When Kim Millar was offered the chance to write a new play featuring a key moment in women’s rugby, it’s fair to say she was less than exited.

It had nothing to do with the thought of stepping aside from the day job of scripting television and turning to theatre – she has had five plays staged already – but a rugby play? Millar felt out of her comfort zone, presuming she would grasp the rugby detail about as easily as she could a wet spinning ball tossed by Finn Russell running at top speed.

“My first thought was to say ‘No thanks. I’m not sure about this one,’ says the former journalist. “But then I heard the outline of 90 Days and I found myself saying ‘This is fantastic! I can’t not be involved’.”

The story which enthralled Millar took place in 1994, at a point when the Scotland Women’s Rugby Team were all set to take part in the World Rugby Cup in the Netherlands. However, the tournament was cancelled, with no good reason supplied.

However, when Scotland scrum half Sue Brodie heard the news that day while sitting in a Leith pub, her first thought was to tackle the problem head on. With just 90 days to prepare, she and several of her teammates decided the tournament simply had to go ahead.

The Herald: Anny Freitas' thistle haircut Anny Freitas' thistle haircut (Image: free)

The key part of the storyline, says Millar, was this incredible act of defiance. Without official sanction, the unofficial group renamed the competition the Women’s Rugby World Championship and set about making plans to stage the tournament.

“This was a huge decision to make,” says Millar. “The women only had 90 days to organise this even, in itself a massive challenge. But it was decision that would prove to be massive for women’s rugby and would lead to a major increase in female participation in the game, and recognition from the governing bodies.”

When Kim Millar met with former player Sandra Colarmartino, the writer uncovered all the elements of a great triumph-over-adversity story. Some countries forbade their female players from taking part. The IRB refused to endorse it and indeed threatened sanctions against those taking part in this unendorsed event if it went ahead.

Millar has her own theory as to why the women’s World Cup was cancelled in the first place. She reckons men’s rugby officials were not keen to see their own game sullied by association with the women’s game.

“I’ve since read a lot about why the World Cup was cancelled and I can only speculate. But what I do know is that all this happened just a few years after the inaugural men’s World Cup. It’s my guess that the rugby world didn’t wish to see women encroaching, and sharing in what was then, a limited spotlight.”

Millar, who has TV credits for shows such Doctors, Eastenders and River City, couldn’t fail to see the drama and the colour in this story of staging the alternative world championship. Sue Brodie, a sports centre manager, and her co-organisers had literally no money. The teams who agreed to travel to Scotland to play in the tournament had no money, having had their backing withdrawn by their national rugby associations. Brody however told the visiting teams to pay their own way - and she promised to reimburse their costs out of the gate money. It was a huge promise. What if the turnstiles didn’t turn?


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“I knew the play had real depth and colour when I read of the tales of human resolve from the visiting teams, which invoked incredible response from the Scottish media,” says the writer. “The Russian team, for example, were skint, but the team travelled with bags full of caviar, hoping to barter for transport and accommodation.” Millar says.

“The team ended up staying in a care home in Livingstone. And while a local minibus company volunteered transport, the team were late for their first game because their bus failed its MoT on the day.”

Other plot stories could have been dreamt up by Ealing Film. The Kazakhstan team spent three days on a bus travelling to Edinburgh. One team member brought her own Kalashnikov rifle with her. Why? Who knows. Perhaps it was simply habit. There was no suggestion she feared the streets of Morningside after dark. “These women were phenomenal,” says Millar, grinning of the travelling teams. “And formidable. And great rugby players who were determined to play the game they loved.”

Meanwhile, the Scots team faced their own trials and tribulations. They had no regular team. Schools’ rugby for girls didn’t exist and Brodie found players after placing an ad in an evening newspaper. The team even recruited some English players who had Scots’ relatives. And individuals in the team had their own personal problems to surmount.

If the tournament sounds a bit Blue Peter-made that’s because it was. But that didn’t detract from the sense of enjoyment the teams and the spectators experienced. Kim Millar points out that the tournament received massive support from men in Scotland, from journalists to rugby players to referees. “And there was an added, key dimension to this desire to stage an unregulated tournament,” says Millar. “There was a real sense of family within the women’s rugby community, which featured a strong LGBTQ element, a real closeness and a determination that women could in fact go it alone in terms of staging such a competition.”


The Herald: The men's teamThe men's team (Image: free)

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end with Scotland winning the World Cup on home turf. The team exited in the second round and England went on to beat the USA in the final. But the event proved to be a massive success story. Not only did the tournament turn a profit, and pay the fares home for the visiting teams, it proved that there was a real demand for the game amongst spectators. And with the Scottish media rallying behind the project this combined to create a huge encourager for generations of young girls to play rugby.

Now, the writer is delighted she became involved in the project, which also features songs by musical theatre star Andy McGregor. (“His work is amazing,” she says, the appreciation singing out in her voice.) But what was her hardest challenge? “I’ve never actually written about people who are alive before. (Her last stage plays featured singing legend Frankie Vaughn.) And this comes with a real responsibility. At the same time, you have to up the dramatic content to help create a really strong play. But it’s all about compromise. I hope I’ve achieved the right balance, but it was tricky to write the play in the sense there were so many great, disparate stories to distil into an hour. Yet, at the same time it was fantastic to have so much material to work with.”

Millar adds, smiling; “You know, I think that me not knowing about rugby actually helped. It meant I had to learn, and come to love the sport, But I also realised quickly this isn’t just a story about the game, it’s about the human spirit. And while it’s about winning, the win doesn’t always come in the form of getting points on the board. Sometimes the win can arrive in the form of sticking two fingers up at misogyny. Would rugby authorities have treated the men’s game in such a manner? I don’t think so.”

90 Days, the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, features Dani Heron, Ava McKinnon, Yana Harris, Caitlin Forbes and John Kielty. April 12-14.