Reading Women ask to leave Championship and aim to play in fifth tier

Estimated read time 4 min read

Reading have requested to withdraw from the Women’s Championship, after an 11th-hour bid to take over the women’s arm of the club fell through, and the entire women’s and girls’ programme could soon be closed down.

Multiple age-group teams were told on Friday they would not be continuing and staff are understood to have been informed in a series of meetings that there were no guarantees of funding for any women’s and girls’ teams for next season.

Staff have been waiting anxiously for weeks for news on their future and redundancies are now inevitable. According to multiple sources, the financially-stricken club’s intention is to try to apply for a spot in the fifth tier of the women’s pyramid, which would mean playing near-grassroots level football in an amateur, regional league with minimal expenditure. However, not even that can yet be guaranteed, and any such application would have to be ratified by the Football Association.

It has been a rapid demise for a club who were playing in the Women’s Super League just over a year ago. Reading were a top-half WSL club as recently as 2020 and their former players include England‘s Fran Kirby and Mary Earps.

It is understood parents and players of multiple age-group teams within Reading’s girls’ youth ­pathway, including the under-21s who won a senior cup last season, were informed on Friday by ­distraught members of staff that their age-group teams could not continue operating. Some of the youngsters had turned up at the club’s Bearwood Park training ground, only to find that their session was off and they were soon joining a Zoom call remotely instead. The news leaves dozens of young players, such as those in the club’s Professional Game Academy, without a team.

Hours earlier there had been hope at the club. It is understood a consortium of UK-based and American investors had been ready to save the women’s arm of the club and fund them to carry on playing second-tier football, but the deal fell through at the final hurdle. According to sources with knowledge of the discussions, another separate, unnamed set of prospective investors, who are proposing to buy the wider football club from Dai Yongge, refused to agree to the women’s team being taken over. That is said to have infuriated staff.

The consortium trying to save the women’s team made an approach last week after the Guardian revealed that they might not be able to continue in the Championship. Because of that approach, it is understood a one-week extension was granted to Reading by the FA to give the women’s club more time to confirm whether they intended to participate in the Championship. That deadline expired at 5pm on Friday. A petition to save the women’s club, launched last week by parents and players, has received nearly 5,000 signatures.

According to multiple sources close to last season’s squad, the players and staff have found the recent weeks of waiting for communication from the owners highly stressful, and are disappointed at a lack of internal communication from Yongge. It is understood Reading’s senior management have struggled to get hold of Yongge to discuss the women’s team throughout the past 24 hours, despite the situation’s pressing urgency.

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The head of football operations, Mark Bowen, is understood to have had the task of delivering the news of the team’s request to withdraw from the Championship to staff on Friday and Bowen was described by one source as being “crestfallen”.

Asked what was going on at the club, the Wales midfielder and Reading vice-captain Charlie Estcourt told BBC Radio Berkshire last Saturday: “We haven’t heard too much directly from the club. The communication from all levels, unfortunately, has been really poor. For me personally, one of the most disappointing things about the whole situation is, we’ve just been left completely in the dark. It’s people’s livelihoods, it’s their jobs, it’s not just us at the first team, it’s all the staff. The whole women’s setup has been left completely in the dark.”

Reading have a proud record in women’s football in the modern era, punching above their weight to finish fourth in the top flight in 2018 and secure back-to-back fifth-placed finishes in 2019 and 2020. They were also FA Cup semi-finalists in 2019. After reverting to part-time status 12 months ago, Reading finished 10th in the Championship last season, one place and six points above the relegation zone.


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