In 2006, Reading Football Club entered the Premier League for the first time off the back of a record points haul in the English Championship. Predicted to fall straight back to their historically natural place of the footballing ladder, Steve Coppell’s men shattered expectations and finished eighth in the top-flight, on the cusp of Europe.
It was an achievement that fans hoped would herald a long spell at the top. Fast forward to 2018 and only two more seasons have been enjoyed in the Premier League. So what’s going wrong at the club?
Set up for a second consecutive relegation battle, Paul Clement’s side are struggling to generate any favourability with supporters following the lost promise of Steve Clarke’s side, Brian McDermott’s failed shot-in-the-arm, and a turgid - if occasionally successful - spell under Jaap Stam.
No longer is the question whether Reading will find their way back to the promised land in the coming years, but if they are capable of even getting close.
Such is the state of the club, Supporters Trust At Reading (STAR) wrote an open letter to the club in November, highlighting neglect of the academy, poor league form, a drop in entertainment value, falling ticket sales, and ‘eroding’ goodwill as major causes for concern.
“There is real concern and that is now generating widespread comment amongst supporters,” read the statement. “We are the people who say something has to change to prevent a fall back into the third-tier.”
Roger Titford of STAR discussed the open letter with TTE: “We feel and share the pain that supporters have at the way the club is at the moment, and has been for some time.
“We wanted to express that but we did not want to call for any particular action; we aren’t sure where the problems are or where to start solving them. There needs to be some kind of dramatic move somewhere that results in an improvement in our fortunes.”
Where fans lay the blame is hard to tell. Management figures, owners and players have come and gone in cycles not befitting the stability experienced under Sir John Madejski. Indeed, since we spoke to Roger, CEO Ron Gourlay has moved on to little fanfare. In terms of the owners, TTE’s anonymous fan surveys rating and slating them have, in recent years, generally avoided negativity, as plotted below.
This is in stark contrast to the manager’s ratings, where Paul Clement recently received a damming indictment of his capabilities when 72.1% voted for him to leave the job. The Englishman hasn’t strictly made it yet as a head coach after enjoying major success as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Exactly what he can achieve in the Madejski Stadium dugout remains to be seen.
“We have been through new managers, owners, CEOs,” adds Titford. “I’m not sure whether we need consistency or change, but what we do need is the sense that the club, starting on the pitch, is pulling itself together and forward.”
Finally, the make-up of the squad pleases few. Not quite bad enough to warrant drastic action but certainly not good enough to have rival teams take them off our hands for a price.
All in all, the club must work out what it wants to be and how to achieve that. It must do so while reconnecting with fans and staying within a sustainable business model. Ultimately, the club starts and ends with results on the pitch and while those remain in the red, times will be tough.