Marrie's love of the game
Team GB Double Header
Women v Sweden (4pm)
Men v Brazil (7.45pm)
Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough FC
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Ticket hotline 0844 499 1234
Live on BBC1
When the Team GB sides walk out at the Riverside for their only warm-up game ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, few in the stadium will be prouder than former Middlesbrough Ladies manager Marrie Wieczorek.
A lifelong ambassador for the women’s game, Marrie won full England caps prior to managing Boro for more than 20 years and has now made a recent switch to honorary president/chairman.
“I think it’s an absolutely fantastic opportunity for Teesside that people will have a chance to come and see women’s football right on their own doorstep,” she says with the sort of excitement normally reserved solely for talk of her beloved Boro.
Hope Powell’s women will take on World Cup bronze medalists Sweden in a 4pm kick-off next Friday, 20 July, before Stuart Pearce’s men face the Brazil at 7.45pm in a unique Riverside double-header.
“I do hope football fans come along to see the women, not just the men,” adds Marrie, who is a project worker with Middlesbrough FC’s community programme, passing on football, healthy eating and anti-smoking messages to children across Teesside.
“If they haven’t seen women’s football before, they need to come with an open mind. These girls at the top can really play. They are naturally gifted footballers. I do think people will be surprised at their ability.”
Seeing the best female footballers the country has to offer striding across the Riverside pitch will no doubt make Marrie reflect too on her struggle to stay involved in the game she loved from her youngest days.
The daughter of football-loving parents, Middlesbrough-born Marie and Polish immigrant Czeslaw - nicknamed John! – Marrie attended Sacred Heart Primary School, right next door to Boro’s former ground, Ayresome Park.
“I always played, from when I was young,” she reveals. “My mother always played too, so I think that’s where I got it. Dad went to war at 15 and lost his elder sister in a concentration camp. When he settled here after the war, he became a Boro fanatic.”
But opportunities for a young girl such as Marrie to play the game were few and far between – and she was often reluctant to take the rare opportunities that came her way.
“There was only me among the girls who played football at school,” she smiles. “I used to play with all the boys in the playground and in the street. I was called a tom boy.
“At primary school, I would train with the boys but I wouldn’t play with them for the school team because I didn’t want to be the only girl. I used to go to every game and watch but I think I was just too shy to play.”
Later, she attended St Mary’s Convent, an all-girls grammar school that later became Newlands and is now part of the new Trinity Catholic College.
“I would kick a ball about whenever I could, but girls weren’t allowed to play football. It was hockey and netball - anything but football. I liked most sports but football was what I wanted to do.
Not until she was 19 years old did she finally play the game competitively. “I was working at a Pontins holiday camp when my sister sent me a cutting from the Evening Gazette about a Middlesbrough girls’ team,” she recalls.
As soon as she returned home, Marrie joined Cleveland Spartans, a club that would later change its name to Middlesbrough Ladies. They trained at St Anthony’s School and Stewart Park, while playing their home games on the grounds of local workingmen’s clubs including Acklam Steelworks, Beechwood and Easterside, Dorman Long, Norton Cricket Club, New Marske Workingmen’s Club and Thornaby FC, to name but a few!
After briefly being coached by then Boro players Mark Proctor and David Hodgson, the Spartans joined found themselves playing in the Hull and Nottingham leagues, where their nearest rivals were Doncaster Belles.
A talented centre-midfielder, Marrie was capped three times by England, playing against Belgium in Brussels and against Wales at Warminster in 1980 and then as a substitute against Sweden at Leicester’s Filbert Street two years later.
“It was fantastic to represent my country,” she reflects. “We also reached The FA Women's Cup Final. I wish I’d appreciated it more at the time. There was a lot of publicity and I didn’t want a fuss made.
“Nowadays I do understand that I’m an ambassador for the women’s game, but I never really gave it a second thought back then.”
A lifelong Boro fan and season card holder, football has always been a big part of her life.
“Football has been fantastic to me,” she says. “Through my job, I go into schools and coach football and see the positive impact the game can have. There’s no doubt it can keep kids out of trouble."
Despite some old-fashioned die-hards, the world’s fastest growing participant sport is a far cry from the boys-only game she flirted with in the distant past. “If I had a pound for every time we’ve heard a sexist comment, I wouldn’t have to work any more,” she smiles wryly. “But compared to when I started to play, girl’s football is unrecognisable now. A lot more girls are playing and the great thing is that it’s their dads that are taking them."
And she is in no doubt where she will be come 4pm next Friday. “It’s fantastic that the game is taking place here in Middlesbrough. I’m really looking forward to the men’s and women’s games.
“I’m delighted that Jill Scott and Steph Houghton, as girls from the north-east, are in the women’s team. It’s a real chance to put the women’s game on the map – and it’s fantastic for Teesside too.”
Tickets for the Team GB double-header are still available directly from Middlesbrough FC. Click here to book online or call the ticket hotline on 0844 499 1234