All signs point to woe
Going into the game, Reading had a regrettable record against not just West Ham (D1 L3 in all competition, including a 1-0 loss at home at the start of the month in the league cup) but all London teams (D4 L12). Much like the hosts, the Royals were playing their third match in eight days. Both squads heavily hit with injuries, but as the match got underway, it was all Irons.
Injuries aside, the Reading team had ample depth in attack. Manager Kelly Chambers had been able to play about with the personnel and formation, yet in Romford it just made the team look disjointed. The front three of Brooke Chaplen, Lisa-Marie Utland and Amalie Eikeland made little sense as they stretched across the West Ham defence, the midfield starting to struggle with the lack of coherency across the park. Conceding from an indirect free kick just four minutes in, the Royals’ goose looked all but cooked as the Hammers got to work.
Although there was just one goal in it, as the match wore on, it seemed more likely that Carli Lloyd would turn down the chance for an ice bath than Reading would take anything from the clash. When Rachel Rowe was shown a straight red for a shove on Cecilie Redisch Kvamme in first half stoppage time, the hosts looked to have the match sewn up. Indeed, when it restarted after the break, they continued to dictate play. Even when Reading rallied to cause some problems in the home box, the Hammers responded with increased pressure that lead to a second goal.
Madness, insanity, delirium
Then the madness begun.
Having taken some truly woeful set pieces throughout the match, the visitors finally found one that squeezed through to a dangerous position for Kristine Leine to lash home. After 75 minutes of not looking particularly good, Reading were back in the game. Before their team Twitter had even managed to put together a goal graphic, they had drawn level. A long ball over the top was enough for Chaplen to nod down and slot into the far corner; the Hammers had lost their heads, and suddenly it was all Reading.
The madness of the match highlighted when Sophie Howard – a German centreback not known for her goalscoring prowess – took aim from 25-yards and clattered the ball against the underside of the bar only for it to bounce clear. But then, just seven minutes after their first, Reading had a third. Like their first, it had come at a scrappy corner (not that they minded) Yet they could have had two more, first when Chaplen was played through and left in space or when Fara Williams pinged a free kick off of the woodwork.
From nowhere, and while down a player, Reading had stolen three points. West Ham had fallen away after being in a dominant position. Nothing about the match made much sense, but there was a beautiful, unpredictable chaos to it. In a year when the USA won yet another World Cup, the North Carolina Courage used the NWSL as its own personal chew toy, Olympique Lyonnais won everything, and WSL completely polarised itself with shudderingly uncomfortable scorelines, it was a mild— albeit intoxicating— tonic. For all the predictability, for all the drubbings, the big teams throwing their weight around and inevitability of teams winning after taking a two-goal leads, the simple madness of the game as a whole felt like a breath of fresh air.
Like Doc Brown once said, “Your future isn’t written.” Although he was referring to the rather depressing and all too real turn Marty and Jennifer’s lives took in adulthood, there is a tenuous relevance to football in there. Goals can be scored in the blink of an eye, games can change at the drop of a hat and until it’s no longer a mathematical possibility, nothing is certain.
Or to put it another way, der Ball ist rund.