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Big Molly: Expert out to tell story of Belfast heroine of women’s football and Ireland's best

Expert out to tell story of a forgotten trailblazer

Molly Seaton leads a team out
Molly Seaton leads a team out
Molly at start of a France v Ireland International match with rival skipper (left) Carmen Pomies
Steve Bolton
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Football fans will know all about local legends such as Wilbur Cush, Trevor Thompson and Tommy Dickson - but 'Big' Molly Seaton may be a less familiar name.

Described as Ireland's greatest female footballer, the north Belfast woman played for a series of teams, including men's sides, in the Twenties and Thirties, as well as captaining Ireland's women's team.

In a quest to find out more about Big Molly's story, a world expert in women's football has made the trip from his home in Preston to Northern Ireland.

Steve Bolton had only heard of Big Molly, who lived along the Shore Road on Dandy Street, while researching the history behind his grandmother's own footballing past with Preston side Dick, Kerr Ladies FC.

During a family visit to Claudy, where his wife Maria is from, Mr Bolton visited Windsor Park to see where his grandmother Lizzy Ashcroft played against the tough tackling six foot tall Molly.

He also left a picture of the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC side as a touching tribute on Molly's grave in Greencastle, where she was laid to rest in 1974.

It wasn't until he paid a visit to the Linen Hall Library that Mr Bolton realised Belfast was a hotbed of women's football in the early 20th century. "During my research I found that 15 games had taken place in Belfast in 1931," the schoolteacher explained.

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"You had women's teams like Ropeworks, Owen O'Cork, York Street, Milewater Mill, Jaymount Mill and Bangor Ladies. This place was alive with football, and Crusaders were brokering a lot of the games."

Following this year's Fifa Women's World Cup and the huge viewing figures it received after England's run to the semi-finals, Mr Bolton believes that Northern Ireland has a wonderful opportunity to bring those glory years back with the help of Big Molly's story.

"I think Northern Ireland might be a little bit behind the curve on women's football, but in Big Molly Seaton this country has a star," he added. "She was very well thought of and I found all sorts of references to her, such as refereeing games.

"She even had her own agent. He was called Joe Farrell, also known as Josie.

"She played in an exhibition game under the auspices of Glentoran. There's a massive story there about Molly Seaton."

Molly's own team, Castle Rovers, played their games at Seaview and she was paid 10 shillings a match.

Because of Big Molly's crowd pulling displays, she was often included in the Ireland ladies' newspaper advertisements.

Away from the pitch, the larger-than-life character worked as a doffing mistress at Whitehouse faux spinning mill and Upper Corgery Road spinning mill, while also frequenting Morrison's Bar and Edinburgh Castle Bar in her later years.

"The hotbeds of women's football back in the 1920s and 1930s were Preston, Paris and Brussels," continued Mr Bolton.

"I knew the odd game had taken place in Belfast, but I hadn't realised until I started pulling all of this information together how big it was here.

"I'm sure there are people out there who are interested in Big Molly Seaton and if they could get in touch it would help me so much with the story."

If you have information about Molly Seaton or would like to get in touch with Mr Bolton, you can email dickkerrladies@gmail.com

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