Ron Gourlay’s only been involved with Reading for just under a year, but he’s certainly been busy behind the scenes. The CEO, who was appointed by Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li last July to replace Nigel Howe, is a key figure in the day-to-day running of the club in the owners’ physical absence, not to mention in big decisions like the sacking of Jaap Stam and hiring of Paul Clement.
There are plenty of ongoing issues at the club which Gourlay can be getting his teeth stuck into at the moment, not least home atmosphere and Reading’s links to their sister clubs: KSV Roeselare and Beijing Renhe (more on them later).
The negative vibe in the stands at the Madejski Stadium has been a hot topic for conversation in recent years, but was tackled head on at the end of last season with the formation of a singing section in the South Stand. Around 50 fans turned up for the 1-0 win over Preston North End, with that group getting bigger for Sunderland (2-2) and Ipswich Town (I’m not typing that scoreline out).
Although the initiative was widely received positively by other supporters, as it was by Gourlay, the former Chelsea man looks at its success in a wider context, telling The Wokingham Paper:
“We’ve introduced the guys (home fans) behind the goal again and I think that’s important because it’s quite challenging when you look at the games last season where we had a full stand of away fans behind the goal creating a big, big atmosphere.
“Some people don’t like that. I’m not a big fan of having one of the prime positions in your stadium full of away fans, but unfortunately sometimes we’ve got no options.”
Fair comment, surely? The Mad Stad is hardly a fortress, with its stale atmosphere and poor performances on the pitch, but having up to 4,000 rowdy travelling fans cheering on the opposition doesn’t help. Gourlay is quite right to say that swapping away supporters for Loyal Royals helps, although it would have been nice for him to be more overtly supportive to anyone that does want to be part of the South Stand.
CONFIRMED! #Club1871 will be back in the South Stand next season.— Club 1871 (@Club1871) June 13, 2018
Keep an eye out on Season Ticket prices and information over the coming weeks.
We have listened...
No Megaphone ✅
Unreserved Seating ✅
Flags and banners ✅#ReadingFC pic.twitter.com/7wlsihkjXd
Gourlay also explained a bit more about what Reading are getting out of their links with sister clubs KSV Roeselare and Beijing Renhe. Belgian side KSV are owned by Dai Xiu Li, whilst Dai Yongge is in charge of Renhe - although his son Dai Bin does the day-to-day running there.
The Royals sent two players out on loan to the Belgian team last season - Danzell Gravenberch and Sandro Wieser, so there’s clearly a link there, whilst we were also rumoured to be putting together a convoluted move for Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos that would have seen the striker bought by Renhe before being sent to Reading (to get around Financial Fair Play).
However, Gourlay stressed that the Royals’ links with their sister clubs - particularly Renhe - are business relations rather than anything we’ll see play out (pun unintended) on the pitch.
“It’s very, very early really in the process. We’ve been working to get our own house in order and make the changes that we need to make.
“There’s more work going on behind the scenes in the football club with a lot of different parts of the organisation and operational side, building on the community, looking at ways of building the brand internationally and using our connections in China to do that.
“I don’t see player exchange or anything like that for China. I don’t see that happening but opening up maybe commercial opportunities and things like that is something we will always look at.”
Side note: “working to get our own house in order” is an intriguing choice of words depending on how much you read into it.
We saw a similar thing to this Chinese link under the previous owners with the 2015 pre-season tour of Thailand and choice of Carabao and Thai Airways as shirt sponsors. English clubs going to great lengths to increase their popularity in the potentially lucrative Asian market is nothing new, although some take it a bit too far.
It’s not as sexy as signing a new striker for £10 million, but international brand development is good business sense for ambitious clubs nowadays. After all, extra revenue is always nice, whether it’s from slapping a Thai energy drink on your kit or flogging home jerseys to half the population of Beijing. Gourlay, who has worked on some of the biggest footballing brands in the world in spells at Manchester United and Chelsea, knows that.
You can read more quotes from Gourlay, including on the role of Brian Tevreden in the relationship with KSV Roeselare, in The Wokingham Paper right here.