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OPINION: The Thrill Of The New Reading Under Jaap Stam

How can a start to the season with just one win in four feel so fresh?

Ordinarily a Reading season that begins with just one league win in four would feel distinctly underwhelming. We're only above the relegation places on goal difference and the defence has leaked eight goals in three games so why on earth should I be feeling so refreshed?

For me, it's the feeling that I'm watching something new and that I'm witnessing the start of Reading's first truly new adventure in a generation.

'That's a bit much isn't it Wimb?' You may say... so let me explain.

The bottom line is that Reading fans have been spoiled by success. For the past 15 years we've seen nothing but teams that have competed at the top end of the second tier or above. We've watched on as player after player who could make it into greatest ever elevens have graced the (somewhat) hallowed turf, and sat comfortably in our Madejski Stadium seats as pundits and players alike compliment us as a football club.

Great right?

Well think of it like a takeaway. If you have one every once in a while it's an amazing treat but if you're eating out every single night it's hard for anything to feel particularly unique. Like someone that's eaten too many takeaways, the football club and large parts of the fanbase became bloated on our relative success and grew frustrated when anyone tried to point out that nobody can go on eating fast food forever....

12 Amazing Years

Reading Jon Keen's 'Sum of the Parts' you realise that the groundwork for that era was laid way back in 2000 by Alan Pardew, leading to promotion from the third tier, play-off tilts and culminating in that glorious 106 point season. While that team fizzled out, some of the remaining components and financial rewards helped extend our golden era. Brian McDermott used the likes of Jimmy Kebe, Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurdsson to either bring success directly or raise enough funds to keep his squads together and the result was another three seasons of good times, ending with a promotion back to the Premier League in 2012.

Yet the foundations of that post 2008 success were flimsy and the cycle of under-investment and treading water that began back in 2007, soon began to show. That snowballed under Anton Zingarevich whose costly gambles sped up the decline. Four seasons of disappointment followed, with Nigel Adkins, Steve Clarke and Brian McDermott all unable to work their magic at a club that was riddled with indecision and financial mismanagement, even under the club's new Thai owners.

If there's one good thing to come out of such bleak times it's that it gave the owners justification to try something new.

If there's one good thing to come out of such bleak times it's that it gave the owners justification to try something new.

Nobody has really tried something revolutionary at the club since Brendan Rodgers was given the manager's job in 2009. Rodgers tried to change the style and ethos at the club but a lack of instant results frustrated a fanbase that had seen a fourth placed finish just months before. Brian McDermott's subsequent success convinced many that Rodgers was an awful manager who didn't have a clue and yet while he certainly made mistakes, Brendan had a long-term vision in mind, something that sadly can't really be said for any of his successors.

In 2009, Reading fans simply weren't ready for the good times to end and who can blame them? As McDermott showed, there was still fuel in the talent gas tank and the blueprint set down by Pardew was still getting results more than a decade down the line. There wasn't an acceptance that things had to change, after all, why fix what wasn't broken? That 2012 title triumph only strengthened the belief that there was only one proper 'Reading way'.

That 2012 title triumph only strengthened the belief that there was only one proper 'Reading way'.

The Russian Rot Sets In

Yet that Reading way was based on everyone pulling together and the Zingarevich regime tore that plan to shreds. Vanity signings, bloated contracts, under-investment and under performing players combined to cripple the club and start a spiral of decline that's seen the two worst finishes at this level since the dying days of Elm Park.

A new Thai regime cleared up the financial mess but they didn't clean up the uncertainty, seemingly being divided on who to listen to and what direction the club needed to go in. Confusing signings, inconsistent squad construction and three managers in two seasons followed, leading us to where we are now...

A New Era

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to build something good again and the last four seasons, while certainly not disastrous, have been as close as we've come to rock bottom since the club nearly fell back into the fourth tier in 1989. There's nothing left in the Pardew/Coppell/McDermott success cycle tank and that's given the club the chance to try something new without much opposition from the fans or players.

Just as Alan Pardew walked into a club who'd slowly wilted under Jimmy Quinn, Mick Gooding, Terry Bullivant and Tommy Burns, Jaap Stam has been able to walk into the Madejski Stadium with a clean slate and expectations lowered.

Just as important as the new manager has been a massive refresh on the playing side. TEN signings have arrived this summer with an 11th in Tyler Blackett soon to follow. Few players from the recent painful past remain and there's a sense that this is a total revamp rather than giving the squad a fresh lick of paint.

And how refreshing does it feel folks?

Gone are the same tired debates around potential and ability of players like Hal Robson-Kanu, Alex Pearce, Nick Blackman, Pavel Pogrebnyak and others. In has come the excitement of new fresh hungry youngsters like George Evans, Liam Moore and John Swift, the rough diamonds of Joseph Mendes and Yakou Meite, plus the trickery and class from a player like Roy Beerens.

Beyond that we're seeing something different style wise. Yes sometimes the passing around the back can be frustrating, but it's the necessary pain that comes with any transition. Just ask Swansea or Southampton fans what they had to go through to enjoy the success they have today.

To feel so good we had to feel the pain of Wembley, the bewilderment of the Burns era & the anger of Pardew quitting for West Ham.

Even more encouragingly we've seen renewed fight, hunger and determination from this group. They didn't give up at Newcastle and they didn't give up against Brighton, two teams who will be right up there come May. The Wolves performance was awful, but that the only game in five competitive fixtures where you can honestly say they didn't deserve a result.

You know what made the 106 season feel so very, very good? It's because of the 100 odd years of strife that came before it, the near misses, the frustrations and the heartache. To feel so good we had to feel the pain of Wembley against Bolton, the bewilderment of the Burns era and the anger of Pardew quitting for West Ham.

Jaap Stam may not be the man to deliver us to the promised land and this could all horribly fall apart, but at the very least we'll fail trying something new. We're back on a totally fresh journey and it's time to strap in and enjoy the ride.