From 1969 to 1993 the England women’s team were under the administration of the Women’s Football Association (WFA), an independent body separate from the FA. They chose to wear the same colours as the men’s England team – white shirts and socks with navy shorts – and kit was paid for with the grants and subscriptions from affiliated clubs which funded the WFA.
The first matches were played in crew-necked, long-sleeved cotton jerseys, with stitched patches featuring the WFA crest. Later, they introduced more flashes of colour, such as a bold red collar and cuffs sported by Sue Lopez in the late ’70s.
One of the final shirts worn by the England women’s team during the WFA era was particularly eye catching and more radical than the shirt being worn by their international male counterparts.
The shirt was manufactured by Yorkshire sportwear company Ribero who were creating some of the Football League’s most eye-catching designs for teams including Brighton and Burnley. In the following season they would add Premier League sides Coventry City, Crystal Palace and Norwich City to their roster.
With a classic polo shirt collar, the traditional England white soon gave way to a bold and wavy appearance which when mixed with the colours of the Union Jack created a heavily patterned design that screamed vibrancy and joy. It also didn’t really look like a football shirt at all as it was clearly influenced by the world of cycling. The shirt was very different from the Umbro shirt that the men’s team were wearing and gave the women’s national team a separate identity. In addition to a bespoke design, WFA era England kits had always featured their own distinctive version of the three lions crest.
Players during this time recall that they were told not to swap shirts after matches, as they only had one shirt each, which would be washed and worn again the next game.
When the national team were adopted by the FA in 1993, they wore the same Umbro shirts as the men’s national team which were not tailored to the female form. England international Kerry Davis wore shirts manufactured by Ribero and Spall under the WFA administration and recalls that the Umbro shirts were not always that flattering when the FA took control.
“Having played for the WFA, they had great difficulty securing playing and training kit from any major sports company. In 1993, the FA took over Women’s football and I was still a part of the England squad.
At the time, the England Women’s team wore the same kit as the men’s teams in design and size. The playing shirts, if I remember correctly, were either large or extra-large, and were big on some players.
For me personally, it gave me a lift, finally wearing football kits manufactured by one of the football world’s big brands. It was an indication that women’s football was moving forward in a positive way.”Kerry Davis, former England Women international
The wearing of over-sized shirts tailored for men would regrettably continue to be worn by elite female players for a number of years. Luckily there has been a huge shift in attitude as big sports brands have recognised that women’s national teams want a balance between maintaining their separate identity and being celebrated and accepted as fully integrated, successful national teams.