Football meets theatre: Lincoln Ladies’ story told 100 years later

Theatre and local women’s football, while perhaps not the most natural playmates, are coming together for a unique commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Cast members of The World at Her Feet have been put through their paces with training at Sincil Bank to make them match-fit for this Sunday’s November 11 premier at the Drill Hall.

The Lincoln Mystery Plays’ production sheds light on the little-known experiences of the munitions girls of 1918 and the struggles, sacrifices and successes they endured as women in a man’s world in the factories and on the football fields of wartime Lincoln.

Innovatively staged at Lincoln’s Drill Hall – which itself played its own vital role in building the city’s resilience and response to the Great War – the six performances open on Armistice Day, November 11, through to November 17.

Photo: LMP/Phil Crow

Getting into character, the women players followed their predecessors onto the pitch at Sincil Bank with Imps in the Community and at Ashby Avenue with Lincoln United.

They are part of a 40-strong cast involved in recounting an amazing chapter in our social history as women fought against prejudice and precedent.

Written for this anniversary by city playwright Stephen Gillard and directed by ‘Sunday Times Playwriting Award’ winner, University of Lincoln graduate Samantha Miles, The World At Her Feet provides a most fitting remembrance of Lincoln 100 years ago, just as the company’s The Last Post did to great acclaim in 2014.

Photo: LMP/Phil Crow

Drafted in to the factories and munitions works to support the war effort in the absence of the men, hundreds of women formed football teams to boost morale, strengthen bonds and raise benevolent funds.

There were a number of competitive and successful teams locally and across the country there was a wave of support drawing crowds in their tens of thousands, but there was also opposition within the establishment.

After keeping the game alive against adversity, they faced the indignation of an FA ban on their sport after the men returned, which was ultimately overturned 50 years later.

Lincoln Ladies of 1918 blazed a trail for today’s female footballers to follow. But it has taken a hundred years for the women’s game to start attracting the crowds of their forebears, such was the damage done.

Photo: LMP/Phil Crow

Photo: LMP/Phil Crow

“It’s striking how little concrete information existed about the women’s game at the time, but it was incredibly popular with more than 100 registered teams and tens of thousands of supporters,” said Steve.

“Lincoln was one of the trailblazers; the Lincoln Ladies being formed from factory teams connected to Fosters, Ruston and Hornsby and others, and playing to crowds of thousands at Sincil Bank, but they are forgotten.

“My genuine hope is that this play might inspire someone to hunt out any artefacts and explore any family history as I am sure that more tangible evidence of the world of the Lincoln Ladies and their inspiring story is out there somewhere,” said Steve.

A sense of the women’s struggle and success is also played out in an exhibition at Lincoln Central Library researched and presented by Bishop Grosseteste University as a companion to the play being staged next door on Free School Lane.

As a first time director, fresh out of university, Sam feels ‘a personal connection with these women and their stories’.

“We have come a long way over the last 100 years, but still have so much further to go, which is why it is so imperative that we tell stories like this,” she said, noting how the play also touches on men’s struggle for equality against a perceived need to be the strong, masculine provider, even in the wake of such mental and physical trauma as experienced in war.

Running November 11 and 13 to 16 at 7.30pm and Saturday 17 at Lincoln Drill Hall, tickets are priced £12, £10 and £39 for a family. Book on 01522 873894 or visit the website here