‘We need to fight to keep it’ What Reading FC Women means to you

On loan Jessie Stapleton takes a moment with the fans. Photo: Neil Graham.
On loan Jessie Stapleton takes a moment with the fans. Photo: Neil Graham.

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The news Reading FC owner Dai Yonnge has signed an exclusivity agreement with a new owner is something supporters of the club have campaigned all season for – uniting fan groups and STAR, the Supporters Trust under one banner – Sell Before We Dai.

Yonnge’s ownership of the Royals has seen the club slip from the Championship play-off contenders to League One via multiple points deductions (including six this season), unpaid wages and HMRC bills as the relegation of Reading FC Women from the top tier of English Women’s football – the FA WSL, departure of star homegrown players like Emma Harries – and ultimately a switch to part time football.

Football in Berkshire has covered the women’s team for a number of years and we are regularly at the Select Car Leasing Stadium for games. As a team, we wanted to tell some of the stories of fans and players who’s careers and lives are entwined with the club that remains Berkshire’s highest profile women’s football club.

As part of this feature, we allowed responses to be made anonymously to protect those still involved at the club.

‘I wouldn’t be where I am today’

One former youth player told us: “The club is special in the way they managed to stay in the top league without the same funding as other teams. It’s been a huge part of my career and where I started my journey. Without the club I wouldn’t be where I am today with the guidance and support they gave me in my first taste of academy football.”

Mascots from local clubs are a big thing at Reading home games. Photo: Neil Graham.
Mascots from local clubs are a big thing at Reading home games. Photo: Neil Graham.

‘Locally there is nothing available for the girls at this level’

A worried parent explained that they would have to find a host family out of aread and change their daughters education plans if Reading lost its Academy status, either through relegation or ceasing to exist entirely: “Our squad will lose its academy status if the women get relegated – this is a FA rule, never mind if the club disappears.

A pile on as Reading win on penalties. Photo: Neil Graham.
A pile on as Reading win on penalties in the County Cup Final. Photo: Neil Graham.

“We are all a little bemused by this academy rule where the women’s team performance affects the Academy status. Great staff, amazing team spirit with the girls. We don’t have any where near the resources the other academy teams have but we compete equally from a football point of view – recently beating Spurs and Chelsea.

“Locally there is nothing available for the girls at this level. It would mean living with a host family and changing our daughter’s education plans. We need to fight to keep it!”

A home to some of England (and Wales’s) best

Fara Williams. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com
Fara Williams. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

Reading hasn’t been short of international glamour over the years. Euro’s winning Lioness Fran Kirby learned her trade with the Royals.

England’s record appearance maker and top BBC pundit Fara Williams finished her career with a bang at Reading and she was joined by 50 cap Jade Moore and Danielle Carter.

Rachel Rowe. Photo: Neil Graham.
Rachel Rowe. Photo: Neil Graham.

This is before you even establish the fact the Royals have played host to the backbone of the Wales national team over the years. From Jess Fishlock and Rachel Rowe to Tash Harding and Angharad James, Gemma Evans and Lily Woodham.

Reading FC Women is a club that has punched above its weight for years. We implore any new ownership of Reading FC to ‘take the hand break off’ and unleash the clubs potential for young women and girls across the Royal County.

‘It’s fair to say I’ve got the bug’

Supporter Rob Mellor tells us the Royals acted as his gateway into Berkshire football when he moved to the aread from East London: “Born and bred in east London, I didn’t feel ready to abandon Leyton Orient when I moved to Berkshire. Like many people I became interested in women’s football around the time of the 2019 World Cup, so I started following Reading Women which allowed me to support a local team and attend big-name games without conflicting with my Orient support.

Reading fans wait at the final whistle. Photo: Neil Graham.
Reading fans wait at the final whistle. Photo: Neil Graham.

“It’s fair to say I’ve got the bug – I’ve been a season ticket holder and a player sponsor for the past couple of seasons – and it has acted as a gateway drug and led to my involvement with all manner of football in Berkshire and neighbouring counties.

“Obviously the past two seasons have been tough for Reading (both men and women’s teams) and it grieves me that more men’s supporters don’t care more about the women’s team (the reaction – or lack thereof – when the club announced the women would be going part-time is a prime example). Reading FC can’t just play the ‘community club’ card when it suits them – the women’s team is a massive part of that initiative (arguably the largest part) and whether supporters of the men’s team enjoy women’s football is irrelevant, they should recognise that it’s a fundamental part of Reading’s reason to exist.”

‘They’ve become role models’

One loyal Royal told us: “Reading Women means EVERYTHING to me, I love going to watch them every weekend, (if I can get to the away games, even better). I like how they interact with all the fans at the end of the game, whether that’s just hello and saying thanks for coming, or signing stuff. They have become role models of mine and its nice to see the growth of the women’s club, from having home grown talent to a gold medal player, I can’t wait to see what future the club has, and will be here along the way. I’m Reading till I die”.

Fran Kirby visits the Wargrave Women & Girls training session.
Fran Kirby visits the Wargrave Women & Girls training session. Photo: Nicole Haines.

‘A massive inspiration to our daughter’

Another fan explained how important the team was to their daughter: “The Reading Women’s team has been a massive inspiration to our daughter, we have been coming as and when we can for the past few years. Always respect that the team come and say hello to the fans no matter the score. My daughter loved watching Lily Woodham and I have kept Lily updated on my daughters achievements and even though she is no longer with Reading she alway replies to my messages.

Lily Woodham. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com
Lily Woodham. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

“Reading as a club are fantastic and gives opportunities to the younger girls all around the area, we have been lucky enough to have our team used as flag wavers.”

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