No shirt, no problem: Meet the Mary Earps Defence League

Outraged by Nike and the FA's inaction, fans across the country are taking merchandise into their own hands and building community.

If you can’t wear ‘em, make ‘em.

When the news came out that Nike and the FA would not be manufacturing or selling ‘Mary Earps’ replica goalkeeper shirts, the Lionesses goalkeeper was suitably disappointed.

Earps described the situation “hugely hurtful” and was frustrated for all the friends, family and fans that had reached out to her in dismay, when they discovered they would not be able to adorn her England shirt.

Even captain Milile Bright’s niece, desperate to get her favourite player’s kit, was left empty-handed.

If you are able to buy a No.1 ‘Pickford’ England men’s goalkeeper kit, then how is it acceptable to not stock the women’s equivalent?

For some, that outrage sparked action.

Lucy, Rachel and Alex of the Mary Earps Defence League

The Mary Earps Defence League is a group of super fans/goalkeepers from South London who wanted to actively protest this inequality and disrespect.

Part solidarity movement, part fashion statement, the trio proudly created their own custom Earps merchandise and showed it off last Saturday at an England watch party in Nunhead that they co-organized.

The official M.E.D.L black long-sleeve shirt was made by Alice, Lucy, and Rachael. It has letters and numbers attached that read 'EARPS 1'. Of course, it goes deeper than just fashioning this shirt.

“We saw an opportunity to represent goalies and we wanted to express our disappointment,” said Alice Devine, a member of the Mary Earps Defence League. “I was personally annoyed on her behalf, and on behalf of all goalies in the women's game, professional to grassroots.”

The M.E.D.L. are all from The Deptford Ravens Goalie Club, which is a grassroots community that encourages more women and non-binary beginners to get into playing goalkeeper. They hold extra inclusive training sessions, with coach Heather, separate from the rest of the South London club’s activities.

“We play for fun and our whole ethos is to encourage beginners into football - we have 150 members at the Ravens, but not very many goalies!! I noticed a lot of the same things were happening that traditionally happen in men's kickabouts, where no one wants to go in goal,” Devine explained.

“It is a difficult position with a huge amount of pressure and can leave players feeling isolated and responsible for the game results. But since we have been playing in leagues, we all now know how integral goalies are to our team and its success. So forming the goalie union, in my opinion, has helped give the position its due respect and basically achieve our goals of getting more women into football.”

Inspired by Earps, M.E.D.L is actively recruiting and encouraging more people to get involved. Lucy only recently started playing grassroots football in her late 30s. She found the atmosphere of the goalie club to be unlike anything she had previously experienced.

This club helped open up the game and made her “connect” with a new sporting community.

“I'd never played before,” said Lucy. “I volunteered for goalie to be helpful because it feels like no one wants to take it on, and then I definitely feel the pressure when we concede in league games.

“Goalie Club is for sure helping with that, there are a group of us who all step up and we are proud to be goalies, and goalies ARE different. We are learning to celebrate our unique talents, and it would have been great to be able to wear our favourite goalie's shirts with pride! I intend to keep wearing and making the ‘EARPS 1’ stickers for future England games until we can get hold of a real shirt!!”

Rachael Scarsbrook believes this is just another example of how the women’s football community has often been the one expected to drive change and equality in the industry.

“I think the fan community does a great job of calling out problematic behaviour and that absolutely needs to extend to companies who are profiting off the growth of the game,” Rachael posited.

“Mary Earps is the best goalie in the world, FIFA has literally given her that handle. Her name on a shirt should be the same as any other player. They’re a team and we wouldn’t have succeeded in the Euros without every member of that Lionesses squad.

“The global fan community has her back. And we won’t stop pressuring Nike on her behalf until they acknowledge the magnitude of this f*** up. And that sentiment stands for every goalie in this tournament and beyond. Put some respect on their names!”

Some people might think not being able to purchase an Earps shirt is insignificant when compared to wider spread issues in women’s football. But the knock-on effects are clear. It symbolizes many discrepancies within the game.

The decision makes Earps invisible and doesn’t treat her the same as the other players in the squad let alone the men’s team.

It devalues the goalkeeper position which is already underrepresented in grassroots women’s football. Over the years, the position has also faced an intensified amount of misogyny from men’s football watchers too.

“We hope that this idea will catch on and other teams and fans will do the same - we will show Nike, from the grassroots scene, what we want from a merchandiser. What has Nike got against female goalies? That seems to be the central question here,” said Devine.

At this time, neither Nike nor the FA has publicly commented on the Earps shirt fiasco. There are no current plans to produce a shirt in the future. And whatever happens, there is no way it will be ready while the World Cup is still going on.

Women’s football retailer Foudys - who are vociferously supported by the M.E.D.L. - have also launched their own Mary Earps protest shirt.

The tee shares a similar sentiment and is aesthetically modeled after the pattern used in the Nike goalkeeper shirt. But the design has been smartly edited to incorporate Earps’ initials M.A.E.

Then, over the pattern, the words ‘This Is My Keeper Shirt’ have been proudly printed.

“Many of the World Cup nations have not had Gk tops made available at retail,” Foudys said on social media. “As a retailer, there’s very little we can do about this as the production process for manufacturers is YEARS. But we have made a nod to our gal Mary with this tee.”

Last Saturday, the Lionesses might well have drawn against Haiti if it weren’t for the efforts of  Earps in the 90th minute. Her stunning save, which prevented Roseline Éloissaint from scoring the equalizer, was arguably England’s highlight of the night.

On the pitch, there are almost no limits to what Earps can achieve in the game. Hopefully, soon, there will be no limits to how you can rep her on the street or at a match either.

But if nothing changes. Just know, the community is here. Making what should happen, happen. They’ve got Mary’s and all the other keepers’ backs.