by Kieran Thievam
When you’ve spent 13 years at your hometown club and progressed through the ranks from the age of nine, you could be forgiven for taking a bit of time to settle into a new club when finally deciding the time is right to move on.
But with 12 goals in 13 league starts (before last night’s game with Doncaster Rovers Belles) and a further strike in the Continental Tyres Cup, Reading striker Emma Follis has hit the ground running in her first season with the Lady Royals, playing her part in propelling the club to the brink of promotion as we enter the business end of the season.
Only Doncaster’s Courtney Sweetman-Kirk has bettered Follis’ tally this season, making the 23-year-old Birmingham-born striker one of the most prolific forwards outside of the top division.
With England striker Fran Kirby recently leaving the Royals to join Chelsea Ladies, Follis’ goals have become even more crucial as her side edge closer to the top division, but she is adamant she’s not feeling any extra burden.
“Everyone wants to score goals, but I don’t think it made me more self-conscious when Fran left, I just want to do the best I can to help this club win promotion,” she said.
Reading’s entry into the newly formed FAWSL 2 last year has seen the club push on since being relegated to the third tier of the women’s football pyramid in 2012.
The club has been able to develop young talents such as Lauren Bruton and Becky Jane, while adding experienced internationals including Helen Ward and Kylie Davies.
It is this mixture of youth and experience that Follis says has been key to the team’s impressive form this year.
“We’ve all pulled together since Fran left, but we were very team-orientated already and have a lot of quality in this squad.
“I think that’s proven when you look at our goal difference. We’ve been solid at the back and have kept goals out, as well as scoring them; it’s not all about one or two players.”
This is easily the young striker’s best season in front of goal, and while she credits the set-up and coaching at Reading for helping with her progression, training with some well-known World Cup winners during two short stints in America may well have contributed.
Thanks to a recommendation from then Villa team-mate Erin Vaughan, Follis secured a move in the 2013 off-season to Seattle Reign Reserves, who played their football in the third tier of women’s soccer in America and was formed from a partnership between National Women’s Soccer League side Seattle Reign and Issaquah Soccer Club.
Due to the close links between the Reign and its reserve side, Follis and Vaughan were invited to train with the first team, who are incidentally coached by former Arsenal Ladies coach Laura Harvey.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my career to be able to train with players of that calibre,” she said. “I was quite nervous training with the likes of Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo at first, but I adjusted and it was such a valuable few months for my development.”
Read Follis’ Twitter profile and you will see the words “forever loving Seattle,” which is an indication of just how much she benefited from her time spent out on the Pacific West Coast.
But she wasn’t done. With the inaugural season of the FAWSL 2 due to kick-off in 2014, the 23-year-old made the decision to return to the US and miss the start of the English campaign, signing for the Seattle Sounders Women’s team, who play their football in the US W-League – America’s second tier.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to go back, because I returned to England ten times better than I was before, following my first stint, so I thought I’d go back out there and try and get even better.
“I got to train with Laura and the Reign girls again, which was massive because I was training almost every day with world class players, some of which are World Cup winners now.”
After the W-League was completed, Follis returned to England “fitter and more ruthless” after her time out in the States, finishing the season with Aston Villa, before deciding the time was right to move.
It’s a move that’s certainly paid off when you look at where Reading are and Follis’ goalscoring exploits, but the England Under-23 international is well aware that should the club go up, there will be some “fine tuning” that will be needed.
“We’ve played Chelsea and Arsenal this year and they’ve shown that they are a class above, but the score-lines were close, so with a bit of fine tuning I’m confident we can compete with them.
“Sunderland have shown that if you are well prepared and organised, you can go up and do well.
“I think the top division is where we belong and I am confident we will get there.
“I hope I can score the goals that get us up, but all I want to do is win, because that’s what we’re all about.”
Reading will take a break from the league for their next fixture, as they travel up to Nottingham to take on Notts County Ladies in the Continental Tyres Cup with a place in the semi-finals at stake.
The Royals forward confessed that the competition “probably isn’t a priority,” but said a cup run is always nice to have.
“The league is our priority, but like when we played Chelsea and Arsenal, this is a chance to test ourselves against a top side, so we’ll see what happens,” she added.
Expect her to make an impact.