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In Defence Of The Empty Seats At Reading FC

Marc plays devil's advocate and suggests that fans have every right to support this team from afar.

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

It's hard to defend the indefensible. Being a football fan whilst actively taking measures to stop yourself from turning up and watching the team isn't exactly going to earn you any 'World's Best Supporter' mugs on World Supporters' Day, a celebration which I've just made up.

However, it's compelling to stand up for those who cannot do so themselves, or choose not to, when they are the quiet majority. That is the Reading fans who have been responsible for the sub-par attendances at the Madejski Stadium during what has so far been, on the face of it, a highly successful season.

At this moment, it's prescient for a disclaimer: this is not condoning armchair fandom or any such activity at any club, this is just an explanation, of sorts. Not like anyone having a go on Twitter right now will ever get to this part of the article.

So are the attendances as bad as it seems?

The average for 2015/16 was about 17,250, which bettered the previous season's by a couple hundred and was around the same as in 2004/05, which at the time was a record high for the Royals, as well as Brendan Rodgers' 2009/10 and the subsequent play-off push campaign. This season, it's 16,928.

If things carry on as they have been, that'll be the lowest since 2003/04 and in reality we all know that some games have seen thousands of fans, season ticket holders in particular who register on the official tally, stay away. The QPR home game being a particularly pertinent demonstration of such.

Boring Boring Reading

Whatever your opinion of Jaap Stam's football, it's not the most entertaining. While there have been sparkling moments and joyous comebacks, the average game at the Mad Stad this season has seen two things. Low scoring, and low action.

Only three times at this stage of the season have the Royals scored three in a home game (yet to score four or more), one of which came in a game that had everything; red cards, penalties, late goals, and over 21,000 fans attending - the 3-1 win over Norwich on Boxing Day.

But fans know that these games have been few and far between. Beating Bristol City 2-1, Nottingham Forest 2-0, drawing 0-0 with Barnsley and Birmingham... These aren't results that set the pulses racing. Stam's team are incapable of putting a bad side to the sword, instead nudging ahead and knocking it around at the back.

Even in the 2009/10 season, with Brian McDermott finding his feet and the season over, 23,000 fans turned up to watch Reading lose to Newcastle because they'd scored 16 in their previous six home games. When the same fixture comes around this year, it'll be eight in six.

Promotion pushes aren't enough. Maybe some clubs playing like this at the top of the league can get away with it, but Royals supporters have been involved in such chases in eight (and a half) of their last 11 seasons at this level. Their pleasure is not guaranteed by points.

Correlation, or causation?

A number of fans will make the legitimate case that if fans did come through the door and sing and shout in greater numbers, then the team would be doing better and playing more attractive football.

Certainly, the aforementioned matches against Norwich and QPR can attest to that, but after all the atmosphere at the Mad Stad has never been at Yellow Wall/Kop levels of vibrancy so it's hard to claim that the added thousand fans would have taken any better to a 1-0 defeat on the coldest night of the year than those who were already there.

At the end of the day, the club has to persuade people to hand over their cash to give up three or so hours of their weekend. That starts on the pitch, and while these fans are still handing over their cash, they're doing it far less frequently than has come to be expected.

The solution? Sadly, this needs time.

Calls to sack Stam are nothing but nonsense, as it's no doubt the Dutchman's intent is to provide that firecracker, tiki-taka football that would legitimately bring fans back in. Achieving that won't happen over night, and a successful promotion is the only way to guarantee bums on seats in the immediate future.

Until either of those things happen, this situation won't change, and there's no use blaming the empty seats.