Nike and UK designer Martine Rose promote unsung heroes of women’s football

It’s taken long enough for women football players to reach the kind of prominence that their male counterparts have enjoyed for decades, but according to the cult London-based menswear designer Martine Rose, there is much more work to do.

This week sees the launch of Rose’s second collaboration with Nike – a reimagined take on the Shox trainer, the Shox MR4, available from Thursday to coincide with the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022.

“What women have to overcome to play football needs to be made public,” she said.

Instead of casting glamorous models to promote the shoe, Rose has handed over the publicity platform to some of the unsung heroes and underground personalities of women’s football, in a bid to raise awareness of the issues that women face. “I wanted to get the conversation in the mainstream media – I’m always interested in those people in the shadows that deserve not to be.”

In the documentary-style photos that Nike released today, the nine women wearing them, selected by Rose, have all worked tirelessly to change attitudes in the sport, or played against the odds. Quotes such as “I safeguard women in football”, “We won’t be silenced” and “I don’t care if you are offended” are writ large across the photos, which were taken by the French portrait photographer Pascal Gambarte and art directed by the London-based stylist Tamara Rothstein.

The women include Hope Powell, England’s first female and black manager, Kat Craig, a human rights lawyer who supports sexual abuse victims in football, and helped the Afghanistan women’s team evacuate last year, and the two founders of Les Hijabeuses, Khartoum Dembelé and Founé Diawara, who have created a safe space for female Muslim footballers after the French football federation banned hijabs. The women in the campaign are from all over the world, and also include young Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, who continue to pursue their footballing ambitions despite their displacement.

Working with a casting director, Rose realised it wasn’t hard to find female footballers facing adversity: “There were 10,000 stories to tell. Most women in football have a crazy story about the sacrifices and compromises they’ve had to make and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.

“The pandemic has set women back a generation. When things go wild in the world, [society] tends to get more conservative and everything falls back on women in the home.”

What was most appalling to Rose was the vast pay divide between men and women. “Even at a professional level, even at the highest level of fitness, lots of women footballers around the world are playing for a fraction of what men are paid, or even for free.”

Many, she added, had to have other jobs to support their families, while also doing the lion’s share of child rearing. “And yet,” she said, “not only do these women play because they personally love the sport, it’s never just about them, it’s about breaking the glass ceiling and pulling other women up. It was really awe-inspiring to meet them.”