How much do you know about women’s football? Did you know that women’s football was immensely popular in Britain during World War One? Did you know that women’s football games were banned by the FA from 1921 until 1971? Could you name the first black female football player in Britain? (Emma Clarke, who played in Scotland in the 1890s). Offside winningly dramatises the history of women’s football and celebrates the game then and now.
What I found most fascinating was learning how intertwined women’s football was with the campaign for women’s suffrage, conveyed through the green and purple Votes for Women banners that form the backdrop to Beth Oppenheim’s set design. Mickey (Tanya-Loretta Dee) and Keeley (Jessica Butcher), who are vying for a spot on the twenty-first century England team, are conscious of this feminist legacy and the responsibility it brings. They are connected to the women who played before them by their ‘footballing heroines’: Emma Clarke for Mickey, and Lily Parr, who scored over 1000 goals over her footballing career. In the present day strand of the play, Mickey and Keeley deal with intrusive media attention about their bodies, homophobia (Mickey), and caring responsibilities (Keeley).
The script, written by spoken-word artists Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish, is ingenuous and open-hearted, as the best spoken-word can be. However, spoken-word was not made use of much throughout the piece, only in a few rhyming monologues, which then seemed out of place in the texture of the rest of the play. I longed for a more sophisticated structure: Emma and Lily’s experiences of football in the 1890s and 1920s respectively are isolated by the monologues through which they are told. However, their stories are so interesting I would have liked to see them occupy full scenes. The structure of the play and the emphasis on the twenty-first century game almost seems the result of a pressure to make the play ‘relevant’, when it would be anyway.
Nonetheless, Offside is an antidote to cynicism (and Fringe theatre fatigue), in its passionate celebration of women’s football and message of female empowerment. ‘When I play football, I sweat’, the actors intone, as a montage of women and girls playing football is projected onto the suffragette banners. Football fan or not, the passion of the script and performances is catching.
Offside is on at Pleasance Courtyard until 28th August. Click here for more details.