As I sat in a conference room in the England hotel attending my first media day of this Women’s World Cup, I was initially looking forward to hearing Mary Earps provide her thoughts on the ongoing bonus dispute with the Football Association (FA).

But what came next was an unexpected outpouring from a player who was hurting and frustrated and whose patience had run out. She had politely and respectfully asked Nike, behind closed doors, to start selling replicas of her No 1 shirt. Fans can buy the team’s outfield kit, but anyone looking for versions of her England goalkeeper’s top will find nothing.

Earps at the Lionesses’ hotel in Brisbane (Photo: Chloe Morgan/The Athletic)

Nike’s ongoing refusal, combined with increased pressure from supporters asking why they couldn’t find her jersey — plus a logistical error resulting in Earps herself being provided with a short-sleeved shirt (a style she dislikes) — was the last straw.

To try to understand more about Earps’ complaints, I spoke to a former England goalkeeper, who wished to remain anonymous to protect their relationships. She says: “Mary tried with Nike to sit with them and make them understand, but they were just having none of it.

“Nike don’t make any money on goalkeeper jerseys so they decided not to do any. Mary had a big fight with them about it because, as we believe, they do sell. And, they might not make a huge profit but if you don’t put it out there then how are you even going to know?”

The issue extends much wider than the Lionesses. Nike does not currently stock any of the 32 Women’s World Cup squads’ goalkeeper jerseys. Bizarrely, only a kids’ ‘England stadium goalkeeper’ top is available to buy, and it is unclear what exactly this is.

Having played against Earps several times in the Championship and Women’s Super League, I’ve always had a great deal of respect for her. The significant part she’s played in driving Manchester United from nothing to WSL title contenders and FA Cup finalists, also securing Champions League football for the first time, is hugely impressive.

Earps has made over 80 appearances for Manchester United since signing from Wolfsburg in 2019 (Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images)

She has shown great patience, relentlessly working hard in the international setup, going from fourth-choice at the 2017 European Championship to become No 1 in 2021 and is now a mainstay of the Sarina Wiegman era.

Earps is also a part of the squad’s senior leadership team, alongside regular captain Leah Williamson and her deputy Millie Bright. They act as a first port of call for younger England players if they have issues to discuss.

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen this leadership team being at the forefront of campaigning for more, fighting for what they deserve — a negotiated World Cup bonus from the FA. And now Earps, in an incredibly bold move — choosing to speak just two days before England played Haiti in their opening group game — has called out the world’s most powerful sportswear brand.

Her message is important, its timing bold. Using the increased attention of the Women’s World Cup, Earps has highlighted on an international scale how goalkeepers are often the second-class citizen of the team.

Often, goalkeepers are the players who (at elite level) get the least amount of specific coaching time in training, the ones who (more so within the lower tiers) struggle to get access to goalkeeper coaching at all, the ones who come last in terms of kit.

(Photo: Naomi Baker – The FA via Getty Images)

Earps’ honesty triggered two memories from my time playing for Tottenham Hotspur.

In our 2018-19 WSL promotion season, I was asked — alongside one of our strikers — to attend a Championship photoshoot in London to produce promotional pictures to be used on social media and as graphics. When I arrived, I was told Nike had sent the wrong shorts — I was given a small boys’ size pair and told to try them on to see if they fitted. They didn’t — those shorts effectively looked like hotpants on me and, while I can look back and laugh about this now, at the time I was incredibly embarrassed. It also meant none of the photos we took could be used and I had taken time off work to attend the shoot for nothing.

The second memory was my first WSL start in 2019, against Manchester United (and Earps) at their Leigh Sports Village home. For me, the significance of the day was huge but, as I walked into the away changing room, I could see the third-choice orange goalkeeper kit laid out. The shirts and shorts waiting for me were men’s-fit. I recall looking around the changing room, seeing my team-mates’ sleek women’s-fit kit and asking our kit guy why I didn’t have the same. I was told Nike couldn’t provide one and that was it.

