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Reading Women FC team talk ahead of their FA Cup 4th round clash with Wolves ©Alamy

Reading: Supporter solidarity in the women’s game

Those following the FSA on social media, or our affiliated supporter groups at Reading, will be well aware of the crisis that has enveloped the club. 

Owner Dai Yonnge is running the Royals into the ground with unpaid staff wages leading to 16-points being deducted in the past two seasons and pretty unprecedented statements from the EFL against one of its club’s owners.

Supporters Trust At Reading (STAR) chair Sarah Turner told us last week that the “one good thing” to come out of the entire situation was the solidarity shown by supporters at other clubs.

And it’s heartening to see that solidarity has spread to the women’s team with Arsenal Women’s travelling supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterparts at Reading Women when the clubs faced each other on Wednesday night.

Many clubs in crisis also involve a women’s team playing at a high level – Reading Women compete in the Women’s Championship although last night’s game was a Women’s League Cup clash – and their existence is under threat if Dai Yongge continues to financially mismanage the club.

The FA told us “we are concerned about the current situation at Reading and will continue to work with the women’s team throughout this period.”

What do supporters of Reading FC Women say?

“There is a community feel that involves not only the fans, but also the players and staff at Reading. For many fans the women’s team play a vital role in allowing families to experience football in what some would consider a more family friendly environment. These players are role models to other young girls who without the team may not get this exposure.” Amy Maddison, Reading Women Supporters Club

Supporter Sarah Guilfoyle told us that she’d seen a big decline in matchday facilities which had led to a different feel in recent times – “the place did not seem as happy, faces started to disappear,” she said.

“The website has not been updated with scores since November 2023 and there are times when games have been moved to the Aldershot stadium – and we’ve only found out by accident searching social media for other reasons.

“The women’s game is affected by the actions of a business owner who obviously has no passion for the best sport in the world – I want to be able to take my nieces and nephews to see women play amazing football, and show my nieces they can aspire to be whatever they want.”

Fellow fan Vikki Pink backs up Sarah’s experiences. Vicki had encouraged friends from work to take their kids to the game – an affordable day out where they get to watch a good game of football in an EFL stadium.

There was one game, I went to get coffee at half time and was told there was no hot water so I would have to wait half an hour!” Says Vicki. “The match they go to, half the stalls are closed and they struggle to get a drink, the kids weren’t happy about this, those things become part of the experience for them.

“I look forward to the weekend and going to see the team play, being able to cheer them on, but the atmosphere isn’t the same, you can almost feel the uncertainty in the air. I worry that at the end of this season there won’t be a women’s team and that would be such a shame for everyone.”

Deborah Dilworth, head of women’s football at the FSA, said that the situation at Reading showcases the importance of the Carney Review implementation group as the women’s game is littered with crisis clubs that have often been overlooked.  

“There’s a growing need for structured local supporter engagement in the women’s game which mirrors the established and successful dialogue on a national level. No one wants to see the women’s team cease to exist,” said Deborah.

What does the FSA think?

Football is rightly focused on growing the women’s game but that can’t just be a media construct with snazzy TV production and promotion. 

Growing the women’s game also means ensuring that clubs have good facilities for new matchgoers – without a positive early experience new fans, families and kids might not go back. First impressions count.

When it comes to clubs in crisis, as we’ve written before, Reading’s dire predicament shows the urgent need for an independent regulator and football governance reform.

It’s something we’ve lobbied the Government over for more than a decade and we welcome the incoming legislation which can protect our historic clubs. 

Time is of the essence and we will continue to work collaboratively with the Government and football authorities to get this legislation over the line.

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