For a short-lived team from a golden era of women’s football – before females were barred from operating for decades, it’s revisiting the story of the past.
Amanda Whittington was football frenzied at the age of 11. She was the single girl to play in her community children’s tournament and hover around Nottingham Forest’s stadium to get autographs from the reigning European winners.
She was about three miles from the City Ground, and when you moved down to the ground or the River Trent at a particular time in the day, you would be able to observe the players training, moving along the river. And you knew at about noon when you went to that typical greasy spoon cafe around the corner. They’d always perch there in the window having bacon and eggs. Despite their food, the team won the European Cup in 1979 and 80, giving them and manager Brian Clough local legends. So one day, when the young Whittington was waiting for autographs, Clough came out and called her into the ground with her brother and fellow.
He took them around, and he made sure they got autographs from everybody. And it was terrific. When she looked back, she realized how incredible that was. They both couldn’t believe that. You cannot even think that happening now because the world of football is so tight and corporate. It’s like they live on another planet. So that was one of the things that earned her so passionate about football.
Go, Play Tennis
However, as Atalanta Forever got more experienced, her passion for playing the fantastic game was snuffed out by the initial women who told it to her. She got that message within the family, at school and from the wider society. She, like most girls, just accepted that because there were no teams, no future and no role models.
Writer Amanda Whittington grooves her childhood “hurt” into the new play. Recognizing that men’s football was the only game in the city made her meeting with her footballing heroes a bittersweet one. That complicated her hurt, the wound of thinking, right, you can be included in all of this, and Brian Clough can take her under his wing for half an hour but didn’t think she was going to play on and join a team. That was a massive moment in her life when she realized what was happening. She was going to have to stop, and the boys could play on.
Whittington gave up striking football but has now returned that expertise through the career she eventually fell into as a playwright.
Atalanta Ladies AFC
There had been a golden era of women’s football in the past. The fantastic Lily Parr and her crew Dick, Kerr Ladies, attracted enormous crowds after World War One, with a record 53,000 seeing them at Goodison Park in 1920. Parr scored approximately 1,000 goals in whole.
Other women’s clubs sprang up at that time. Atalanta Ladies made in Whittington’s adopted home town of Huddersfield, named after the huntress of Greek mythology (just as the men’s club of the same name in Italy was).
Atalanta Ladies played in front of up to 25,000 fans, turned out at Huddersfield Town’s ground, and mentored their players in the men’s professional team. They challenged Dick, Kerr’s twice – but failed 4-0 and 10-0.
The dramatist has now achieved Atalanta’s story and the battles they fought on and off the inclination in her new play, Atalanta Forever, with Huddersfield-based touring theatre company Mikron.
The underdogs and the team that missed 10-0 is more interesting than the team that got 10-0. The excellent football tradition allowed them to root for the underdog because the women were underdogs in football, and Atlanta were the underdogs in that league. So it was just a bonus as a writer to realize that all to life.
Atalanta’s existence was short, however. With men’s football restarting after the battle, the Football Association announced that football was “quite unsuitable for females” and banned women’s clubs from playing on FA-registered grounds.
The Lost Lionesses
They were most concerned about the moral dishonesty of the post-war generation. The nation wanted the men to come home after that massive trauma of war and the trauma to masculinity and the devastation that had caused. So they tried to rebuild the nation and for the women to go back into the home and be wives and mothers. And the threat of the ‘new woman, and the flappers of the 20s. The women who had endured through the war and had that freedom and liberty. She didn’t want to give it up – that was a threat to the status quo and the nation’s moral health as they saw it. So football got jumbled up with all that.
Like most teams, Atalanta folded. The FA ban persisted until 1971, and it took many more years for it to become “the done thing” for women and girls to play football again.
Whittington hopes her musical will remind girls who are playing today or watching the stars of the current women’s game that “the right to do that was fought for and won”.
She thought of young women growing up now who are playing football. It’s useful for them to know its history and know these claims had to be won and fought for, but also there are many contests still to compete.
And when they come up facing that kind of barrier – men and women, girls and boys – when they come up fronting restrictions in their life where society’s advising them they couldn’t or shouldn’t take that because it’s not relevant, then think, OK, they are not working on using this as the last term.
That’s what the play is touching because there are yet so many of those struggles to fight. There constantly will be.