TWO very different football plays are playing York Theatre Royal this season: Futures Theatre's Offside tonight and tomorrow and Tutti Frutti's new children's play, Keepy Uppy, on tour from June 20 to 23.

More on Keepy Uppy will follow in a later edition of What's On, but first catch Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish's Offside, as they present three centuries, one goal, and a glorious tale of struggle and sweat set in 1892, 1921 and 2018, as four women from across the centuries live, breathe and play football. While each of them face very different obstacles, the possibility that the beautiful game will change their futures – and the world – is tantalisingly close.

Told through lyrical dialogue, poetry, and punchy prose, placing the audience on the touchline of the game of a lifetime, Offside was born out of extensive research into the history and current state of women’s football.

The company worked with two prominent women’s teams, Manchester City Women’s FC and Millwall Lionesses, where many players, sports scientists and others, integral to the development of the game, were interviewed to gain an in-depth insight into their world.

To understand the historical context, Futures partnered with the National Football Museum in Manchester and the Imperial War Musuem in London in the early stages of development for the production, and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh came on board as a dramaturgical partner ahead of the first tour in March and April last year before the show secured a transfer to the Pleasance for the Edinburgh Fringe.

York Press:

Marieme Diouf in Futures Theatre's Offside

Now comes a new tour, in the year incidentally when Manchester United has announced it will at last be launching a women's team for the first time. Futures Theatre Company, meanwhile, will be performing at York Theatre Royal for the first time in their 26-year history. "A member of the Theatre Royal staff saw the show at Edinburgh last summer and invited us, and we're really excited to be coming up there," says director Caroline Bryant.

"The way we work, we start all our shows by wanting to tell authentic women's stories, and I remember I just wasn't allowed to play football. We could only do rounders, hockey and a bit of netball.

"Now, I'm a mother of four kids, three of them girls, and my youngest, who's 16, is a really good footballer, who's gone through the development squads at Chelsea and Millwall, but I still saw inequality going on."

Inequality of opportunity for women footballers was at its peak when the women's game was banned from 1921 to 1971 (by the male authorities who ran the game). "But since then Millwall has been a fantastic club for women's football, creating a team in the early 1970s, when they were one of the first to do so," says Caroline.

"Our play focuses on two women who are trialling for England, in 2018, Mickey and Keeley, and two women players from the past, Lily Parr and Emma Clarke.

"Lily, who was gay, was a winger for Dick, Kerr's Ladies F.C., the factory team at Preston, and played in the famous Boxing Day game at Goodison Park in 1921 that sold out. Some say 56,000 were there, some say 58,000, and there were 8,000 outside. That was the year they banned women's football.

York Press:

Offside move: Fizz Waller, Marieme Diouf and Jessica Dennis 

"The reason given was to protect women's bodies but the real reason was that the women's game never made any money for the football authorities. Instead, during the war, the women raised money from playing football for charities to support the men coming home after the war."

The fourth player, Emma Clarke's story comes from 1892. "Itt was only discovered by a Guardian journalist last year, when she was doing a piece on us researching our play," says Caroline. "Emma was born in Liverpool, moved to Scotland and played for the Glasgow team, which was basically the Scottish national team at that time. She was a a goalkeeper and she was of black heritage, becoming Britain's first professional female footballer. We wanted to include these women's stories as it was all part of women's suffrage of the time."

Commenting on the play's title, Caroline says: "It's partly in recognition of the joke that women can't understand the offside rule but that's also a slight on women and it's also about being off-balance until we can be the women we are mean to be and then we'll be onside."

Futures Theatre in Offside, York Theatre Royal Studio, tonight and tomorrow, kick-off at 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at