Thornaby backlash shows growing strength of women’s game as rumours circle Reading FC Women

Maddison Perry meets Reading FC Women fans.
Maddison Perry meets Reading FC Women fans. Photo: Neil Graham.

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Women’s football is well and truly in the public consciousness. At the start of the week, Thornaby FC caused an outcry when it was announced the club’s entire women’s football operation was to be axed. The story was featured on national news bulletins and in the national press, from Sky Sports to the BBC, Independent and Evening Standard. So much so that the majority of the club’s board resigned.

Just off Junction 11 of the M4 in Berkshire, season tickets are on sale, and a deadline is set for Reading FC men’s team supporters to buy theirs, but as yet no news on the women’s team.

I enjoyed a few games last season at the Select Car Leasing Stadium with my three-year-old daughter. Granted I’m not sure how bothered she was, but it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours and I am planning to make it official next season.

Ellie and Tom at the SLC.

Well, I’m hoping to. Because for the time being, while the women’s first team under Liam Gilbert beat relegation from the FA Women’s Championship last season, there’s no guarantee they’ll have the opportunity to next season.

Rumours are flying, but the simple facts at the moment are – as corroborated by a conversation with Supporters Trust At Reading (STAR):

  • Reading Football Club is still up for sale after a period of exclusivity expired – and there has been minimal reference to RFCW
  • There is doubt over the next wage bill across the club following the expiry of that exclusivity period
  • The ‘Newco’ created to run the top tiers of women’s football in England are mandating an increase in minimum employment hours for clubs next season from the current eight a week to 16, then 20 hours by the start of 2025/26 (although a caveat recommendation also suggests clubs will have three years from 25/26 to implement this

Being an FA WSL or Championship side is going to get more expensive. But the depth of talent in the club’s academy system is best illustrated by silverware – this season the U21s won the league and Berks & Bucks Cup – while two players have been shortlisted for the Berkshire Football Awards, and the under 14s won the Junior Premier League Warriors Cup.

Natasha Rasmussen and Eve Annets. Photo: Neil Graham.
Natasha Rasmussen and Eve Annets have both been nominated for Berkshire Football Awards. Photo: Neil Graham.

While this will concern anyone associated with the senior women’s side, management, players, staff and supporters, it will be an increasingly anxious wait for players and parents involved in the club’s academy and pathway structure.

Before the end of the season, Football in Berkshire asked people involved in the club to tell us what RFCW meant to them. One parent anonymously told us: “Great staff, amazing team spirit with the girls. We don’t have anywhere 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!”

Reading FC Women, and the teams in the area that came before produced Fran Kirby, and right now is the sole place for young girls in the county hoping to follow in her footsteps.

It will be an absolute travesty if all these years of hard work are simply given up on when the women’s game is finally, finally finding its feet.

Reading FC were approached for comment.

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