WSL Preview: Reading

Club History

Originally created in 1988 and officially associated with the men’s club since 2006, Reading FC were granted a licence to play in the WSL2 in 2014. They won the second division of women’s football in 2015 and were promoted to the WSL. 

After a difficult first season, which saw them finish second to last in the league, Reading has become a the team generally settled in the middle of the WSL table.  Their 2017-18 season was their best year with a 4th place finish.

Last Season

7th place – 5 Wins, 9 Draws, 8 Losses, 24 Points.

Reading’s 2020-21 season was one of a tenacious team capable of pulling off impressive wins, including a 2-0 victory away against Manchester United, but also a team prone to complacency.  Despite having the quality and capacity to dictate play, at times they lost points against teams which they could have drawn or won.

However, true to their form in recent years, Reading remained mid-table for the entirety of the season with the exclusion of the first week.  An odd statistic to their season was the fact that the Royals performed worse in their home stadium than away, registering most of their points outside their home ground.  

Off Season Changes

As part of their One Reading approach, for the second season in a row Reading Football Club announced that the women’s team will play all their home matches at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, formerly known as the Madjeski Stadium.  The Royals also announced the women’s team’s move to the men’s and academy’s training ground at Bearwood Park during the summer.  

Speaking of the move the women’s team manager Kelly Chambers stated: “… the biggest thing for us has been moving into Bearwood Park and that’s really raised the level of professionalism – and it’s given us a proper home too, after we were at the old training ground due to COVID last season.  The facilities there for us are amazing, the pitches, and the support that we’ve got from everyone there. That’s just allowed us to concentrate on the pitch and really push what we want to this season.” 

Rachel Rowe described the atmosphere around Bearwood and the changes as fitting the new One Reading approach: “It has been a big slogan – One Reading. That’s what we feel like now – we feel as one. We share the training ground and the stadium with the men and the Academy.  Having that atmosphere around where it is so professional… it makes you up your game! It just feels perfect.”

The Manager

Kelly Chambers has long been a fixture around Reading Football Club, literally devoting more than half her lifetime to the club.  After captaining the team for a number of years when they played in the lower leagues, she retired from playing in 2012 after suffering a career ending injury.  Chambers then transitioned  into management, taking over as head coach of the first team.

She was temporarily replaced by Jayne Ludlow, when the team rose to the WSL2, but regained her head coaching position a year later when Ludlow left to manage Wales.  Chambers was integral to the Royals gaining promotion to the WSL in 2015. Then general manager Jon Horton described her as the driving force to this rise and success of Reading Football Club.

Chambers has since done well to keep the team in the top flight, despite its lower resources compared to bigger clubs.  A club high finish of fourth place in 2018, Reading have since settled as solid mid-table competitors under Chambers’ leadership.

Her reputation and astute scouting has allowed her to consistently recruit players to keep the team competitive.  Part of her success is ensuring that she finds players that fit Reading’s style of play. 

Squad Changes

A number of players left the team at the end of last season. Mainstays in the squad, notably Angharad James, Lauren Bruton and Molly Bartrip moved on.   So did second choice goalkeeper Erin Nayler and youngsters Silvana Flores, Kiera Skeels, Sophie Quirk and Molly Childerhouse. Kristine Leine, who had been offered a contract extension, chose to return to Norway. Danielle Carter transferred to Brighton & Hove Albion for an undisclosed fee.

Arguably Reading’s greatest loss during the offseason was Fara Williams who announced her retirement from the sport. The former England international had joined the Royals in 2017 and helped lead the team to their best ever fourth place finish her first season.  Displaying that she was still a consistent and dangerous midfielder last season, Reading will miss not only her on field capabilities but also her on and off field leadership.  

Reading have been able to keep the core of their squad together though while making a number of good additions in the offseason.  After a number of years abroad, Natasha Dowie has returned to the WSL by signing with the Royals.  Belgian international Justine Vanhaevermeat was also recruited.  Both players will add a needed strike force after the departure of Bruton and Carter.  

