MELISSA FLETCHER says Reading Women want to “make a name for ourselves” in the upcoming Spring Series.
Royals achieved their sole aim of avoiding relegation during their first season in the top flight of the Women’s Super League and are set to finally return to league action this Saturday after a five-month break with a trip to face Bristol City Women at Ashton Gate (6pm).
With the league switching from a summer to a winter league, all 10 WSL 1 sides will play each other once between now and June to fill the gap before the official season begins in line with the men’s calendar.
And Fletcher, 25, says now is the time to push on rather than just aim to beat the drop.
“Last season was our first year in the top flight and our first year as a professional club,” she told The Wokingham Paper.
“We were always learning, players and staff last year, and our aim was to stay up.
“This year we’ve had a full pre-season with all the staff and preparation has been fantastic. Our aim this year is definitely to make a name for ourselves in this league now.”
The winter has seen a big overhaul at the squad with a number of players leaving and arriving.
One position in particular which has been depleted is the attacking options with Jade Boho Sayo, Nia Jones, Amber Stobbs, Helen Ward and top scorer Emma Follis all departing the club.
That left Fletcher, who joined the club aged eight, as the only senior striker on the books before the club moved to bring in young forward Anissa Lahmari on a short-term loan deal from PSG earlier this month.
But the Wales international, who netted twice in 12 appearances last term, says she is ready
to carry the burden of being the chief scorer in the side.
“That’s what I’m aiming to do for us,” said Fletcher.
“We have brought in Anissa and also Brooke (Chaplen), who is another attacking player.
“We do have attacking players available and I’ve been working hard all pre-season so hopefully I can do the job for us getting the goals this Spring Series.”
She added: “There have been a lot of changes.
“We did lose a few players but we’ve made some great signings and I think the squad is feeling brilliant.
“The togetherness of the team is fantastic and I think it’s the best squad we’ve had since I’ve been here, albeit smaller than last year.”
While many of the squad switched to a full-time contract upon promotion from WSL 2 last year, this will be the first campaign Fletcher heads into where she is not juggling jobs.
The striker is a recently qualified chartered accountant but has now decided to leave that on the back-burner to focus solely on football.
And she says she is already feeling the effects of more regular training.
“I have noticed the benefit of it,” she explained.
“Even the things you don’t really think about like the recovery side. I never really had recovery days, I was always in the office the next morning.
“So I can take time out now to make sure I recover well, I have time to make sure I’m eating well and then obviously the more gym sessions I’m getting in, it’s only going to be positive for me.”
She added: “I think it was the best time really for me to go pro.
“I was able to finish my qualification so I’m now a chartered accountant, which means it’s a perfect time to park that for a while and pursue the career which I’ve always dreamed of which is bring a professional footballer.
“I’m thankful that I have a career to fall back on when I decide to retire.”
The women’s team were in attendance for the men’s game against Rotherham on Monday, making an appearance on the Madejski Stadium pitch at half-time.
That comes after increased interaction between the two sides of the club with staff now based at the stadium while the women have had some training sessions at Hogwood and also with the men’s youth teams.
And Fletcher says having their backing is a huge boost.
“That’s always something that we want,” she said.
“We always feel like we are one club, whether it’s academy boys or girls, men’s team or women’s team.
“Reading is one club and I think it’s great that we have Jaap Stam on board and giving us positive messages before the games and that we’re able to go and see the men play.
“We’re all pushing for the men to be promoted this year.”