Women’s football trailblazer Rose Reilly’s life story set to be brought to the stage

Rose Reilly at the Scottish Football Museum's Hall of Fame. Picture: SNS
Rose Reilly at the Scottish Football Museum's Hall of Fame. Picture: SNS
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She was the footballing traiblazer who famously quit Scotland after runs-ins with the authorities in her home country over their refusal to recognise the women’s game and became a household name in Italy.

Now the remarkable story of Rose Reilly, who was crowned the world’s best female footballer after being banned from the game for life in Scotland, is to inspire a new stage play.

I watched it I just thought it was an absolute gift. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to tell a story like this

LORNA MARTIN

The life and legacy of Ayrshire-born Reilly, who was also a World Cup winner with Italy, is being brought to the stage by the lunchtime theatre company A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

It will recall the prejudices she faced and the barriers put in her way by the men running Scottish football over her ambitions to become a professional player.

Reilly, who began her career at Stewarton Boys Club, Ayrshire, played for Scotland against England in Greenock when she was 17, in a match which Scots football authorities refused to recognise.

Reilly, who was handed her life ban after deciding to pursue a professional career in France, won the league with Reims. After a six-month spell she secured a move to AC Milan and by the time she retired from the game at the age of 40, she had won eight league titles in Italy.

However it was not until 2007 that Reilly was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Scotland, a few months before she was honoured with a place in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. She was still a relatively little-known figure until a new documentary on Reilly was shown on BBC Alba in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, which Scotland qualified for.

The show caught the eye of actor and director Maureen Carr, founder of Glasgow comedy collective Whitsherface, who has joined forces with the playwright and author Lorna Martin to create “Rose,” which tour Glasgow, Greenock and Edinburgh in April.

News of the play has emerged less than a month after Reilly was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List and less than a year after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon presented Reilly and three other former internationalists with their caps from the England game in 1972.

Reilly, who is now 65, said: “I met with Maureen for a chat and we had a great laugh for about three hours. The play is a great honour as I symbolise a Scottish women and what she did against the odds. I did it myself - I didn’t have any back-up from anyone, I just went for it. It will be the story of my life - it won’t just be about football.

“I wasn’t angry when I heard I had banned from playing in Scotland - I don’t get angry. I just wanted to get on with my career in Italy. I got asked to play for the country after five years, which I was very proud of. But it was a Scottish heart beating inside an Italian jersey.

“I’ve never been bitter or had any regrets about what happened. I really just wanted to play football. Looking back at how we were treated, or mistreated, it was very chauvinistic, but there was a lot of male chauvinism in life in general. The feeling was that football just wasn’t for women and that we shouldn’t be playing.”

Martin said: “I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of Rose Reilly until Maureen sent me Margot McCuaig’s BBC Alba documentary. When I watched it I just thought it was an absolute gift. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to tell a story like this. There are so many fantastic vignettes about Rose. As wellas being incredibly inspiring, she is also really funny.”