Tim Dellor's Royals Watching: Reading Women take centre stage after Chelsea win
Last weekend marked a significant moment for gender parity in sport. For all the well-intentioned statements, and regardless of the fact Reading’s women’s team train at the same venue as the men’s team and are full time pros playing in the top flight, genuine widespread interest never seemed anything like equal.
That was until last weekend. On Sunday I played football, and all anyone wanted to talk to me about was Reading Women’s 1-0 win against Chelsea in the WSL the previous day. Then out for a family lunch and the same thing. “Did you see Chelsea had 34 shots to Reading’s 5?”, my nephew asked. “Deanne Rose’s goal was class. She took it really well considering it was only the fourth minute”, piped up another relative.
There is no arguing Reading’s performance and result was sensational. Perhaps it was their best result ever, but you would need to speak to someone who goes to all the games to confirm that. It certainly has done more to shift attitudes and generate interest than any other previous result. Football fans and Reading fans are at last showing undiluted enthusiasm for the women’s team.
In stark contrast, excitement amongst Reading fans who travelled up to West Bromwich Albion to watch the men lose 1-0 in The Championship was hard to detect. Reading had zero shots on target. Their goalkeeper must have wondered why he bothered warming up, so minimal was his exertion. If you or I had been in goal the score would have still been 1-0 to West Brom.
The most alarming moment of the afternoon for Reading fans, as so often is the case these days, was when the team news was published. More accurately, this weekly moment an hour before kick off should be called “injury news”.
Fresh injuries to John Swift, Danny Drinkwater and Femi Azeez, and the recurrence of a hamstring injury to Andy Yiadom meant they were all missing for the defeat at The Hawthorns. Michael Morrison, Tom McIntyre, Lucas Joao, Yakou Meite, Ovie Ejaria, Andy Rinohmota and Jahmari Clarke made up the rest of the first X1 unavailable. The list has been that long for three months now.
Just bad luck? Maybe, but probably not. Sports scientists will be looking at a lack of physical conditioning during pre-season as a possible cause? Maybe it is simply a lack of rest over the last two years? Perhaps there is an issue with the pitches, boots or kit? The first thing you would look at is the workloads and stress put on players in training – either too much or too little? Diet, hydration, supplements, recovery methods and a myriad of other components in a professional footballer’s routine need to be scrutinised.
The very harsh truth is the best players stay fit. Really top players rarely miss games through injury. They are robust athletes with tremendous intelligence and discipline when it comes to maintaining top athletic condition. Until Reading’s management and players find a way of stemming the flow of injuries, and not simply relying on lady luck bringing improved fortune, we will all have to endure disjointed performances like last Saturday’s.