls taking part by 2020.
*The North East provides many of the sport’s leading players
The story of Mary Lyons is a dramatic tale of female empowerment in the male-orientated world of the 19th century. A forgotten pioneer in the tremendous resurgence of women’s football, her hugely entertaining and inspirational story deserves to be heard. From the smash-hit writer Ed Waugh, The Lyons’ Roar will hopefully tour the region in autumn 2019. In the mean time…come and hear The Lyons’ Roar Talk by North East actress Vik Kay!