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Sir John Madejski: Ron Gourlay Didn’t Understand Reading

The former owner’s take on what went wrong for the former CEO.

Reading v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Sir John Madejski has spoken out about Ron Gourlay’s time at Reading FC. The former CEO left his position just over two weeks ago after 16 months at the helm - during which time he annoyed a lot of supporters to say the least. Madejski is no longer involved in the running of the club, but is still up to date with the goings-on behind the scenes.

He talked to BBC Berks’ Andrew Peach on Monday morning about a whole range of topics, including Gourlay’s record. His quotes were transcribed by Jonathan Low at Football.London, so check them out here if you want to read more of the interview.

Madejski was very frank in that interview, telling Peach that “everybody is pleased” about Gourlay’s departure, and they didn’t want him at the club in the first place. On a more optimistic note, he called the CEO vacancy a “new opportunity to go forward in a positive way of getting things right”.

Side note: as Olly Allen pointed out to me, Madejski never name-checks Gourlay in the written transcript.

Why didn’t Gourlay succeed at Reading?

The former owner highlighted Gourlay’s previous career experience which came at big clubs - Manchester United and Chelsea - rather than a smaller one like Reading. Interestingly,

”The chief executive came in from large enterprises and he didn’t get the culture of Reading. Reading is largely a parochial club, it’s deeply set in the hearts and minds of community and I don’t think that really penetrated and I think that was where it went wrong in my humble opinion.

”He had the ear of Mr Dai but it was strange and he didn’t really bother with hearts and minds which is what you have to do.”

That failure to connect with the club on an emotional level was laid bare in a scathing Football.London piece from September that claimed Gourlay had isolated long-serving members of staff including former academy manager Lee Herron. At a club like Reading, you need stability behind-the-scenes and everyone singing from the hymn sheet, so the reported disagreements were only ever going to make things worse.

The second paragraph suggests Gourlay was more interested in securing his own position at Reading than building positive relationships with other members of staff, although that’s only speculation on my part.

Did Gourlay influence team selection?

”I can’t say that for sure but if he had an office at the training ground then that says something.”

Madejski continues...

“We’ve never had a CEO who has had an office at the training ground until then. He also had an office at the stadium. But you choose managers to manage and you should let them do that.

”If you can’t manage then why get the manager in the first place? They live and die by the sword. They know if they don’t win enough games then they are toast.

”Everybody knows that, it’s not rocket science. I just get the feeling everyone is a lot happier now and more relaxed and indeed get on with their jobs in a good atmosphere. It is promising.”

Here Madejski is very tactful with his words, and doesn’t explicitly say that Gourlay tried to influence team selection. However, not only does he not deny it, but he also highlights Gourlay’s office at the training ground (no previous CEO had done this) and makes various references to the manager supposedly not being able to do his job properly.

Madejski’s hints aren’t very subtle, but that’s perhaps just my interpretation. If you think that any player has been picked in the first team strangely often over the last 16 months or so, that’s up to you.

Did Gourlay’s time at Reading damage community links?

“It’s up to the community to get it involved and make it part of Reading, like it has been in the past. We can still do that. It’s by the people, for the people and the fans are very important.

”The owners are doing their best and now there has been a change that will become more emphasised.

(I put those words into bold - that’s not from the original transcript).

Again, I’m possibly going waaaay off into speculative territory here, but that last bit seems like a jab at Gourlay. He perhaps meant:

”The owners are doing their best and now Ron Gourlay has gone, we can finally improve links between the club and the community.”

You can read the full transcript here, and listen to the original interview here.