Gemma Evans and Faye Bryson were brought in from relegated Bristol City.  Midfielder Chloe Peplow signed from Spurs.  Perhaps one of their greatest additions has been Deanne Rose.   The newly graduated American collegiate player and Canadian international had a fantastic Tokyo Olympics, showing impressive offensive capabilities and maturity on the field for such a young player.  With 61 international caps, she will be a fantastic addition to the Royals’ squad. 

To cap off their offseason, Reading secured the future of Faye Bryson, who signed a new contract, and Jeon Ga-eul and Amalie Eikeland who extended their contracts for the upcoming year. Academy product Bethan Roberts signed her first professional contract. 

Preseason

When describing the preseason, Natasha Harding talked about a very physically demanding preparation campaign.  Rachel Rowe simply stated the preseason was “exhausting”.  Due to the relatively smaller size of their squad, head coach Chambers chose to make her team run a lot and work on their physical capacity to be able to press and defend for longer in the game in order to compete with all teams.

Speaking of her preseason regiment Chambers stated: “The biggest thing for me was the physical side of the girls, making sure they’re physically ready for this league, because year on year it gets tougher – it gets faster and we’ve got to be able to compete with that first and foremost, and then let the football do the talking.”

However, despite the heavy workload, the spirit in the camp has been very good.  Goalkeeper Grace Moloney, who has been at the club since 2009, stated that this preseason as the most enjoyable ever, highlighting the positivity at Reading Football Club.

The club played several preseason matches behind closed doors including clashes against Aston Villa, Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace.  

Upcoming Season

Despite some important departures and retirements, Reading FC have recruited well in the offseason.  Not only have they replaced what has left but they even strengthened their squad in certain areas.  They have also kept the core of their team.  An important factor to success this year will be to build on what they already have, but to work on being more consistent. 

Both manager Chambers and captain Harding specified this need to find consistency and avoid complacency as primary goals this season.  Should Reading be able to succeed in these goals, they will arguably be a side that can compete and maybe even beat nearly every WSL team on a good day.  Remaining physically fit, and avoiding injuries, will be primordial for a squad that is on the smaller size.

The recruitment of Natasha Dowie, who is a proven cunning goalscorer, should be a major boost to a team who have been missing an out and out striker in recent years.  Deanne Rose, a quick and intelligent attacker, will also add to Reading’s offensive prowess.  

One of the areas that the squad will be hoping to improve is their home performances. The addition of fans should help the squad in this aspect.  Having previously played their home matches at Adams Park, situated nearly an hour away from Reading, this will be the first year that the team will be playing in the geographic area of their fanbase with fans allowed back in the stadium.  Growing this fanbase for the women’s side of Reading Football Club is an aim of both the club and the women’s team. 

Other Competitions

FA Women’s League Cup 2021-22 – Reading FC are in Group D of the League Cup and will face Championship sides Crystal Palace, Bristol City and Lewes. The group stage takes place from October 13 to December 16, 2021.

FA Women’s Cup 2021-22 – Reading FC will once again enter the 2021/22 competition at the fourth round stage, along with all other WSL and FA Women’s Championship clubs.

Opening FA WSL Fixtures

3 September, 2021 – Away v Manchester United

12 September, 2021 – Home v Arsenal

26 September, 2021 – Away v Tottenham Hotspurs

Expectations

The beginning of the season will not be easy.  While Manchester United have lost quality over the offseason, they are still a formidable side who finished fourth last season.  A first match back in their stadiums with fans will be a difficult challenge.  Arsenal will also not be an easy match as they have strengthened over the offseason and have already played a number of competitive matches in the Champion’s League.  

Arguably, the Royals meeting and succeeding in their consistency and lack of complacency benchmarks when starting the season will be as important as trying for big points right out of the gate. 

With the increased competition and recruitment by more affluent clubs over the offseason, a realistic expectation for Reading is that they will finish mid-table again.  However, like every year they should prove to be a team to never underestimate.  

Photo: @ReadingFCWomen