It’s very cliche, but what a rollercoaster the last couple of years have been at Reading. From the joy of the getting to the play-off final in 2017 to the slow demise of Jaap Stam’s era and the utter despair and anger of Paul Clement and Ron Gourlay’s reign.
Our club was a mess, and the atmosphere around the club awful. Fans didn’t want to go to games, driving attendances lower - which never helps player performances. Come late 2018, we were staring relegation in the face.
But then, in the space of a couple of weeks, Paul Clement, Ron Gourlay and Gianluca Nani all left the club. And just before Christmas, along came a man from Portugal.
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about Jose Gomes? The man has not only kept us up, but he’s completely rejuvenated our club. It’s been a long, long time since the fans, players and manager were this connected - and long may it continue.
It’s the little things such as interviews with Jose Gomes, the wonderful Liam Moore, and Tom McIntyre in recent weeks that have allowed us to delve a bit deeper into why things are going wrong, and how badly those at the club want to turn it around - interviews done by the fans themselves. Would that ever have been allowed to happen a few months ago?
This bond has also transferred into matchdays. Attendances are at their highest of the season, and the Mad Stad is the loudest since the Premier League days. There’s a buzz around the club now, which is a feeling that’s been missing for months and months, a feeling of optimism and excitement in the build-up to Saturday afternoons again.
The moment that did it for me, and made me realise that Gomes was onto something, was Ipswich Town away back in March. From the outside it probably just looked like a scrappy 2-1 away win at a team that have been destined for League One since about October. But, from the inside, it meant so much more than that. The players and staff celebrated like we’d won the Champions League in front of a packed-out away end after a last-minute winner. It was wonderful stuff.
The fans now know that we have a set of players and a manager who love the club, and the players now know that they have a set of fans who are right behind them and will be backing them for 90 minutes every single Saturday - win or lose. And that is priceless.
A few months ago we looked like a League One team. No fight, no passion, no guts. But now, with two games to spare, we can look forward to a bright future and be optimistic heading into a new season.
So, thank you to Jose Gomes for bringing Reading back to life, both on and off the pitch. Thank you to the loan players for coming in and playing as if you are all boyhood Royals (by the way, if any of you fancy staying next year then please do!). And thank you to the rest of the squad for keeping us up and allowing us to enjoy coming to games again, and for showing the passion and fight that we all thought you didn’t have.
Finally, to the Reading fans: we have our club back. We will always be the beating heart of this club and rightly so. Keep coming to games, keep singing your hearts out, keep on backing the players till the end - because things could be about to start getting very, very special.