Tom Hamilton, Senior WriterJul 20, 2023, 12:00 PM ET


• Joined ESPN in 2011
• Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
• Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018

BRISBANE, Australia – England’s Mary Earps has criticized the team’s kit manufacturers, Nike, for not making the Lionesses’ goalkeeper kit available for sale, saying the call is “hugely disappointing and very hurtful.”

Earps, 30, will be England’s first choice goalkeeper in the Women’s World Cup and helped steer the team to their Euros triumph last summer. She was also crowned the world’s best goalkeeper in the 2022 FIFA Best awards, but behind the scenes, she’s been growing increasingly frustrated at Nike’s decision not to make the Lionesses’ goalkeeping kit available for supporters to purchase.

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“I can’t really sugar-coat this in any way, so I am not going to try. It is hugely disappointing and very hurtful,” Earps told reporters at the Lionesses’ team hotel in Brisbane. “It is something that I have been fighting behind closed doors, I have been trying to go through the correct channels as much as possible.

“Which is why I have not spoken on it publicly, even though I have been asked a lot about it over the past few months because I have been desperately trying to find a solution with the FA and with Nike. Unfortunately, it has become very evident that is not possible and there is not going to be an acceptable solution for the young kids out there.

“It is very, on a personal level, it is obviously hugely hurtful considering the last 12 months especially – and also I think there has been an incredible rise in goalkeeping participation over that year.

“For my own family and friends and loved ones not to be able to buy my shirt, like they are going to come out and wear normal clothes and I know that sounds like “oh Mary, what a horrible problem” but on a personal level that is really hard.”

Earps said she has spoken to Nike about the issue and will seek talks with other goalkeepers after the World Cup to see if this policy can be changed across the board. At present, supporters can purchase England men’s goalkeeper kits, but not the women’s shirt.

ESPN have approached Nike for a comment on why they have not produced her shirt for sale, but are yet to hear back. Sources have told ESPN it is a commercial decision.

The Football Association signed a new 12-year deal with Nike in 2016 – effective from 2018 – that saw the commitment between the two extend through to 2030.

The England goalkeeper has since launched her own range of clothing, MAE27, with the tagline “be unapologetically yourself,” but she is still frustrated at her fans and family not being able to purchase a replica goalkeeper shirt with Earps on the back.

“I think that is a huge problem, and I think it is a scary message that is being sent to goalkeepers worldwide that you are not important,” Earps said.

“It is something I have been really, really fighting quietly and probably a lesson I have learned is that I should have made a public statement sooner maybe, I don’t know. I look back and think I have tried everything.

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“I offered to fund it myself, and my teammates have been really supportive as well, and I have got to thank them for that. For it to happen a second tournament running, it is really hard to put it into words. It is a really damaging message.”

Earps feels the decision excludes “a huge part of the demographic.” She has spoken to fellow England goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck on the issue, and said she too is equally “incredibly disappointed.” She also consulted her outfield teammates.

“I temperature checked it at the time with Leah [Williamson], Lotte [Wubben-Moy] and a few others and said “am I over-reacting girls? Goalkeeper through and through,” and they were like ‘no, it is absolutely unacceptable and we as a group stand for inclusion, and this is the total opposite of what we stand for.’

“They were also talking about “why are we aligning with brands that don’t have inclusion at the centre, why is it always about the bottom line?’ So a lot of conversations have come off the back of this topic, so hopefully after the World Cup we can pick up those conversations and in line with the contracts being restructured maybe we can have more a say in these things.”

Earps is set to play in her first Women’s World Cup match when England play in their tournament opener against Group D opponents Haiti on Saturday.

“I have been so focused on how it affects us and trying to fight that,” Earps added. “I think the argument is the men’s goalkeeper shirt is produced in limited quantities.

“I think if that was the conversation we are having, that not enough are being produced. I think that is one conversation but for it to not be available at all is a totally different thing, a totally separate issue and I am not sure what the other teams, what their experiences are because obviously this is a bespoke Lionesses kit and I think all of the Nike teams have a bespoke kit, I don’t think it is shared across the men’s side.

“Either way if you are making a women’s team bespoke kit, then surely the women’s goalkeeper kit should be available too. I am just not sure, you are excluding somewhere. So, I am not too sure where the lines are but I think it is definitely a wider discussion that needs to be had. I am surprised that it has not been spoken about more and that was my point to Nike is that we could be world-leading in this area.

“Which is something we pride ourselves on, about being first and being the best. I think we are really falling short here.”