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Why Is It Hard To Get Excited About Reading FC This Season?

The attendance police's criticism of Reading fans says more about them than us.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Reading's support has never been the largest or loudest, but this season more than most has seen it come under scrutiny both inside and outside the club.

Reading's manager and players have expressed disappointment that their good season has not seen higher crowds. The real criticism though, has come from supporters of other Championship clubs. Rarely does a Reading game go by without some fan mocking our support.

The contrast with our promotion rivals couldn't be more different. I recently spent the weekend in Huddersfield and you could feel the excitement and pride in the whole town. I saw Reading fans say the same about Brighton, whilst anyone who knows any Leeds fan will know that they are beside themselves at their season so far.

It can be hard to explain to the fans of those teams why Reading's home attendances haven't picked up, why our away following remains one of the smallest in the league and the general lack of excitement amongst our fanbase.

Some fans have pointed towards the style of football and the gentrification of the matchday experience at the Madejski Stadium. There is some truth to that, but it's been a while since Reading were exciting to watch.

Brian McDermott's promotion challenges were more about team spirit than skilful football. Whilst the lack of atmosphere at the Madejski Stadium is nothing new.

21st century history

The main reason is surely history, another thing held against Reading when we're being dismissed as tinpot. As the table below shows the Royals have finished in the top 10 in the second tier nine times since the millennium.

Add in three seasons in the Premier League and two seasons chasing promotion in the then Division Two, and you can see why this season doesn't feel like anything special to Reading fans.

Compare that with some of our promotion rivals and you can see why they're getting so excited. Brighton are on the verge of their first promotion to the Premier League. Huddersfield are almost certain to finish in the top 10 of the second tier for the first time since 2000.

Even the Yorkshire giants', Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, 21st century efforts fail to come close to matching little old Reading. Since being relegated from the Premier League in 2004 Leeds have only twice finished in the top 10 of the Championship. Sheffield Wednesday's record is even worse.

To put it simply, Reading have been far more successful this century than the clubs mentioned above. Our 20th century history may pale in comparison, but in the 21st century our on field success means that for most of this century we have been a bigger club than Brighton, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wednesday.

Until recent seasons no player from Reading would have viewed a move to any of those clubs as anything other than a step down. Surely that is as good a barometer of club size as attendances and history.

Attendance Police

So the attendance police may be out in force on Friday when Reading take a small following up to Hillsborough, but the real worry for Reading fans should be when we'll start feeling as thrilled as Brighton, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wednesday fans at challenging for promotion from the Championship.

Reading have almost fallen into a catch-22 situation. We are now an established Championship club where finishing below 10th is viewed as a failure.

Promotion challenges are to be expected so don't create excitement, whilst even the Premier League prize no longer has the allure it once did. Our last two seasons in the top flight were hardly enjoyable.

All this means Reading fans are in a strange position of expecting success whilst not being animated about it. Up to 2008 there was a real buzz in the town about the club, but since that painful relegation it has never really come back.

Even the promotion challenges under Brian McDermott only saw attendances and excitement grow right at the end of the season.

It's a problem for the club and the fans. If the fans struggle to get excited and don't have something to dream about then it creates a strange atmosphere.

Reading fans have become so used to success that two mediocre seasons when we were never in danger of relegation and enjoyed long FA Cup runs were considered hardships. They weren't and we're now back challenging for promotion.

It will take more than just wins to get the buzz back. Exciting football would help, but it might need more than that. A team full of homegrown players might help get some identity back into the club.

But it might be that we need to suffer the hardships that Brighton, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wednesday have endured in the last decade or so before we can start to appreciate challenging for promotion to the Premier League again.

Until then, bless the attendance police for thinking a Championship promotion challenge is something to get worked up about!