Fresh from the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 victory, PETER BARRON highlights a contrast between the sexism facing a North-East woman in 1918 and the growth of one region’s most successful girls’ football clubs 104 years later...

MARY Mackin was a Suffragette, pioneer, firebrand, hellraiser – and a canny footballer too.

She is pictured, right, sitting proudly with the Smith’s Dock women’s football team, at South Bank’s old ground, in the steel suburb of Middlesbrough.

The photograph was taken in 1918, at the end of the First World War, and three years later, women’s football was banned by the Football Association.

The men who ran England’s governing body of association football had concluded that the sport was “unsuitable for females”.

Mary was the grandmother of Paul Hart, one of my best friends at school. We grew up together in South Bank, and played for St Peter’s school teams.

Paul, along with his daughter, Alex Andlau, have been researching Mary’s history since the photo came to light, and her story is especially poignant in the light of The Lionesses’ game-changing victory in the Euro 2022 final against Germany.

“Mary was clearly an incredible woman and her story is fascinating,” says Paul. “The regret I have is that I didn’t know her as an adult because she died when I was six. By all accounts, she was so determined, and railed against anyone who told her what to do.”

Mary, one of nine children born to Irish immigrants, even once chained herself to South Bank police station in protest at women being denied the vote.

When war broke out, Mary joined other women in the munitions factories, and the owners decided to set up a Munitions League.

With most of the men away in the trenches, the league was made up mainly of women’s teams from across the north, and Mary was among those who played in the Munitions Cup Final at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park ground before the blinkered bigots of the Football Association put a stop to such inappropriate behaviour.

Alex, a trained actor from Marske, has now written a screenplay based on Mary’s story. Straight after the Lionesses’ victory, she posted a Tweet about her great-grandma that went viral and has led to offers of support for her ambition to have the screenplay, called South Bank Girls, turned into a television series.

“I’m so proud to be her great-granddaughter, and I'm amazed at what she achieved.,” says Alex.

"I just hope that what's happened with the Lionesses inspires schools to up their game and give girls the opportunities to be trained at football, just like boys.”

SO, a century after Mary Mackin was told she couldn’t play football, imagine what she would have made of the Amazons Football Club, based in Chester-le-Street, County Durham…

It's a joy to be at Park View Community Association school field to watch the Amazons' first training session since the Lionesses’ triumph, and to catch-up with inspirational club founder, Julie Scurfield.

Mum-of-two Julie is the founder of the Amazons. She was The Northern Echo’s Local Hero of 2018, and deservedly honoured, a year later, with the British Empire Medal for services to women’s football in the North-East.

And she has positive news to report: “The phone hasn’t stopped, since Euro 2022 started, with enquiries about joining. We’re seeing a definite surge. Look! Here’s another one just come in now,” she says, pointing to the latest text message on her phone.

By her own admission, Julie knew “nowt much” about football until she started watching her sons, Billy and Charlie, playing for St Cuthbert’s Boys’ team nearly 20 years ago. One morning Billy turned up for a match and he and his team-mates were shocked to discover that the opposition was a girls’ team. The boys assumed they’d win but they lost – and Julie found herself cheering on the girls.

She decided to form her own girls’ team, embarked on gaining her FA Level One coaching qualification, and launched the Amazons in 2005. In those days, there was only one team – made up of a core of nine girls. They lost their first match 20-0, and it was four years before they won a game.

Today, there are 14 teams – comprising 185 girls, from four-year-olds up to adults – training on different nights across the week. Julie and other coaches have been going into primary schools to spread the word about the Amazons and she expects another two teams to be added this year to cope with the demand.

And yet, the Amazons are victims of their own outstanding success. When winter comes, the girls have to be spread around a variety of different indoor venues, with the women’s team training over at Houghton-le-Spring.

“Even after 17 years, we still haven’t got our own pitch,” says Julie.

“Surely, we’ve done enough by now to show the authorities how passionate we are. The county council had the England flag flying from County Hall after the Lionesses won. That's great but it needs to turn into real support.

“We need investment in facilities at regional and national level if there's going to be a true legacy from Euro 2022, and my dream won’t be complete until the Amazons have a place to call their own.”

Julie calls an impromptu “press conference” among the girls during a break in training, and they talk excitedly about watching the Lionesses: how they were dancing and screaming in front of their tellies, and how they dream of playing for England one day.

Mind you, eight-year-old Eliza Welton isn’t so sure: “I’d like to be a professional footballer, but I’d like to be an engineer even more because I just love robotics,” she says.

“Aye, that’s good,” smiles Julie. “And didn’t the Lionesses show us you can do anything if you work hard?”

Mary Mackin and Julie Scurfield – I have a feeling they’d have got along rather well.

  • To contact Alex Andlau about her screenplay, email:
  • To find out more about the Chester-le-Street Amazons, contact Julie Scurfield on 07884345888 or search for CLS Amazons FC on Facebook.