I don’t need to tell you that Reading Football Club aren’t in a very good position at the moment. Following defeat to Millwall last weekend, the team sit 18th in the Championship table six points above the relegation zone.
You only need to look at the calls for Jaap Stam to be sacked to see that fans deem this unsatisfactory, but it has been suggested that the club’s relative success over the past 20 odd years has somewhat blinded where it is ‘acceptable’ for Reading to finish. Specifically, it has been claimed that younger fans should take some perspective as they have been “spoilt” in recent times. In other words, maybe supporters such as myself would be more understanding of the club’s current plight if I’d sat through some of the struggles of the late 20th century.
I became a Reading fan in the summer of 2006, meaning I just missed out on witnessing the historic 106 side. But despite that, I’ve still had the pleasure of supporting the team in the greatest period in their history. I’ve seen three seasons in the Premier League, two Championship play-off finals, four FA Cup quarter-finals and one FA Cup semi-finals.
These achievements form the basis of the “we’ve been spoilt” claims, and to be honest I can absolutely see where fans older than myself are coming from. If I’d been born only ten years earlier, then I would have watched four campaigns in the third division. If I’d been alive through the 70s and 80s, then third and fourth tier football would have been the norm. So certainly, if I’d sat through that and then seen my team not only competing for promotion to the top flight but actually playing in the top flight, I’d feel bloody lucky.
But at what point does it change from being spoilt to becoming the convention? If Reading had spent one season in the Premier League in 2006/07, got relegated, dithered about in mid-table in the Championship for a couple of seasons and then gone down to League One and stayed there, then I would say fans would have been spoilt. The club would have been performing above their station, so to speak.
But the fact is, before the current campaign, we had spent 15 consecutive seasons in the top two divisions of English football, finishing at least 9th in the second tier in 12 of those. That means we’ve been one of the top 30 teams in the country for 80% of the last 15 years. That’s no longer being spoiled by Premier League/higher Championship football, that’s suggesting that it should now be the norm.
Stoke City spent 23 years in the second and third divisions of English football between 1985 and 2008. They’ve since spent 10 years in the Premier League, but find themselves fighting relegation this season. No fans are justifying the situation by claiming that they’ve been spoilt over the last decade and that younger fans would do well to remember the club’s time lower down the ladder.
Equally, the Abu Dhabi takeover of Manchester City in 2008 has boosted the Citizens’ success to unimaginable levels. Have they been spoilt? Would they find it acceptable to find themselves back in mid-table like they had been for most of their previous history? Granted, this is an extreme example considering the insane amount of money pumped into the club, but the underlying point remains - the status, aims and objectives of football clubs change over time. Since when did something thirty years ago justify something in modern society?
Of course we should be grateful that we’re now in a much better position than we were 30 years ago, grateful that Reading Football Club exists at all, but it’s time to admit that we’re not ‘little old Reading battling higher than we should’ anymore.
By saying that we should be nearer the top of the Championship I don’t mean that we’re entitled to be at the top end of the Championship or in the Premier League (I’m not adopting a Leeds fan mentality here, don’t worry). I mean simply that that’s what the target for each season should be based on our recent history. If that’s achieved, it will have been a good campaign.
Every club is allowed an off season, and maybe this is ours (well, along with 2014/15 and 2015/16!), but next year Reading need to be back where they belong. Looking at the top half of the Championship, not the bottom.