Opinion: The curious case of Reading FC

Copyright: Nick Potts

Reading are a household name in the women’s football world but always seem to avoid the mass media coverage, hype and attention other sides receive.

A member of the top tier since 2015, the Royals have consistently finished in the top half of the Women’s Super League. They finished 4th in 2017/18, and 5th in the following two campaigns.

This season, they’re on track to finish 6th, but even with the league positions showing consistency, there’s always a looming phrase around Kelly Chambers side that there is a ‘lack of consistency’.

Captain Natasha Harding recently responded to a tweet asking if there was a ‘more hot and cold’ team than Reading. Her response was simply: ‘Nope’.

Looking at the historical finishing of the Berkshire-based side, the stats paint a different picture. Although throughout the season, Reading seem to lack consistent performances and results.

They have one clean sheet in their last 12 WSL games. It was away at Manchester United.

Big points against Manchester City and Arsenal have been scattered with heavy defeats by Chelsea and the Gunners, along with a shock loss at home to Birmingham and disappointing draws with Aston Villa and Bristol City.

Remarkably, the Royals have drawn 1-1 on six occasions in the WSL this campaign.

A mix of results

So, what is it with Reading that causes this mix of world-class performances and surprise top four contention performances but then a game where they look off the pace, unknown to each other? There’s simply no simple answer.

In the eight games I have been lucky enough to attend this season, I’ve yet to witness a victory at Madejski.

Since becoming official affiliates of the Reading Football Club brand in 2006, the side have gone from strength to strength with the backing of the established side.

Copyright: Matt Wilkinson

Reading were the 2012/13 FA Premier League Southern division champions before gaining their Women’s Super League 2 licence in 2014 when the system was expanded. With a certain academy product by the name of Fran Kirby, the Royals were the 2015 second tier champions promoted to the FAWSL.

There has been no domestic cup success, with their best chance going to waste in 2018/19 when they were defeated in a penalty shoot-out for a place in the FA Cup final.

Reading blood

Reading runs in the blood once integrated into the club. Chambers has been
with the side since the start and her husband works on the coaching team.
Goalkeeper Grace Moloney came through the youth ranks, working closely with Chambers, making her senior bow in 2009.

Lauren Bruton has been in Berkshire since 2013, Molly Bartrip (2014) and Rachel Rowe (2015) are also long serving Royals. Former player and
WSL 2 champion captain Kirsty Pearce is also the club’s General Manager.

This core group of ‘club servants’ is mixed with everything you need to create a successful WSL side.

Copyright: Matt Wilkinson

The Scandinavian influence with Amalie Eikeland and Kristine Leine, flashes of youth with Lily Woodham and Emma Harries both heavily featuring this campaign and the world-class stars brought in this summer – Jess Fishlock, Emma Mitchell and Danielle Carter boosting the
Royal ranks.

And of course, as per the silent star, Angharad James, who goes around her business brilliantly in the shadows.

Club backing

The Royals have the backing of Reading FC and have been trailblazers of recent in the women’s game.

At the start of the 2020/21 campaign, the Reading became the first WSL side to share the men’s ground for their home games.

Playing at Madejski Stadium, a 24,000-capacity arena, it is the biggest in the game by a country mile.

On top of this, the players have access to world-class facilities at the club including gym access, tactical and training equipment and conducting their sessions at the Hogwood training complex; the facility used by the Reading men’s side last season before their move to a state-of-the-art complex at Bearwood. Again, a facility in which the women have been
able to use occasionally.

With the most competitive season in the WSL yet, it only looks exciting for Reading. Working with one of the smallest squads in the country, Kelly Chambers has her work cut out to push the Royals on. The foundations are there, and as Reading have grown to love, they’ll continue to conduct their business under the radar.

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