The idea of women playing football in their pants to protest about soccer sexism sounds like something from Viz or The Daily Mash at first.
Yet The Lingerie Football League is real – and organisers insist they’re deadly serious about the cause.
The FA banned the League from playing on any FA-approved pitches this week, calling the idea “a publicity stunt”.
But organiser Gemma Hughes hit back at the claim, telling Loaded: “Yes, the League exists partly to get publicity. But we want publicity to highlight how stupid it is that women footballers get paid so much less than men. What are the FA really afraid of?”
Wigan fan Hughes vowed the League will go ahead and start with eight teams in March. They’ll get around the ban by playing at university pitches, with universities in Manchester and Liverpool interested in hosting their games. “Students are on our wavelength as fellow activists,” says Hughes. “They can see what we’re trying to achieve.”
Marketing director Hughes had the idea for the Lingerie Football League six months ago, inspired by Legends Football League in America. Founded in 2013, it’s a variation of American Football played by women wearing lingerie.
“Legends is the fastest growing sport in America for popularity,” says 23-year-old Hughes. “So it could easily take off here too.”
Following the FA’s ban, Lingerie Football League has also been the subject of a petition currently signed by over 1,000 people calling the idea sexist and outdated. Hughes, who plays as a striker, insists: “This isn’t done to titillate men, quite the opposite. For one thing, we wear sports kit that just looks like lingerie – don’t think we go around freezing cold when we play.”
Hughes, who plays as a striker, said some women who have signed up for her league had given up playing before being lured by the idea. “One woman told me she was so grateful of the Lingerie Football League,” said Hughes, who is also a lingerie blogger. “She’d got fed up of being called a tomboy and a lesbian just because she plays football. It’s so sad those stereotypes still exist, but anything that counteracts them should be encouraged.”
Hughes remains open to talking to the FA about getting the ban on the Lingerie Football League overturned, and praised some of the work it’s done to help publicise the women’s game.
“The Women’s Super League is great, and the FA should be applauded for campaigns like Game Changing which encourage women to play football,” says Hughes. “But the fact remains that, 100 years ago, the FA banned women from playing football altogether because it was becoming too popular.
“Banning a League that exists to highlight how stupid it is that male footballers get paid so much more than women shows times haven’t changed that much after all.”
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn