“I can’t really sugarcoat this any other way so I’m not going to try. It’s hugely disappointing and hurtful. It’s something I’ve been fighting behind closed doors.”

Sitting in the Lionesses’ hotel conference room on Wednesday, Mary Earps had a point to make. England’s build-up to the Women’s World Cup has been dominated by injuries and, this week, a letter signed by all 23 players expressing their unhappiness at bonus structures for the tournament, but Manchester United’s No 1 wanted to address another issue.

It is not possible, she said, for fans to buy the England women’s goalkeeper top. The shirt, manufactured by Nike, is not on public sale. England captain Millie Bright recently asked how she could get a replica jersey for a family member, only to be told it cannot be done.

Earps training with England in Brisbane (Photo: Naomi Baker – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Earps said she has been “desperately trying to find a solution with the Football Association (FA) and Nike” to have her shirt available for sale but recent discussions with Nike had shown that it “is not possible”.

The 2022 FIFA Best Goalkeeper said she had made an offer to Nike to fund the sale of her shirt herself. It is understood the sportswear manufacturer has chosen not to sell Earps’ shirt on the basis that goalkeepers do not form part of its commercial strategy.

Nike has sponsored more than 130 footballers over the years and only a handful — such as Kasper and Peter Schmeichel, Fabien Barthez and Alisson — are goalkeepers. Currently, Nike does not sponsor any female goalkeepers.

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Earps said she had discussed the issue with her outfield team-mates, resulting in some questioning whether they should be “aligning with brands that don’t have inclusion at the centre”, particularly when Earps had “gone through every imaginable step” to find a solution.

The FA signed a 12-year contract extension with Nike in 2016 (effective from August 2018) and all 24 England teams (men’s, women’s and youth) will wear Nike kits until 2030. The deal was reported to be worth around £400million ($518m).

Earps said she spoke to Lionesses captain Leah Williamson, who was ruled out of the World Cup with an anterior cruciate ligament tear, and defender Lotte Wubben-Moy — both Nike athletes — to get advice on whether she was “overreacting”.

Earps said: “They said, ‘No Mary, it’s totally unacceptable and we, as a group, stand for inclusion and this is the total opposite of what we stand for’.”


Adding to Earps’ frustration, Nike then ordered short-sleeved World Cup goalkeeping shirts for her due to a logistical issue. Earps, who prefers to wear long-sleeve shirts, and did so this season while playing for Manchester United, claims she was “never asked and never consulted” on her preference for shirt sleeve length. She has worn short sleeve jerseys in all three of England’s fixtures since the kit for World Cup was released in April. This appears to have been resolved, though, with Earps being pictured in a long-sleeve goalkeeper’s top in a promotional photoshoot published on July 18.

The 2022-23 Women’s Super League Golden Glove winner recalled how Nike told her that the “short-sleeve surplus that hasn’t been used will now go on sale… available in adults small and medium, limited sizing but there will be nothing available for junior goalkeepers.” None of those short-sleeved shirts were for sale online or in Nike’s flagship London store at the time of publishing.

Earps, who made history this year by becoming the first WSL goalkeeper to achieve 50 clean sheets, described Nike’s offer to sell the accidentally-ordered surplus stock as “frustrating” and said this was not what she wanted.


On Wednesday, the American company released a new advert using the hashtag “Like a Lioness”, which featured Ella Toone, Wubben-Moy, Georgia Stanway, Williamson, Lauren James, Keira Walsh, Chloe Kelly and Lucy Bronze. It did not feature any of the England goalkeepers at the World Cup: Earps, Hannah Hampton of Aston Villa and Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck.

Earps is sponsored by Adidas and features prominently in the manufacturer’s own World Cup advert, in which she is labelled ‘Queen of the Stops’ and ‘Safe hands’. She can be seen wearing her gloves while diving around a living room saving ornaments and shining her trophies. In the background, a TV screen shows the message: “When goalkeeping is life.”

The 30-year-old Manchester United goalkeeper said she was “frustrated” by Nike’s business and marketing model and pointed to the value her individual brand has brought to her club team over the past 12 months. “Last season (my shirt) was sold out. It was the third-best-selling shirt. So who says it’s not selling?”. Ella Toone, United’s No 7 took the shirt sale top spot.

Earps has made 80 appearances for United since signing in 2019 (Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

“It’s the young kids I’m most concerned about. It’s that they’re going to say, ‘Mum, dad, can I have a Mary Earps shirt?’ and they say, ‘I can’t but I can get an Alessia Russo No 23 or a Rachel Daly No 9. And so what you’re saying is that goalkeeping isn’t important but you can be a striker if you want.”

Earps said she had only found out the goalkeeping shirt was not going to be on sale “around April time when all of the outfield shirts went on sale and none of (her) goalkeeping pictures were being released”.

She has discussed the issue with England’s second-choice goalkeeper Roebuck, saying her team-mate was also “incredibly disappointed” with Nike’s stance. Earps felt Nike was wasting its potential to be “world-leading in this area”.

Earps was critical of Nike for not bringing the issue to her attention six months ago but praised the FA for taking a more proactive approach to the lack of goalkeeper shirts in shops. “My understanding is that the FA tried,” she said. “They put some of the leftover technical budget to one side to fund this situation.”

Asked about how fans could show their support for her without wearing her shirt, perhaps by buying an England men’s goalkeeping shirt or an outfield jersey with Earps’ name on it, she said: “Part of me wants to say ‘don’t buy it, don’t waste your money’. How you spend your money is totally your choice and I appreciate anyone who does anything to show their support for me in any way.

Earps received the 2022 Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper in February (Photo: Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

“If it was me, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to buy it — just because of the message that sends people. I don’t think anyone’s bottom line should be rewarded for bad behaviour. Unfortunately, the best thing that comes out of this situation is a commitment that this won’t happen again.”

Earps likened her frustrations over the goalkeeping shirt to the England players’ discussions about performance-related bonuses for the tournament. Talks have been put on hold until after the World Cup after players and the FA failed to find a resolution.

“It’s all part of the same discussions as bonuses,” she said. “It’s a conversation that needs to be had on its merits, but it’s part of a wider discussion of structure and revisiting what that looks like after the tournament. We shouldn’t be having this conversation two days out (from the tournament starting). It’s insane but we can acknowledge this is happening, draw a line under it and hope we can have a successful tournament.”

Earps is hopeful a good performance at both team and individual level will strengthen her negotiating power when she and Nike come back to the table, because the current situation is “not acceptable”.

“I’m going to strive to perform to my absolute best level so I can look back on these conversations and be in a really strong position,” she said.

_The Athletic _approached Nike for comment and has not received a reply at the time of publication.

(Top photo: Justin Setterfield –FIFA via Getty Images)