“We knew we had to build and get the squad we want and we believe now that we can start next season with a chance of promotion.“- 2015 First Team Manager Kelly Chambers at the end of the 2014 Season
After its inaugural season last year, the FA WSL 2 will be looking to build on its initial success and continue to build its profile this upcoming season. The 2014 season saw Sunderland gain promotion into FA WSL 1 after a tight contest with Doncaster Rovers Belles went down to the wire. With a big team dropping down from the WSL 1 in the form of Everton Ladies, competition in the second tier will be at an even higher level this year than the last with several teams vying for promotion. Two places are up for grabs in WSL 1 this season, so many will be fancying their chances.
One team that must be optimistic about getting promotion is Reading FC Women. Last season the club finished in third position in the league, only six points away from the top spot. In a season where the aim was to build the squad, finishing with five wins on the trot and being so close to the eventual winners Sunderland was a great achievement.
The Royals’ biggest threat last season were the well established and founding members of women’s football in this country, Doncaster Rovers Belles. Only narrowly missing out on promotion themselves, the Belles will be keen to return to the WSL 1 and will be Reading’s biggest opposition in the 2015 season. With the ever impressive Sue Smith featuring amongst their ranks, owner of 93 England caps and 11 goals last season to her name, the Belles were able to finish ahead of Reading in second place. Players like Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Bethany England, who know how to find the net, as well as upcoming talent like Kasia Lipka, will also aid the Belles in their upcoming campaign.
Following the departure of Jayne Ludlow, who is now in charge of the Welsh Women’s squad, Kelly Chambers is now at the helm going into a promising season. Chambers, who is herself an ex-Reading FC player and captain, has managed the team before and will be hoping to go one better than her predecessor by getting promotion. Coming into the season, Reading management have made several additions to strengthen the squad including the signing of Charlie Estcourt from Chelsea Ladies, Rachel Rowe from Swansea City Ladies, Kylie Davies from Millwall Lionesses and Emma Follis from Aston Villa Ladies. Davies and Follis in particular will provide a youthful Reading set up with the much needed experience to help them push up to the top of the table. Davies, 27, has played for Fulham, Chelsea and on loan in America, as well as representing the Welsh national team 45 times to date. Follis, 23, has played for Villa along with a couple of seasons in Seattle and has also represented England at U-19 level upwards. Having netted against Reading in Villa’s 3-0 victory back in September, and also on her Reading debut against Crystal Palace Ladies, it will be an exciting prospect seeing her alongside the Reading top scorers of last season, Fran Kirby, Lauren Bruton and Bianca Bragg.
Many members of the squad are also gaining invaluable experience coming into the season by receiving call ups for their country. Most recently Becky Jane, Lauren Bruton and Emma Follis were all selected for the England U-23 squad while Molly Bartrip and Eloise Wilson were selected for the squad at U-19 level. Six members of the squad have also made it into Jayne Ludlow’s latest senior Welsh team including Melissa Fletcher, Helen Ward, Charlie Estcourt, Laura May Walkley, Kylie Davies and Rachel Rowe.
After being disqualified from the FA Cup for fielding ineligible players, the Reading squad will be disappointed and promotion will be even higher on their list of priorities for the season. With the current standard of the squad and quality available to Chambers, Reading should be right up there at the end of the season challenging for one of the two promotion places.
Key Player: Fran Kirby
“Our aim is to win the title and carry on improving as a team.”
No article about the Reading FC Women’s team would be complete without a mention of Fran Kirby. Finishing the WSL 2 season as the league’s top scorer, scoring 29 goals in all competitions, Kirby’s achievements impressed all; She was awarded the WSL 2 Players’ Player of the Year award, and England manager Mark Sampson brought her into the England fold. Featuring for the England senior team four times now, and scoring on her debut against Sweden, Kirby is going from strength to strength for both club and country. Most recently she was the England player of the match against Team USA and has been named in Sampson’s 23 women squad for the Cyprus Cup (the single representative from WSL 2). Kirby also became the first professional player in Reading FC Women’s history, having played for the club since the age of seven. With the recent retirement of Kelly Smith from the international scene, England have one of the most promising talents in the form of Kirby to take her place. If she starts this season as she finished the last, Kirby has the ability to continue to make a mark on the league and help Reading push for promotion to WSL 1.