London Irish have packed up and shipped off to Brentford in a bid to attract more fans from the capital. This leaves a gaping hole in the Madejski Stadium schedule, free and primed for a 2pm Sunday kick-off courtesy of Berkshire’s top-flight ladies team. This is exactly why it’s vital that it happens.
Reading FC Women average an attendance of 800 for home games, which is considerably lower than other top five teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea who see 1,300 fans most weekends. However, the six-goal thriller that took place on Women’s Football Weekend back in November when the Royals took on Bristol City saw a record attendance of 1,420. And where did that game happen? At the Madejski of course!
I was filled with dread for the prospective season when I saw the sheer number of players leaving, no less than eight, in Mayumi Pacheco, Millie Farrow, Jo Potter, Rachael Laws, Sophie Howard, Maxime Bennink, Remi Allen and Charlie Estcourt, when contracts expired in June this year. The transfer window opened on the 19th of June and much to my concern Reading kept it very quiet for almost a month, and then BAM out of nowhere, none other than Arsenal legend Danielle Carter signed on the dotted line and there’s been a steady stream of crackers ever since.
Carter was quickly followed by Mitchell, also of Arsenal stock, then rumours of Aussie keeper Erin Nayler, and another London player in the form of Chelsea’s Deanna Cooper. I was wrong to assume Reading were done there despite being incredibly happy with the new acquisitions, with the NWSL not due to start until April, many players were left with no football for nearly 9 months, so cue the arrival of stars from across the pond.
I wasn’t convinced Reading would also make a move for an NWSL player but how wrong I was, up steps none other than Wales’ most capped player, Jess Fishlock, obvious now given the Welsh links within the team.
Fishlock is the stand out signing for me during this transfer window, she’s back from injury and hungry for game time, as well as being a big advocate for equal rights within the game, not to say other players aren’t but Fishlock is considerably more vocal about it like her new team-mate Fara Williams, and that’s just another factor to cement why the women deserve to play in the stadium alongside the men’s team. And just to round the window off, Reading snuck in one final signing in the form of South Korean superstar Jeon Ga-eul, having originally signed with Bristol City in January, her first time in English football was marred by bad luck with bad weather and the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
The stats speak for themselves, 38 goals and 101 international appearances, the country’s fifth-most capped player and their second-highest goal scorer. So if all those signings don’t make you want to see the team in action at the home of Reading Football Club I’m not sure what will. Maybe, the impressive six academy players who have stepped up to the first team might change things, what’s better than seeing some homegrown talent pull on the blue and white hoops?
“Same crest, same colours, same rules, same aim”
Perhaps I’m clutching at straws here with this reason, but an important issue to be raised nonetheless, sadly women’s football sees an exponential number of trolls across social media, and Reading Women are no stranger to such behaviour. The recent announcement of Jess Fishlock signing for the club made its way onto the men’s Twitter account which much to my delight shows the club making positive steps to align the teams.
Unfortunately, as expected, it was met with negativity with one tweet reading “Can you leave women’s football on the women’s page. I have absolutely no interest in their version of the sport”. I was elated to see the admin respond to this in an amusing and united way: “Same crest, same colours, same rules, same aim” which cements for me the attitude of the club and their intentions for the future of the club with both the men’s and women’s teams. And I would hope that by stating they have the ‘same aim’ this includes seeing the men’s team at the Madejski on a Saturday and the women’s team on a Sunday.
Perhaps, the most poignant is the Royals boss Kelly Chambers discussion about the stadium plans of the team in an interview posted on the Reading website this week, when asked about the lack of fans due to the current pandemic she said: “To now play in the heart of Reading, we can start building that fanbase, so that when we can open the doors to them, they can come and watch and they can actually feel even more part of the club, it’s not just we can go and watch the men’s or the 23’s, it’s actually a bigger picture now and it’s that whole club philosophy”. Chambers was excited and positive at this prospect during the interview and as before it just cements the attitude of the club with the intentions of aligning the teams from the youth level all the way up to the senior squads, be that male or female.
With no intention of ruffling feathers and said with all the good intentions of a supporter, if one of the fears is filling the stadium sufficiently, even the men’s team don’t manage that week in, week out so that argument holds limited weight with me.
One final thought, Football in Berkshire did their roundup of games to see across the county on Women’s Football Weekend and after some, not so subtle subtweeting from myself and the FiB account I wrote my first post as their Women’s Football Correspondent, so the chance to report on a game from the stadium would be nothing short of a dream.