Madejski Stadium and Reading FC logo

Madejski Stadium, Reading

Reading FC Women vs. Bristol City WFC
Barclays FA Women's Super League

Question, tell me how you feel about this. Actually don't. I'm on Twitter, I see what people are saying about this particular topic, and it's usually very unflattering and delivered with a delightful helping of toxic masculinity on top. Just like everything else on social media, I suppose.

Exterior of the Madejski Stadium and the turbine
I remember the good old days when the Madejski could still be referred to as "shiny plastic".

I'm talking about something that always gets dismissed. I'm referring to the biggest threat to ever face this planet (if you believe the way that some people go on about it). Independent women. And not just any women. These women want to (and can) play football professionally.

How dare they do what they want and live how they wanna live. They've worked hard and sacrificed to get what they get. Thanks BeyoncĂ©, I'll take it from here. The cheek of it. Next you'll be telling me that they want the vote.

In case you hadn't quite figured it out by now, I'm being facetious. It's perfectly acceptable for women to have the right to vote to make a living playing so called "men's" sports, especially make a living in what is the most popular sport in the entire world.

Reading Women take on Bristol City Women at the Madejski Stadium
A male linesman? Who'd have thought it?

Anyway, international breaks do strange things to football fans. With a lack of Super Sunday on the TV this week, how else are we meant to fill that time? I could have done something useful with my day, but Facebook had been harassing me all week with adverts of a game at the Madejski.

So with that in mind, and in honour of the very first Women's Football Weekend, it seemed like the best way to go about getting my football fix. Plus it was free. Chalk that up to a successful social media advertising campaign. That's at least one conversion.

Ironically, whilst The FA were desperately trying to promote this event celebrating women's football in this country and getting people to actually attend, all games in Spain were postponed due to a player's strike. Not quite capitalising on the international break are you, Spain?

Fans at the Reading Women v Bristol City Women match
No matter where you go, there's always somebody who will insist on standing up the whole time.

I'm no connoisseur of women's football, and I have to admit that I paid little attention to the Women's World Cup (except for morbidly tuning in to see the latter stages of the alleged Thai defence's woeful attempts to keep out the United States, and England losing to said United States in the semi finals), but I did attend a women's game at the Madejski last season, so this wasn't my first rodeo.

The game has been and continues to be mocked by those who seemingly act like they believe very fabric of the men's game is under threat because a completely different group of human beings want to play. It's not like you have a gun to your head that's forcing you to watch, but then I guess are also the people who would complain that they "have" to pay £50 for a ticket to an away game. Again, you don't have to do anything.

What seems to be forgotten is that it's still a relatively new sport. Sure, women have been playing football for a while, but the Women's Super League is the first attempt at really professionalising the whole game, and bridge the gap to our neighbours to the west who win the World Cup all the time (because it's taken seriously there).

Fara Williams takes a corner for Reading Women
England's most capped footballer takes a corner. Whip that ball in, Peter.

It always seems like it has to be compared with the men's game, which seems incredibly unfair when we've have had a 125 year head start on a proper, organised league, and didn't have to contend with a 50 year ban in between either. I'll be willing to bet the standard of that inaugural Football League season in 1888 was pretty crap too.

It will always be tough to find a place in an extraordinarily crowded football calendar in this country. But these things need time to be able to grow organically, even at a time where it seems like football clubs will start falling by the wayside with such regularity that eventually we'll all be forced to become Manchester City fans.

I can't help but wonder if they shot themselves in the foot by moving away from a summer league when the football calendar is open. We're not like America where each major sport seems to have a defined slot in the calendar where people move on to focusing on it, hence why nobody gives a damn about American football in the spring.

Seats at the Madejski Stadium
It seems that other people aren't as susceptible to targetted advertising as I am.

And yes, it was done to align it with other divisions in Europe, but why don't they all get together and make it a summertime sport where they won't have to compete with the juggernaut of men's football (until FIFA complete their desire to fill the calendar with more tournaments that nobody ever asked for, I suppose)?

The FA said it hopes the change will help England win the 2023 World Cup, improve player welfare and double both participation and attendances. But how can you improve attendances when you're competing with what is undeniably (sorry) a much better product? We've been conditioned to sit or stand in the cold on a frosty Tuesday night in December without complaining for as long as we can remember, but would people do it for London City Lionesses v Coventry United? The summer league is good enough for America and they seem to know what they're doing?

I realise that I probably shouldn't be such a football snob when I've watched glorified park football and second division games in America, so it was time to dispense with all the stereotypes (you know, like the one where all goalkeepers are useless) and see if the sport had kicked on and capitalised on England's World Cup run.

Reading Women about to score against Bristol City Women
There are reasons to be optimistic. As this photo shows, Reading's women's team is already more popular than the Los Angeles Chargers.

It actually has. It even reminded me a bit of watching one of those second tier American games. The pace was slower than you'd see at the top end of men's football, but that's to be expected. The skill levels are there and it was certainly no worse a product than the USL Championship, and men's football in the States occupies a similar position to women's football here in that it's growing all the time whilst trying to compete with much more popular spectator sports.

You can't really complain about a 3-3 draw, although that's now the second time I've seen Reading Women needlessly throw away a game they should have won, and the programme folded out into something so large it could have doubled up as a boat sail.

It was a pleasant surprise. Maybe I'll come back some other time. Maybe I'll even pay too. Remember, nobody is forcing you to watch it. But at the end of the day it's still just football. Like most things that have only really just started out, it will only continue to get better. It's a good low cost alternative for families to take their children to games in stadiums that don't resemble a Second World War prison camp. So embrace it, because it's here to stay and deserves its place to be taken seriously.

Girl I didn't know you could get down like that.

Useless information about Madejski Stadium

Address: Junction 11 (M4), Reading, Berkshire, RG2 0FL
Capacity: 24,161
Pitch Type: Grass
Ticket Price: £6 (free for Reading FC season ticket holders)
Program: £1, 16 pages
Cheapest Pint: Still £4.80

Reading FC Women 2019/20 season programme