In the first season I regularly watched Reading the club only had three non-British players. We were owned by a local businessman, played in a decrepit old ground in the middle of a residential area and by the end of the season the sponsor was falling off the players' shirts.
Football and Reading Football Club have come a long way since 1994-95, and nothing better illustrates that more than the ever increasing foreign influence in the second tier of English football. Foreigners were so rare outside the Premier League in the mid-1990s that I can still remember some of them who graced the hallow Elm Park turf.
Port Vale's Robin van der Laan, Wolves' (most aptly named footballer ever) John de Wolf and Bolton's quartet that broke our hearts: Guðni Bergsson, Fabian de Freitas, Mixu Paatelainen and Richard Sneekes. Nowadays I struggle to remember some former foreign Reading players who seemed to leave almost straight after they arrived, let alone the foreigners who played against us.
The Increasing Foreign Influence In The Championship
Last season Huddersfield Town and Preston North End were the only Championship clubs not to sign a non-British player from abroad. Huddersfield did though sign Australian Jason Davidson, on loan from West Brom, and appointed a German as manager, who this summer has brought in five non-Brits from foreign shores. Preston themselves have signed Danish striker Simon Makienok from Palermo this month.
The number of foreign players in the Championship is only going to increase unless Brexit sees foreign player restrictions brought back. It says a lot that so little is made of it, and there must be a good chance that before long we will see a Championship side field a team without a single British player.
The main reason behind this increasing influx is the transfer fees being charged for British players. Premier League clubs have to include at least eight 'home-grown' players.
This was designed to increase the number of young 'home-grown' players in the Premier League, but has only helped to add a premium price for British players.
The ridiculous TV money that Premier League clubs are getting means they no longer blink at the prices quoted. This has trickled down to the Championship where more and more clubs are spending eight figures sums on players.
In that sort of environment it is not surprising that Championship clubs are looking beyond Britain for players. Leicester City were able to sign Riyad Mahrez from France for under half a million, which even before his heroics was a bargain compared to what he would have been worth if he was British.
With money tight, Reading have signed over 10 players in the last year from non-British clubs. For the first time in the club's history there is a real prospect we could see a Reading starting line-up without a single Englishman. Indeed the team below only includes one British born player, Chris Gunter, and he could soon be on his way out and theoretically potentially replaced by an Argentinian.
Does It Matter?
You would struggle to find a more progressive, inclusive, tolerant and multicultural place than Reading. 58% of it voted to remain in the European Union and Ukip's, let alone more unsavoury parties', results have always been dreadful in the town.
In that light the Reading FC of 2016 would seem to represent the town. And yet something would be missing if we ended up in a situation where none of the club's owners, coaches or starting eleven were English.
Would Reading FC then be more of an English football club or representing the town, than say if a random German football club moved to Reading, changed their name and colours? Both clubs would be owned, coached and represented by foreigners.
I don't think it's racist or backward to say that English football clubs should play (some) English players. It's the same as being in favour of immigration but recognising there needs to be limits. I don't want to see foreign players banned or heckled, I just think it's sad when English football clubs can't find a place for a single English, or even British, player in their teams.
A club like Reading represents, and is a source of pride for, its local population. It would be nice if there was some local links to the football club beyond just its stadium location.
Of course at the moment most of Reading's players are still British. A starting line-up without a single Brit would only occur after an unlikely combination of various players' form and availability.
For me what is most important is that the club do not replicate the mistake they made with Álex Fernández last season. Yes he seemed a lovely lad, but he offered nothing that one of our academy players couldn't have done.
With the rising cost in British players it makes sense at a time when the club has limited finances to look abroad. However, the club must resist the temptation to sign too many low cost, low risk signings that just end up blocking the path to the first team for academy players.
If British players are becoming ever more unaffordable than the academy's importance should only grow. It would be a shame if Reading FC became another one of those clubs that forgot it has a duty to give English players opportunities. Thankfully it seems our Thai owners recognise this.