While, in the scheme of all the wild things happening in the world right now, I appreciate this kind of issue may seem trivial, it does have an impact. Stepping out onto the field as a professional footballer and being hyper-conscious of the way the material stretches awkwardly across your chest, or your shorts keep riding up… it is uncomfortable and distracting.

It creates a narrative that you, as a goalkeeper, are an afterthought or in a different category of importance than your outfield team-mates. It’s concerning for our next generation of aspiring ’keepers.



Earps: You can’t buy a Nike England women’s goalkeeper shirt - ‘it’s unacceptable’

The former England international quoted earlier also says: “Myself and another former Lioness have spoken about the difficulty of how hard it is to try and get girls to go in goal. For anyone who wants to support and follow in Mary’s footsteps, especially as she’s currently the best goalkeeper in the world, the first thing you do is interact with (goalkeeping) by buying the shirt of the person you most look up to. If you can’t do that it kind of loses its spark a little bit, so Nike missed a trick there.”

The Athletic contacted Nike for comment following Earps’ remarks, but has not received a reply.

After we published our initial article on this topic, I was overwhelmed by the amount of messages and comments that flooded in.

Former WSL goalkeeper Faye Baker wrote: “How can we inspire and encourage young kids to be goalkeepers if they can’t even buy the tops? It’s about accessibility — inspiring the next generation and allowing them to wear their idols’ shirts with pride. Often underrated, underrepresented — the life of ’keepers.”

Women in Football board member Lisa Parfitt wrote: “With the profile and character of Mary Earps, they could have been the only manufacturer to actively inspire girls to play in goal like their England hero.”

England goalkeepers, from left, Hannah Hampton, Ellie Roebuck and Earps warm-up before the pre-World Cup friendly against Portugal (Photo: Matt Lewis – The FA via Getty Images)

You can see a similar message being conveyed when you look at the media presence of goalkeepers, who often only get the limelight in a negative way for a critical error or an embarrassing mistake. How many times do you see brands use goalkeepers in their TV adverts and marketing campaigns? Very rarely. How often do you see goalkeepers attracting the same kind of salaries/transfer fees as strikers? Again, very rarely.

All these subliminal messages feed into Earps’ overarching point — goalkeepers are not the priority. Earps has highlighted the disparity between outfield players and goalkeepers and sparked a conversation which has resulted in pressure for change.

The former Lioness says: “It’s really similar to when we started talking about doing a women’s-fit shirt. The first time we spoke about that — it being different from the men’s — Nike always said, ‘Is it going to sell?’.

“With the Nike goalkeeper kit, at some point there needs to be a change. This will help — the articles and talking about it. All these discussions with people now getting involved, it will make Nike think twice as it is shining that kind of negative light on their brand, which they don’t want, which is really good.”

Within hours, celebrities had piped up — The Great British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins tweeted: “I want a Mary Earps shirt #nike.” That message would have been seen by Perkins’ 1.2million Twitter followers.

I want a Mary Earps shirt #nike

— Sue Perkins (@sueperkins) July 20, 2023

TV presenter Laura Woods, who is fronting ITV’s UK coverage of this World Cup, tweeted: “Mary’s one of my favourite England players. I get it’s not just Nike, but how mad a decision not to produce and sell England GK shirts when that goalkeeper is… reigning FIFA Best GK and…European Champion.”

The bravery it has taken Earps to speak at a time when all eyes are on her and the England squad is impressive. I remember all too well the fear and anxiety that comes from speaking your truth but knowing it will inevitably cause internal issues (in this case for comments which negatively portray one of the FA’s biggest sponsors) and provoke a backlash from Twitter trolls.

“Whinge whinge whinge,” wrote one person.

“My thoughts are with the 2 kids (affected by goalkeeper shirts not being on sale),” tweeted another.

Earps set up her own business – – which sells her own branded T-shirts with the slogan: “Be unapologetically yourself” (Photo credit: Instagram: @mae27official)

As an experienced player, Earps will have known this when she spoke out.

She will have known that the pressure on her to perform in the middle of the media storm around her would be heightened, and she chose to do it anyway.

In the words of those branded shirts: “Be unapologetically yourself.”

(Top photo: Naomi Baker – The FA via Getty Images)