Sunday saw 1,420 supporters descend on Reading’s Madejski Stadium for the inaugural Women’s Football Weekend and Football in Berkshire was on hand to witness Reading FC Women’s 3-3 draw with Bristol City.
It’s always a slightly odd feeling sitting in a stadium as a non league football fan. It’s never entirely comfortable and personally, the urge to go and stand behind the goal your team is attacking is always strong.
Those mild longings though quickly dispersed at the Madejski on Sunday, walking in to the ground the small but committed crowd were decked in blue and white hoops as well as the odd red shirt and the West Stand, while not full, was well used.
Having seen a few games at the home of Reading FC now where three sides of the ground are closed, it can be quite easy to find the actual football lost in a sea of blue.
Not so much on Women’s Football Weekend though. Normally playing out at Wycombe Wanderers Adams Park, Reading FC Women were back ‘home’ for their third of four matches at the ground in the 2019 half of the 19/20 season.
We were sat just behind and audible group of Bristol City supporters who went through their repertoire of songs, some you’d expect, some quite clever, the back and forth between supporters gave the game some atmosphere and at times the play, and goals got the crowd on their feet.
Reading were excellent at times, Rachel Rowe and unsurprisingly Fara Williams really standing out and they thoroughly deserved their early 2-0 lead in what you thought might be a bit of a rout at about the 20 minute mark.
What happened after that? I am not entirely sure footballing wise. Foot off the gas maybe? Whatever it was, Bristol, who had looked a step behind Reading for the opening half hour but not outclassed, fired their way back in to.
Ebony Salmon in particular was a constant thorn in the side for the Royals. If her team mates had knocked a few more balls for her to chase it could easily have been a different story. Her pace caused Reading problems all afternoon and she duly got the equaliser to make it 3-3 in the final ten minutes after Reading had lead 2-0 and 3-1.
Making the Madejski Stadium ‘home’
I don’t know whether it is a good idea for Reading Women to be playing at the Madejski going forward, it’s capacity is around 15,000 more than Adams Park and any atmosphere can easily be diluted. However I didn’t feel it was on Sunday with the crowd getting behind both teams at different points – but if the clubs fan base is to grow then they need to be playing in their home town – and that really means the Madejski.
The increasing popularity of watching women’s football and in particular the attendances at Tottenham Hotspur (38,262 – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium) and Liverpool (23,500 – Anfield) at the weekend, give hope for future attendances. Lets not forget – in Reading Women, we have one of the best club sides in the country – full of home nations internationals and more besides, not least 150 cap Lioness Williams.
There is an obvious vacancy when Rugby Union side London Irish leave Berkshire at the end of the season (readingfc.co.uk), I hope it’s a vacancy the club can take up with the long term growth of supporter base in mind – if they do I’ll certainly be at more games next season.
Reading are at the Madejski again on Thursday night against Crystal Palace in the Continental Cup, we’d recommend a trip! You can buy tickets here.
Prices: Adults £6, Concessions / Children £3, Family £12.
Listen to Lauren Bruton on the Berkshire Football Stories podcast: