WOMEN’S football is often seen as the B-show to the men’s’ game. Crowd are rarely on a par to what the men see, and TV time is sparse to say the least – unless there’s a major tournament on.

Times are slightly changing however, with women’s football seeing a big increase in popularity since the 2015 World Cup.

New changes are being made to the domestic women’s structure here in England to try and bolster the sport: big names in world football, like Manchester United, have finally caught up with the rest of the country and added a women’s team to their ranks.

Now, a group of actors and football enthusiasts are heading up a tour which tells the untold history of women in football. It shines a fresh light on football and discusses how the sport become so popular it was once banned.

Offside is this story. It is touring the country as I write, most recently playing at the Amex Stadium – the home of Brighton & Hove Albion.

That’s right, this theatre production isn’t being performed at your traditional theatres or concert halls. No, Offside is hosting its show in the locker rooms of football clubs across the UK.

Caroline Bryant is the Artistic Director of Futures Theatre, the company producing the show, and she talked me through their decision to base their show at football grounds, “A central aspect to Futures’ work is engaging with communities who, for a variety of reasons, don’t go to the theatre.

“We believe very strongly in the power of theatre to inspire, encourage dialogue, and create change, and this is most pertinent for those who are often excluded from traditional theatre experiences.

“Staging the production in a changing room at a football stadium has enabled us to reach out to audiences that are new to us, and potentially new to theatre.”

The intimacy a locker room provides is, as expected, very different to performing on stage in a theatre and it gets even more different still.

As mentioned, the first of the shows two Sussex dates was at the Amex Stadium.

As a Premier League Club, Brighton enjoy plush facilities and a large, spacious, locker room.

The second show Offside is performing in the county is at the rather more snug Dripping Pan – the home of Lewes FC.

This change up in “stage” size would prove problematic for some performers, but the cast of Offside are seeing it as a challenge, “The difference spaces will change the nature of how we stage the performance, but that is predominantly in terms of how many lights we can bring in to a space, and then how we block the show. The essential story will remain the same.”, Caroline says.

She adds that this show set up makes it more exciting for the audience as well as the performers, “It creates a different atmosphere and, in some ways, feels like we making our own little bit of history too.”

The story of Offside follows two fictional female footballers in Mickey and Keeley. Both are in the running for the England squad, but both play for different teams.

Despite their rivalry when it comes to football they both share a common interest, in that they both have female football heroines.

“Through the stories of these heroines, Emma Clarke and Lily Parr, we understand the obstacles women footballers have faced through history, and this provides a comparison to the barriers in place for women wanting to play now.”, Caroline explains.

The history she speaks of takes us all the way back to the early 1900s. At the turn of that century, and for years after, women’s football was even bigger than it is now.

At one point there were over 150 women’s football teams, female professional footballers, and crowds could end up exceeding 50,000 on a far more regular basis than they do today.

One of the women portrayed in this show, Lily Parr, was one of the first ever professional female footballers and a pacy winger.

The growth of women in the game started before the war; with men called away to serve their country, it was the women who picked up the mantle to entertain spectators on the pitch.

Parr once took place in a Boxing Day match for Dick Kerr’s Ladies that pulled in a whopping 53,000 spectators.

So, why was the sport, at the height of its popularity, banned?

Well reading reports it seems the answer, in this reporter’s mind at least is clear, jealousy – although officials may say otherwise.

The view of the FA, which does have extremely sexist overtones, was that football was “quite unsuitable” for females and “ought not to be encouraged”.

On December 5, 1921, women were banned from playing on FA-affiliated pitches and Caroline says this show gives this period of history a chance to be told, “These women and these stories shouldn’t be allowed to be forgotten because if we do, we lose sense of how far we have come and also how far we still have to go.”

In 1971, 50 years after being pushed to the side, the ban was finally lifted. Since then, after years of struggling for a level playing field, women’s football has seen a rise in popularity.

It’s a rise that Caroline says is deserved, “It is a long time coming, but it isn’t new, if anything it is owed to the women’s game.”

Here is Sussex, Lewes FC are one club who are flying the flag high for women’s football. The newly-crowned Women’s Championship side were the first pro or semi-pro club in the world to pay their women’s team the same as the men.

It’s a move which has broken further barriers in the game,

“Change comes from people taking the lead, going against the status quo and often taking risks.”, Caroline says. “That is what our characters in “Offside” have to do, and it has to extend off the pitch if there is going to be any significant change for the women’s game.”

The FA are now trying to develop women’s football even further.

It is hoped that a new Women’s Super League structure will enable the game to get more air-time, more sponsors and, crucially, get more people invested in the sport.

Speaking of the changes, Caroline says that she hopes the changes will allow more people to watch women’s football and put it side-by-side in terms of importance with the men’s game, “I’m hoping the new WSL structure will encourage supporters to engage more easily in the game by running alongside the men’s season.

“The season will be simpler without a mid season break and hopefully will also build the attendance habit. Perhaps the male dominated sports TV programmes will also integrate the women’s game into their commentaries and reporting, which will grow an audience.”

The story of Offside is simple. It’s about fighting. Fighting for what you want, fighting for what is right.

It is a story that needs to be told and that these women are more than happy to tell.