INTERVIEW: Alisha Lehmann Is Pioneering Femininity in Football
“It’s not a bad thing to want to look like a girl and play football.”
Alisha Lehmann is officially the world’s most-followed woman footballer. With over 12 million followers on Instagram and multiple international goals under her belt, the Swiss player has redefined what it means to be a woman in sport and hopes that her rise will inspire other women to be authentically and unapologetically themselves.
Lehmann began playing football at six years old and eventually ended up playing for a young boys’ team at her home in Switzerland. From then, she cut her teeth at West Ham in the UK and currently plays as a forward for Aston Villa. As expected though, the footballer’s journey hasn’t been an easy one, and much like for most women in sport, it’s taken a long time for her to get the respect that she deserves.
“We work so hard, we train every day, and put everything into the game, we do exactly the same as the men’s players,” Lehmann tells Hypebae. “It’s just that sometimes people don’t seem to accept that women can and do play football,” she continues. Adding to that inequality is the misconception that women in sport can’t be feminine and should look a certain way — something that Lehmann is also pretty passionate about. “It’s not a bad thing to want to look like a girl and play football. I really support that, and I want everyone to be themselves when they play the sport,” she tells us.
As Lehmann gears up for the release of her first-ever bespoke kit, created in collaboration with EA Sports, we caught up with the footballer to get an insight into her journey so far and the challenges she’s faced.
Scroll down to read the full interview.
Tell us a bit about how you got into football. Was it something you always knew you wanted to pursue?
I started playing football when I was really young, at school in the first grade, I was around six. I started playing with my cousin, and he was the real reason I carried on. I stopped after a while, I don’t remember why, but eventually, the journey continued and I began to really love it. After a while, I progressed further and I ended up playing for a young boys’ team in Switzerland. After that, my first professional contract was for West Ham, here in England.
When I first came to England, I couldn’t speak the language. It all took a lot of focus, and you realize that you have to do everything you can to make yourself better. The journey so far has been amazing, and I’ve learned a lot from every single person I’ve met along the way. I can’t say that everything has been positive, but in the end, football is a game, and not everything is constantly successful. Sometimes, you need to take a step back to go forward and that’s exactly what I’ve learnt through my experience.
It’s been said that you’re the world’s most-followed woman footballer. How does it feel to be a part of the movement championing women in sport?
It feels really good, I think social media can influence a lot of things. For women’s football, it’s a good thing to have and more importantly to show the little girls you can play football. It’s not a bad thing to want to look like a girl and play football either. I really support that, and I want everyone to be themselves when they play the sport.
What challenges would you say you’ve faced within the industry so far, and how have you overcome them?
When I came here four or five years ago, everyone’s like, “oh, you play football?” Over the last five years, it has changed so much. People actually respect the women’s game, and they support us. Five years ago, they were rude, and they didn’t see us as actual professionals. We work so hard, we train every day, and put everything into the game, we do exactly the same as the men’s players. It’s just sometimes people don’t seem to accept that women can and do play football.
I’d also add that so many of the people who always speak about women’s football, have never actually experienced a game in person. For me, that’s a big problem. If you want to change something, then make sure you do your research first.
Currently, you’re set to create your own bespoke kit with EA SPORTS, how did that partnership come about?
The relationship between EA and me started quite a while ago actually. We’ve done a few things before, including at the Women\s Football Summit, celebrating the introduction of women’s club teams into FIFA 23, and since then they came up with the Brave Rose campaign, and I love it. The kit looks amazing and the story behind it really shows people who I am and how to be brave.
What can you tell us about the inspiration around the kit?
As you might have seen, I’ve got a lot of rose tattoos. The rose is a big sign for me and the “Red Rose” specifically has an important meaning. I have the rose tattoo because I made it with my mum and sister together. To me, it symbolizes family, growing together, and happiness. It’s amazing to have my own kit and show it to people to tell my story.
Finally, what advice would you give to emerging sportspeople looking to make a name for themselves within football?
Number one, you should always be yourself. Don’t listen to other people and what they say, it’s your career and it’s only about what you want to achieve. You should do what you love every day and just keep going. The life we have [as footballers], we’ve lived since we were so young and everything has been about football. We always need to stay focused because we only have one career — so be focused now. Then afterwards, we can enjoy our life and relax.