From the very inception of Madejski Stadium the fact that the stands have been generically named North, South, East and West has frustrated a section of fans, keen to add some personality to an otherwise fairly standard stadium. Now with the club inviting fans to submit their suggestions, those fans finally have a chance to add a personal touch to what should be our home for a while to come (unless a certain property development turns nasty...)
Immediately some familiar names were thrown into the mix. For some the cult hero status of Robin Friday came to mind, for many others it was heroes of the 106 era in Steve Coppell and Graeme Murty, while some preferred long-serving understated figures including Martin Hicks and Maurice Evans. Throw in the odd Michael Gilkes, Phil Parkinson, Alf Messer, Ronnie Blackman and there's no shortage of names you could make a case for.
So what's my problem?
Well the issue for me isn't who deserves it the most, but rather should we be naming it after anyone at all?
Reading has its fair share of club legends, the same as any other team, but there's a difference between being a legend compared to others at your club, and genuinely being a slam dunk, no nonsense, no debate bona fide icon that deserves his or her name emblazoned upon a stand for decades to come.
Reading's relative lack of success here proves the biggest problem. I'm not one to put down Simod Cups, second tier titles and record points tallies, but in the grand scheme of things they're achievements that one day we hope will seem small fry to our children, grandchildren or, heck if we're lucky, us ourselves down the road.
Our icons don't quite have the gravitas of the achievements of a Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Sir Alex Ferguson or Nat Lofthouse who won some of the biggest prizes in the game over many years at their respective clubs. If 20 years down the line, Reading have had a coach that's led them into Europe or wins the FA Cup, do we rename the Steve Coppell Stand? What about if 10 years later someone wins the Premier League? It's all fantasy land stuff right now of course, but then I wonder what Manchester City fans were thinking a decade ago, or Swansea, Bournemouth or Chelsea fans for that matter.
Imagine if 15 years ago we'd named a stand after Ian Branfoot following the club record 13 wins to start the season and because he led us to Simod Cup glory. Those achievements now seem much less relevant after what came a decade on.
Personally when I think of naming a stand I want it to be a name that will echo throughout the ages no matter what comes next for the football club. When you think of Preston, you think 'Sir Tom Finney' with United it's George Best, Charlton, Ryan Giggs, Dennis Law, with West Ham it's Moore, Bolton have Lofthouse etc. Do Reading really have that figure who is instantly synonymous with our football club?
In that regard I think someone like a Maurice Evans who served the club for so many years as player, manager and scout, or a Martin Hicks who set an appearance record we're unlikely to ever see broken, seem more fitting than those who shone brightly but for a relatively brief period of time in Berkshire. Yet I'm straying into the whole 'who should it be' territory so let me get back to the bigger argument here.
My bigger problem is that this all seems rather forced and unnecessary right now.
Some have suggested this will help create an identity and produce more atmosphere, but beyond an initial feel good factor I'm having a hard time to suggest how sitting in the Robin Friday Stand will make a 0-0 midweek draw with MK Dons feel any more special or create a better atmosphere. To its credit, the club and STAR have done plenty to honour our heritage over the years, with players names and stories being present on each concourse. More to the point, the most successful chairman in our history has his name emblazoned across not only the stadium, but in white seats across a whole stand so it's unfair to say it's simply a 'soulless bowl'.
Likewise, consider that for 102 years Elm Park, a stadium many older fans point to as one that had character and atmosphere, went without naming stands after individuals, instead relying on road names and geography in the Tilehurst End, The Town End, The Norfolk Road Stand and The South Bank. So if it ain't broke.....
This all just seems like a bit of a diversionary tactic to make the fans feel more involved in a football club that's got no real idea where its going right now. I fully expect naming rights to be sold off for the other stands and probably the stadium in the coming years and this just smacks of a move designed to placate the fans before they have to go and sit in the Carabao & Waitrose stands a year or two from now.
I'm not having a go at those behind the idea and I appreciate the fact that the club is asking its fans to put forward their suggestions, but this doesn't feel organic and there didn't seem to be a huge demand from the fanbase to make this happen.
In 2006 or 2012 nobody was demanding stands be named after players, or was suggesting the stadium lacked atmosphere, because we were winning. The product on the pitch needs to come first and the rest will follow organically. Fans would have more time to carefully consider naming a stand if they weren't worried about absentee owners, the club's search for a fourth manager in two years, or a playing squad that's paper thin and sliding downwards.
Ultimately this isn't something that really matters. Any of the names mentioned are worthy of being remembered by generations of football fans to come but once again you get the feeling this is something that's being done with the right intentions but for all the wrong reasons.