New football themed play celebrates the Manchester derby

Liindsay Williams and Martin Gibbons

Liindsay Williams and Martin Gibbons - Credit: Archant

Monkeywood Theatre brings the passion of theatre and football together in a new play to be performed at the Lowry in September celebrating one of the world’s most recognised derby matches. Rob Gemmel interviews Monkeywood Theatre Co-Artistic Director, Martin Gibbons and writer Lindsay Williams

It started one cold evening in Burnley for director and Middlesbrough fan Martin Gibbons during a Championship league match. “I remember the game well,” Martin begins. “We were losing away to Burnley and I was stood with the 4,000 or so ‘Boro fans when suddenly we all started singing ‘By Far The Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen’ and it made me think. It was quite funny really that despite us losing, we, the fans, still believed that we are the greatest football team in the world and it is a passion that everyone can relate to.”

The idea of the play is to recreate the feeling and atmosphere of a football match, in this case the Manchester derby. Four writers, two Manchester City fans and two Manchester United fans, have been given the task of each writing a play about their club and the passion of going to a game, be it high or a low, and to evoke those feelings portraying them onto a different stage.

Originally, the idea was to go big and target clubs all over the country, but in essence it was easier to keep it in Manchester for the time being. “We are the voice of Manchester, so it made sense to keep it here and to base the idea on the two sides of Manchester, City and United. With the fact that Manchester United’s ground, Old Trafford, is known as the Theatre of Dreams, it was a great starting point.”

“The idea was to explore a typical football fan,” Martin continues. “Often the team you support is born from your family, but I want to discover what drives people to become a fan of a club, how do people pick a team and stay with them for the rest of their lives, despite the turbulent times that a team can suffer.”

“Football can have a strong effect on people. You often get men in their late thirties and into their forties and fifties who won’t cry at a wedding or at the birth of their child, but they will shed tears when their team get relegated. Religion feels like it is dying out sometimes, but football is stronger than ever and people are willing to pay more and more each season.”

The connection between theatre and football is a live experience that unfolds in front of you and shares similar paths in terms of the entertainment value. The four plays written represent the four quarters of a football match and takes the audience on a familiar path highlighting the ups and downs of a game. “Not all the plays are light hearted and funny, there are some dark and edgy themes in there, but that is a true representation of a football match as it isn’t always easy viewing!”

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The writers were chosen some through past experience working with Monkeywood and others who Martin was familiar with their work. The brief was quite open and it was imperative that they were football fans and, in particular, Manchester United or Manchester City fans and that their plays were something they experience as a fan supporting their team.

In conjunction to the play, Monkeywood Theatre are also working on a side project called ‘Ten Tiny Plays about Football’. “We put an advert on social media and throughout both clubs to find inexperienced writers who are supporters of either club to write a five minute piece, be it a play or a monologue, about what it’s like to be a fan. We will then select ten plays, five United and five City to be performed on the Saturday at the Roundabout in the Lowry. It was something that we wanted to go hand in hand with the theatre project.”

Not stopping there, there is also an Art Project in association with the National Football Museum. “We are working with the National Football Museum on a project also called ‘By Far the Greatest Team’ and we have a space where we are working with Bob Mulder who was a former illustrator for Roy of the Rovers. We held a workshop with City and United fans where they spoke of their passion for supporting their clubs and this is going to be depicted as a collection of illustrations that Bob is working on for launch in the museum on September 9th.”

Both Manchester clubs have been very supportive of the play as Martin explained. “We’ve been in contact with both Manchester United and Manchester City and they have both been great. They have given us the contact details of supporters clubs and sent memorabilia in. They have also given us match tickets to allow the writers to attend for inspiration.”

With the stage at the Lowry set to be transformed into a football stadium, there is a lot that Martin wants the audience to take away with them. “If I can ask for anything all I would want is for a football fan to turn up and say, ‘isn’t the theatre brilliant?’ and for a theatre fan to turn up and say ‘isn’t football brilliant?’ What we’re trying to do is to create something that will work for football fans and, how as a fan, you can pass that joy onto someone who goes to the theatre.”

I also spoke with writer Lindsay Williams who has written for Emmerdale and EastEnders and is an avid Manchester United fan

“I am very excited to be involved!” Lindsay begins. “I had spoken to Martin a while ago and he asked me what football team I supported to which I responded straight away, Manchester United. A few months after that he spoke to me again about the play and asked me to write a piece for it.”

Lindsay Williams’ career as a writer began from an acting course she did at Oldham College. While she attended the course she also began to write and the love of writing directed her towards a degree in scriptwriting. Lindsay boasts a plethora of work from radio, stage and television most notably for her work on Emmerdale and EastEnders.

“I was first attracted to the idea of writing for the play due to my family’s love of Manchester United and it was particularly the love of football that drew me in.” Lindsay recounts tales of watching matches at the Stretford End and how the research side of the project was so exciting. “I spent a lot of time watching matches to draw inspiration and also watching classic clips online. I even took my daughter along to do a tour of Old Trafford. It was fun.”

Being a fan of one half of the Manchester clubs always produces banter between fans of the other half of Manchester and I asked Lindsay how it was working with other writers, particularly those from the ‘blue side’ of Manchester.

“All four writers first got together during a meeting at the National Football Museum. It was just after a Manchester derby that United won, so there was a lot of banter, but it was always friendly.” Lindsay is accustomed to working alongside other writers, so the process wasn’t new to her. “The brief for all the writers was very open. All we had to do was to write a piece about being a football fan and how those passions made you feel.” There are four plays in total each representing a quarter of a football match. My piece is quite tactical, so it’s on second.”

With rehearsals now underway ready for ‘kick-off’ in September, Lindsay wants to be involved as much as she can. “I am quite interested to see the other writer’s plays as I don’t know what they have written.

For Lindsay, the hard work continues. From her ongoing work on BBC’s Holby City to a musical in Oldham, she is keeping herself very busy with the other love in her life, besides football.

“The show is on The Lowry from the 17-20 September and tickets visit or call 0843 2086010”