Competitors in the Lingerie Football League. Photo / Youtube
Several Manchester United legends are under attack from critics in England after throwing their support behind a women’s “Lingerie Football League”.
The founder of the Chelsea Ladies football club claims Manchester United legends Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are on the verge of setting women’s football back a quarter of a century.
Tony Farmer, who started Chelsea Ladies more than a decade ago to promote women’s Football, has created a petition asking them to re-evaluate their plans after it was revealed members of the “Class of 92” are promoting the Lingerie Football League.
In June, England Lionesses finished third in the World Cup in Canada, achieving the best England finish at a major tournament since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966.
But Farmer claims members of the Class of 92 are helping to expose female footballers and are harming the game’s progression by letting the LFL launch their inaugural match at Manchester’s Hotel Football – one of their businesses.
He said: ‘This will expose women footballers who have worked so hard to have the right to play football away from all the sexism and prejudices endured by their predecessors.
‘Lingerie Football is all about making the game sexual titillation for spectators and could expose players, especially young girls starting off in football, to people who view them as a sexual object rather than sportswomen.
‘I ask the Manchester United legends from that Class of 1992 who have enjoyed such great lives from playing football to understand the implications of what they are doing.
‘And also show some respect to female footballers who love the game and want to play it without the sexual intimidation that promoting this league will do.’
The LFL UK is a 14-strong team of female football enthusiasts who play wearing little more than their underwear and studded boots.
But while the Manchester-based group have raised eyebrows with their attention-grabbing tactics, they insist they are not objectifying women and are actually ‘fighting inequality’ by encouraging their players to play in crop tops and hot pants
They describe themselves as ‘football pioneers’ who are generating interest in order to raise funds and attract sponsorship.
On their website they claim, ‘We will close the gender wage gap by generating media coverage and public interest in the women’s game.
‘We are a real family that empower one another to maximise our opportunities in life. We believe that women footballers deserve the same rewards as men because we are equal. We will never objectify women.’
Currently, a major league woman footballer can expect to earn just a fraction of that of her male counterparts.
England captain Steph Houghton, is paid £65,000 a year ($NZ142,000) , while Lionel Messi makes an estimated £1m (almost $NZ2.2m) a week before bonuses.
LFL UK’s founder, Gemma Hughes, told website Manchester Confidential, ‘I’m 23 years old now and I don’t want to be waiting another 20 years to see women’s football make money from sponsorships.
‘We know this is scandalous, we know it’s controversial, but that media attention is what’s going to sell tickets. All money made is going to be put back into women’s football and to the players.
‘This is not about the players looking beautiful or sexy, it’s about women looking like women. You only have to look at tennis – the women dress like women and they get same equal pay and similar amount of sponsorship as men.
‘In football the women are bound to men’s rule and it’s a poor imitation of the men’s game.
‘There’s a lack of commercial investment as a result. We want to break the stigma that football is just for tomboys.’
But not everyone shares the sentiment. Since the team made headlines, feminist groups and members of the public have blasted it as ‘sexist’.
Tracey Halpin, coach of Denton Phoenix girls team in Manchester, does not believe they are setting a good example for aspiring women footballers.
‘I think it is sexist for a number of reasons,’ she told the Manchester Evening News. ‘Why else would men come and watch women play in their lingerie? It wouldn’t be for the reason to watch them play football.
‘It seems like a crazy, crazy thing. I have worked with 30 young girls, I don’t think their parents would be impressed. It doesn’t set am impression to young girls this is a reason you should play football.
‘Besides, the matches will be aired on TV so aesthetics are important,’ she added.
Team member Melissa Leonard, 19, has been playing football since the age of seven and says she has always been ‘frustrated’ by the sport’s masculine image.
‘When I was at school I was always getting teased and called a ‘tomboy’,’ the left-winger told FEMAIL. ‘It annoyed me as I’m actually a really girly girl’.
She believes the lack of interest and coverage of women’s football in mainstream media channels is for this reason. ‘Even female footballers dress like men. They don’t see it as a women’s sport’.
‘Look at netball players – they’re allowed to wear dresses and skirts. Why aren’t we?’
She heard about the Lingerie Football League UK last month after seeing a Facebook request from Gemma.
‘The word ‘lingerie’ sparked my curiosity,’ she admits. ‘I like the idea of wearing something that’s pink and girly. It’s not meant to be sexy – it’s just something I can move around in.
‘I don’t see the kit as being sexist. Look at female sprinters in their tiny knickers!
‘I know it’s a big change – people aren’t used to seeing girls in football and rugby. We just want to look like girls.’
On the Lingerie Football League UK Facebook page, they claim they’re ‘a new organisation, playing football and fighting for gender equality.’