Nellie made her mark on the football pitch

LADY footballer Nellie Kirk
LADY footballer Nellie Kirk

IT was Christmas Eve in 1917 when the England team set off for Ireland.

While most other families were getting ready for Christmas, Nellie was waiting at the Newcastle Central Station at 40 minutes past midnight to travel to Belfast.

It might not have been the merriest start to the festive season but there were consolations.

A busy social programme had been organised including theatre and cinema visits, watching two football matches, a hospital visit and a dance.

Finally, on Boxing Day, they lined up at Grosvenor Park to play the Irish in front of 20,000 local fans.

It was stuff. The Lord Mayor of Belfast started the game and England went 1-0 up inside ten minutes. Ireland equalised before England made it 2-1 before half time.

The visitors were 3-1 up soon after the re-start and Nellie herself added a fourth.

There were celebrations galore for the English girls but they were cut short on the ship journey home. A German submarine was spotted in the waters and this was wartime.

But everyone got safely home and Nellie featured in a return match in September 1918 which the English won 5-2 - and again she scored.

It was the last time she was to feature in an international match but her success did not end there.

In the 1918-1919 season, she played for a club team called Browns. They were up against Palmers of Jarrow and Hebburn in a match before 9,000 spectators at St James’ Park.

In a close-fought encounter on March 22, 1919, Nellie’s team lost 1-0.

Two years later, she was still going strong and featured in one memorable match when she played for Tyneside Ladies. They thumped a Chorley Ladies side 6-0.

There seemed to be no stopping the West Hartlepool star but fate was to intervene.

On September 3, 1922, Nellie died of tuberculosis. She was 29.

Nellie’s story has been a source of fascination for former Hartlepool woman Kath Brooks.

Nellie was her great aunt and Kath said: “Her death certificate describes her as ‘spinster, no occupation’. I am pleased to put the record straight by uncovering the history of Great Aunt Nellie, revealing her occupation as an international footballer.

“I feel proud that Nellie was part of the phenomenon of the Munition Girls’ football teams. Towards the end of the Great War, women formed the majority of the workforce and their new-found confidence and liberation is demonstrated in the story of the Munitionettes who, in two short years, took women’s football from comic kickabouts to serious and skilled play at international level.”

We would love to hear from more people with an interest in family history. Contact Head of Features Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377, or email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk