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OPINION: Reading Must Be More Open With Fans

The Inspector says the club should front up when it comes to what goes on behind the scenes.

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

The gospel according to Reading FC states that the club had no alternative but to sell Aaron Tshibola and Oliver Norwood. The players wanted to leave, we're told, so what else could the Royals do?

Well, in the words of the well-worn anti-drugs adage, 'Just Say No'. Football clubs are not bound by the wishes of players and their agents if they have them under contract. They have a choice.

For example, let us take the bang-up-to-the-minute case of Dale Stephens and Brighton and Hove Albion. After the Seagulls narrowly missed out on promotion from the Championship last season some of their better players immediately became targets for Premier League clubs - as is the fashion these days. Newcastle (OK, not a Premier League club but one with deep pockets) wanted Anthony Knockaert (who was outstanding at the Mad Stad recently) and were reportedly prepared to bid up to £10 million for a winger that Brighton paid around £3 million for less than a year ago. West Brom and Crystal Palace came in for defender Lewis Dunk and Burnley swooped for the aforementioned Stephens.

In each case Brighton said 'No, we're going to keep together last season's team, try to strengthen it and have a right good go at gaining promotion this time around'.

Knockaert and Dunk apparently accepted this situation, but Stephens was not happy. Five weeks before the end of the transfer window he let the south-coast club know that he wanted to leave. Still they said 'No'. Burnley came in with SIX offers, the last one rumoured to total £8 million as the increasingly-desperate wantaway midfielder handed in a transfer request. Brighton simply told Stephens 'Sorry, sunshine, you're our player and you're going nowhere', resulting in the 27-year-old eventually criticising the club for denying him his dream of playing in the Premier League.

The Seagulls hierarchy claim they are unconcerned by the unsettled player's discontent and only time will tell whether they have blundered. But the point is just like Reading, Brighton had a choice and exercised it. One chose to sell two of their better players, while the other refused to let any go.

When Norwood signed for Brighton (having insisted he was not offered a new contract by Reading) he was swapping one club which was prepared to cash in on its assets,  for another willing to fight off all efforts to prise away those coveted by other teams. In his Norwood's case it was hardly a tough decision.

Now, I'm not saying that the action that Reading took was necessarily wrong. Business is business. Jaap Stam's efforts to reshape the team have been extensive, well-supported by the Thai owners,  and hopefully will prove successful. At the end of this truly eventful transfer window Reading fans may discover that we'll be better off without Tshibola and Norwood, although in reality, we'll never really know.

But that is not the issue. It's all about honesty. Why did Reading treat the fans with some disdain by claiming that their hands were tied, when we all know that they were free to make their own decision. Do they think we're mugs? Why didn't they come clean and admit that, while it would disappointing for some fans to see their favourite player depart, they made decisions which they thought were, in their opinion, in the club's best interest?

Some would have disagreed but that's life, that's football. Chairmen, directors, chief executives, managers and others have to make decisions which won't always be popular. But there's no need to make feeble excuses, which are patently not true.

Since time immemorial, football clubs have used the Cultivated Mushroom Theory in dealing with supporters - keep them in the dark and throw s**t at them. But in the 21st century a change of attitude would not go amiss. For not only do football clubs have a choice... so do fans. And while many of us will carry on supporting Reading until we turn up our toes - because we can't help ourselves - and a brilliant run of results will cover up a multitude of sins, there may be others of the fickle variety who lose interest in a set-up that treats them like know-nothing imbeciles.

It's all about getting the fans onside. And let's face it, there's plenty of work to be done because the attendances haven't been great so far this season, have they?

The Inspector

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