Reading FC Women have quality but Saturday felt like a foregone conclusion

The big screen with a message for Kelly Chambers before Reading FC Women's final game of the season. Photo: Andy Wicks/Impetus Football.
The big screen with a message for Kelly Chambers before Reading FC Women's final game of the season. Photo: Andy Wicks/Impetus Football.

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Of all the hundreds of football matches I have attended, very few have felt as much like a foregone conclusion in terms of a result before a ball was even kicked as seemed the case before Chelsea sealed the fate of Reading FC Women at the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Saturday last.

One must say a huge congratulations to Chelsea before going any further.  In a miserable season for the male side of that club, the double-winning women have recorded their fourth successive title under the inspired leadership of Emma Hayes.  I have seen them play twice at the SCL last season and they scored three goals on both occasions, winning with relative ease in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup before taking the points on the final day of the 2022/23 FA Women’s Super League.  The delightful one-or-two-touch football played by the likes of Erin Cuthbert and Sophie Ingle was a joy to watch.  Sam Kerr was pretty much unplayable again.  Guro Reiten is one heck of a player and Lauren James will become one heck of a player.  A team playing at this level does wonders for the burgeoning reputation of women’s football in the UK.  Well done to them.

Sam Kerr. Photo: Neil Graham /

The large contingent of Chelsea fans present enjoyed every minute of it, but it was hardly a raucous atmosphere as no one seemed to expect anything other than a title procession and that is ultimately what we got.  The fact that so many in the crowd roared approval at the three Chelsea goals made it ever more apparent that so many folk living west of London and on our patch seem to be in need of being able to wallow in the reflected glory of supporting a ‘big’ club.  Such a shame that RFCW seem to attract such modest home crowds on an SCL matchday to watch what was the only top-flight football club in the county – at least until full-time on Saturday afternoon when that tag was unceremoniously removed from them.

Home-grown Emma Harries reflected on relegation on her Instagram over the weekend and lamented a lack of “sufficient backing” for the team.  It is probable she was referring to the backing of the club itself rather than the Reading and Berkshire public, but if you were the owners of Reading FC seeing such modest numbers coming through the turnstiles, would you be inclined to invest?  That is not meant as a rhetorical question by any means, for the value of having a top-flight women’s team in the town of Reading cannot be underestimated even if the cost of maintaining that status could be argued to be prohibitive.

‘Reading do have quality’

It is inarguable that more expensive players win you key moments in games.  But Reading do have quality.  After Kerr nodded home the opener at the near post on Saturday, Belgian international Justine Vanheavermaet missed an even better opportunity for Reading from barely five yards out barely five minutes later.  Vanhaevermaet has always looked a quality player to me every time I have seen RFCW play but manager Kelly Chambers would have been bitterly disappointed not to see a player with forty caps for her country score from that position.

Justine Vanhaevermaet with a note. Photo: Andy Wicks/Impetus Football.
Justine Vanhaevermaet with a note. Photo: Andy Wicks/Impetus Football.

You need a bit of luck as a smaller club to compete.  The loss of Deanne Rose for eight months of the season – and again after just 35 minutes against Chelsea when she looked by far and away Reading’s most likely player in an attacking sense – is difficult to legislate for when you don’t have “sufficient backing” as Harries puts it.  Emma – who has captained the team this season during Emma Mukandi’s absence – you feel will be an important player next season in the Championship, that is unless the England Under 19 international is tempted away elsewhere.  This seems unlikely on the basis of a 2022/23 season where she has scored just twice in 21 appearances.

It is the Reading Academy which has produced the likes of Harries and the very promising Tia Primmer which offers Reading the most hope for their immediate future in the Championship.  After Rose limped off on Sunday, Academy graduate Madison Perry impressed with her hard-running game.  On the other hand, it would seem unlikely to expect that international players such as Vanhaevermaet, Rose and Sanne Troelsgaard would be hanging around for a season in Tier 2.

Farewell Gesture?

As for the manager?  The guard of honour afforded to Chambers before kick-off frankly just added to that air of resignation pre-match and it seemed to scream ‘Farewell Gesture’.  Whether that is the case we shall see, but the manager does deserve immense credit for keeping the side at this tough level for eight seasons.  On the other hand, questions will be asked about the departure of experienced Tash Dowie midway through the season, particularly for a club which averaged only a fraction more than a goal a game in the league this term.  Dowie was hardly prolific in the first half of the season – but no-one else was either.

Kelly Chambers in the Reading dugout. Photo: Neil Graham.
Kelly Chambers in the Reading dugout. Photo: Neil Graham.

One point from the final eight games was a pretty tame way to slip out of the division.  That solitary point came against a Brighton side that finished second bottom and claimed safety.  Even if Reading had won that game at the SCL in March they still would have finished dead last.  And don’t even mention the away form, which was as Pointless as a tea-time BBC quiz show.  All in all a real genuine shame to see top-flight football in Berkshire come to an end barely noticed and with barely a whimper.  

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