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We love what the kit represents


“We love what the kit represents – it’s all about empowering women” declared FC United of Manchester’s women’s team captain Kirsty Chambers at the launch on International Women’s Day of the team’s special new kit in purple, green and white colours which were chosen to recognise Manchester’s historical connection with the suffragette movement. It also features a striking sash design based on the sashes worn at parades and rallies by supporters of women’s suffrage. This year marks 120 years since the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) was formed in Manchester in 1903 and began its campaign to get women the vote with the motto ‘deeds not words’.

The kit will be the women’s team’s away kit for the 2023-24 season only (the club’s usual kit rotation cycle is two years) and will be the first time that the club’s women’s team has played in its own kit. Speaking on behalf of the women’s team Kirsty said that they were “thrilled to be wearing our own kit” next season. She was a founder member of the women’s team when it was formed in 2012 and is FC United’s longest serving player from either its men’s or women’s teams so is well aware of the struggles with kit that the team has had down the years – it was reliant on hand-me-downs from the men’s team in the past.

With its manifesto commitment “to be accessible to all, discriminating against none” and a successful women’s team, which plays its home matches, whenever possible, in the club’s Broadhurst Park stadium and, off the pitch, a strong female-fronted leadership team FC United is a club that’s proud to champion women’s equality and a world free of stereotypes and discrimination – the themes of this year’s International Women’s Day.

Natalie Atkinson, the club’s Chief Executive Officer, said that she was “delighted” to launch FC United’s special women’s team kit on International Women’s Day and added that “it feels even more special that the kit’s design recognises the contributions and success of women in sport and wider society over the last century”. Natalie is also an advisor to Her Game Too, a voluntary organisation formed by female football fans in 2021 with the aim of fostering an ethos in football in which women are welcomed and respected equally. FC United became a Her Game Too partner last year.

At a time when, like most football clubs, FC United’s costs and revenue streams have been hit by the impact of the cost of living crisis and the mismanagement of the economy by a failing government, Atkinson along with Commercial Manager Frances Fielding and Events and Hospitality Manager Rachel Hughes and numerous volunteers, have transformed, in a matter of months, the club’s commercial, merchandise and events offerings to the extent that the club’s sponsorship and advertising income in 2022-23 is already higher than it’s ever been with a quarter of the financial year still to go.

This upturn in commercial activity was epitomised by the Manchester-based online fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing becoming the club’s women’s and girl’s football partner for 2023 in a deal announced in January that is the single biggest sponsorship deal in FC United’s history. It was interesting to note that one of the things that attracted the retailer to FC United was not only its ethos as a supporter-owned football club that’s rooted in its community but also its high performing, predominantly female senior leadership team – unusual for any football club let alone one in English football’s seventh tier. Pretty Little Thing’s community programme sees it supporting charities such as The Girls’ Network which seeks to “support and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role models” and FC fits that bill.

Pretty Little Thing facilitated the photo-shoot to accompany the launch of the new women’s kit (including the photo above taken in Manchester’s St Peter’s Square) and it attracted a smattering of interest on the internet with Matt Slater, football reporter at The Athletic, describing the kit as “an instant classic”. Women in Football reckoned it was “stunning” and the BBC even took a break from dealing with the fall-out from a tweet by Gary Lineker to share it on Instagram. The timing of the launch on International Women’s Day certainly helped bring it to the notice of football supporters well beyond Manchester and hopefully it will prove to be a decent seller for the club and a reward for its innovation and the bright idea of one of its supporters.

But it wasn’t all about clicks and pound signs as the club announced that it would be donating a portion of any profits from the sale of the shirt to Manchester Women’s Aid, a charity that helps local women and children affected by domestic and sexual abuse including one to one support from specialist workers and safe temporary housing for women and their children. 

This being FC United though, where it can often feel like we’re forever on the verge of another online ruckus, there were some co-owners who were unhappy that the Board had decided that this particular shirt design would not be voted on by the club’s co-owners. The supporter-owned club’s rules stipulate that at each Annual General Meeting the Board “will propose to co-owners (in accordance with the established home and away kit rotation) whether or not they wish to have a new kit produced for the following season(s)” with a vote in favour enabling co-owners to subsequently vote to choose the design from a shortlist of four kit designs. But the Board felt that this new women’s team shirt “sits outside of the process for regular home and away kit rotation” as it’s for one season only.      

Meanwhile across town the Abu Dhabi-based owners of Manchester City continue to shamelessly sportswash the image of their oppressive regime with the club’s recent unveiling of a special limited edition shirt for their women’s team – also in purple, green and white colours – which claims to celebrate Manchester-born Emmeline Pankhurst’s “overriding vision for female equality”. I may be biased but the design, which bears all the hallmarks of Pep-style over-thinking, is not a patch on the FC shirt.

It represents more breathtaking effrontery from a club whose owners govern a country where women are anything but equal and according to Human Rights Watch “there is substantial discrimination against women” with women’s rights often dependent on the formal approval of a male ‘guardian’. A country too where a woman needs the permission of a male guardian to get married and where domestic violence against women, in some instances, remains lawful.

It’s the very antithesis of the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – which invites us to “imagine a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination” and proclaims that “together we can forge women’s equality” – and I’d venture that if the WSPU was around these days that, far from lapping up this blatant hypocrisy like much of our local and national media, it would be actively campaigning against the presence of such an oppressive regime in the city of its origin.

The WPSU was a radical organisation that led a campaign of civil disobedience – including attacks on public buildings – until the protests stopped at the outbreak of the First World War when most of the suffragettes agreed a truce to support the war effort. So it’s perhaps apt that FC United, a football club with a radical tradition which was born, eighteen years ago, out of protest against the hostile takeover of a Mancunian sporting institution, should choose to honour the true spirit of the Manchester-born WPSU all those years ago.

As the Old Trafford born feminist and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst – who broke with the suffragette leadership of her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel to form the Workers’ Suffrage Federation in 1914 – might have said, had she been around for this kit launch, “up the breakaway Reds”.     


From → Sport

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