It's been easy to feel disenchanted with Reading's owners over the past few years. From Anton's empty promises, to Sir John's empty wallet and until now what's often been an empty Directors box under the Thai consortium. Reading fans have understandably been concerned with the direction of a club that's been seemingly stuck in a spiral of decline for the past four seasons and this summer's sudden sacking of Brian McDermott did little to reduce that feeling of unease.
With that in mind, The Supporters' Trust At Reading (STAR) sent Reading's co-owners Narin Niruttinanon, Sumrith ‘Tiger' Thanakarnjanasuth & Sasima Srivikorn a letter, detailing their concerns and asking for more co-operation and communication from the owners heading into the new season. That helped lead to an informal meeting set up by Tiger at the Madejski Stadium where around 15 or so invited guests from STAR, The Tilehurst End and individual fans got the chance to meet the Reading Co-Owner, plus Chief Executive Nigel Howe and Customer Service Manager Jackie Evans to directly ask them questions about the club and the direction it's going in.
What followed was an open, honest and no-holds barred 90-minute discussion that in my personal view, went a long way towards re-assuring us that this ownership group both has the best interests of the club at heart and more importantly, has a plan to get it back on track.
The early minutes of the meeting focused on just who was in charge right now and who was making the bulk of the decisions in the three-pronged ownership group. Tiger explained that it had always been a group consultation process but that since April of this year, he'd taken a much more direct involvement in the decision making. Tiger went on to explain how he'd seen every match last season, even when it involved staying up till 2am local time for kick-off and how frustrated he was when the club got a bad result. What came across was that this is a man who knows his football and is getting to know more and more about Reading Football Club.
There was little talk of his fellow shareholders but Tiger did explain that Lady Sasima genuinely cared about the team and that while things like her song may not have been loved by every supporter, it was something she had done from her heart to try and give something to the fans.
When the question of whether the group was looking for outside investment was raised, Tiger explained that it was more a case of others contacting them to ask if there were opportunities to get involved. Right now, the Reading shareholder explained that they were only looking for people who wanted to be part of their vision and that they wouldn't be bringing people into the group unless those values matched up.
On the financial front and the well-publicised difficulties that Anton left the club in were expanded upon by Nigel and Tiger. While specifics weren't discussed, it was strongly hinted that the club can't afford to compete financially with the biggest teams in the division and that even now they're still handicapped by some of the contracts signed under the Zingarevich regime.
Royal Elm Park was discussed in this context and the message was clear that while the scheme would help the shareholders return some of their investment into the club, it was also a project that would have long-term financial and social benefits for the town and football club.
Similarly, the training ground project at Bearwood is still very much in their plans and work will have to be underway within three years if the club is to retain its Category One academy.
Jaap Stam & Brian McDermott
The decision to replace Brian McDermott with Jaap Stam was raised right at the beginning of the meeting and while the details behind Brian's exit were briefly discussed, it's not something that Tiger & Nigel felt comfortable discussing when Brian's side of the story isn't out there. What he did say was that the decision was a very hard one to make.
What was explained at length were the reasons why Stam had beaten at least nine other candidates from the UK and Europe to get the job. Tiger talked of the respect that Jaap commands on the training ground and how he's already been making a big difference working directly with players and helping them to improve their technique. They admitted that Stam's inexperience was initially a concern but they spoke of how his other strengths helped convince the board to give him a chance.
Naturally some fans wanted to know if Jaap would be given time if the team were struggling early on and while he said nobody could ever give guarantees, Tiger suggested that they were going to give the Dutchman every chance to succeed.
Players & Transfers
One of the most fascinating elements to the meeting was learning just how clued up Tiger was on the strengths and weaknesses of each player. It was obvious that his talk of 2am viewings was more than just sweet talk by how he discussed certain players in detail, including what he liked and didn't like about them. Several times he asked fans directly what they thought of a certain player and wasn't afraid to voice his own opinions in return.
The message on the transfer front was that the club are working very hard to get Jaap a fresh, hungry squad with which to target the top half of the table. Fans can expect a fair bit of movement both in and out of the club in the next few months but that it was very much a clean slate for everyone. On that note, the strength of the Academy was also brought up and supporters can expect to see a lot more opportunities given to the younger players over the coming season. Tiger explained how the board felt the squad was too big last season and that had led to certain players becoming disenchanted with the club, but now under Stam's leadership and in a smaller unit, each player felt they were in with a chance of breaking into the first XI.
The Reading Co-Owner also expressed his displeasure over the number of loans from last season and told the fans present that there would only be one or two loans at the very most going forward.
The most pleasing aspect of this meeting was how open and honest those representing the club were with the fans. This wasn't a strict, rigid meeting that the club had set up to pay lip service and keep fans on side, instead it felt like a genuine attempt to work with supporters and find out how they're feeling right now. It was great to finally be able to get a glimpse into the mind of the man who's now running the club and while it's easy to talk a good game, they certainly didn't feel like empty words.
Tiger seems to be a man who's very passionate about the football club and is doing what he feels will help bring the fun back into supporting Reading. He even talked about joining fans up in Y25 for a game next season, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him up there in the next few months. He explained how he hoped fans would once again enjoy coming to watch the team, rather than just turning up out of loyalty alone.
Clearly there's still work to be done but much like the new manager and new squad, this felt like a new beginning in relations between fans and owners. It may have been a small step but every journey has to start somewhere.