Script Sweet FA published: All Edinburgh Theatre.com
A war in two stages to follow
By Hugh Simpson
Soft FAthe story of a women’s football team in Edinburgh during the First World War which was a resounding success at last year’s Fringe is now published in book form.
Soft FA was the second play by This Is My Story Productions and Nonsense Room to be staged at Tynecastle Park, home of Heart of Midlothian FC. He was widely acclaimed by followers of every football team (and none) for his combination of emotional appeal and political relevance.
The publication by Perth-based Tippermuir of the screenplay books by Tim Barrow and Paul Beeson – with drama by Bruce Strachan – coincided with International Women’s Day. It was celebrated at the Hearts Museum with renditions of some of the songs from the play by six of the all-female original cast, accompanied by short contextual introductions from director Strachan, editor Paul S. Philippou and academic Dr Fiona Skillen.
This kind of play with music – performed in the tradition of Scottish community theatre: ensemble-based and energetically stimulating – doesn’t always succeed as well on the page as it does on stage. Soft FAmoreover, relied so heavily on references designed to appeal to its intended audience, both in terms of topicality and geography, that there was always a danger that it would look more like a curiosity in book form.
rhythms and energy
It is therefore interesting and encouraging to report that he made the transition to book form with great success. The rhythms and energy of the dialogue quite jump off the page, the most poignant elements of the story still have force, and the nefarious acts of Shady FA continue to infuriate. Even song lyrics, while necessarily lacking something, still communicate a great degree of intent and emotion.
Strachan’s foreword states that the play’s creators are “open to having it moved to any town or city where it can function” in performance. It’s hard to see how this could be done without extensive rewriting; it is not a criticism, it is in fact a reflection of the rooting of the piece and its concerns in the community that gave rise to it.
Encouragingly, Tippermuir’s publication of This Is My Story’s earlier A war in two stages – from the same editorial team – is also imminent; there are also plans (funding permitting) for both productions to reappear later this year.
There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth lately about football ‘losing its soul’. This is rightly linked to how clubs can be sold unimpeded to oligarchs or government agencies seeking to use them as an extension of foreign policy, or as a reaction to Sky TV’s insistence that the football did not exist before 1992.
However – as Andi Thomas points out in an article in the most recent edition of this excellent football quarterly The Blizzard – this quest for lost Edens has lasted as long as football itself. Much of this stems from nostalgia and the belief that football was always better in the speaker’s childhood.
There has been a recent flurry of insistence that the 1970s represent some kind of lost golden age of football, but a look at the constantly replayed episodes of the big game on ITV4 is just as likely to remind you that it was a time of unbridled racism, growing hooliganism and cynical on-pitch violence perpetrated on pitches that were more muddy than grassy.
Women’s football does not suffer from such a rosy comeback – partly because its history is one of fighting ignorance, lack of cooperation and even outright proscription by male footballing authorities, but also because that his past is woefully underdocumented. Dr. Skillen made an effort to point this out. Her recent receipt of a FIFA grant to research the early history of women’s football in Scotland could finally help to remedy that.
Soft FA himself, of course, was a help. Perhaps the fact that Hearts had an unusually high level of female representation in important roles meant the play was always more likely to happen there. Lianne Parry, Head of Hearts Heritage, spoke at the launch, as did Ann Park, Director of Community and Partnerships, who is credited in the book as having been instrumental in the idea of the show in the first place. .
And of course, the club’s president remains Ann Budge, who was the driving force behind the club emerging from the near-terminal chaos of the Romanov years, and was also very present at the launch (as, incidentally, was Club ambassador Gary Locke ).
As we approach Hearts’ 150th anniversary in 2024, it is to be hoped that This Is My Story Productions’ association with the club will continue for some time to come. In the meantime, the book Soft FA is something that should appeal to all football fans and theater lovers.
Lists and links
Soft FA is published by Tippermuir for £9.99.
Available direct from Tippermuir at https://tippermuirbooks.co.uk/product/sweet-fa/.
In person at the Hearts Clubstore in Tynecastle Park.
It can also be purchased for £9.29 from Æ’s Bookshop.org: Here.
A war in two stages can be pre-ordered at https://tippermuirbooks.co.uk/product/a-war-of-two-halves/
This Is My Story Productions website: https://www.thisismystoryproductions.co.uk.