Plenty of Royal academy graduates who never made a first-team appearance ended up in non-league rather than at a higher level of the game. There’s too many to go through completely so, instead, we’ll focus on some of the more prominent players and their stories post-Reading.
There are not one, not two, but three former Reading academy men currently at National League side Aldershot Town: Nick Arnold, John Goddard and James Rowe.
Full-back Arnold played for Wycombe Wanderers, Woking and Whitehawk (slight theme there) before signing for Aldershot, while Goddard turned out for Woking, Stevenage Town and Swindon Town. Rowe had spells at Forest Green Rovers, Tranmere Rovers and Cheltenham Town before joining Aldershot. In fact, he was released by the Shots in 2018 but impressed on trial so agreed a new deal.
Reading have had their fair share of players called ‘Mills’ in recent years - siblings Matt and Joseph both played for the club under Brian McDermott. However, one you may have forgotten is Jack Mills.
The former England under-19 man was at Reading until 2012, and had been on loan at SC Telstar well before any of us had heard of Andrija Novakovich. Following his exit from the Madejski Stadium, Mills headed onto Oxford City, Staines, Hayes and Yeading and Wealdstone before eventually winding up at Isthmian League South Central Division side Bedfont.
Not too many players in this piece made it onto Reading’s bench in a league game, but Daniel Lincoln did that as recently as 2015. Remember when we had to change our entire matchday squad for the 4-1 battering at Watford two days before beating Bradford in the cup? Our sub goalie that day was Dan Lincoln.
He’d leave the Royals a few months later, and is now doing well for Bognor Regis in the Isthmian League Premier Division - the seventh tier of English football. He has however been on trial with Arsenal, lining up for the Gunners against Hitchin Town.
Chigozie Eze Ugwu, better known as Gozie, has been on a tour of the UK after leaving Reading. The powerful forward looked promising in our youth setup but, having failed to make the grade, left in 2014, before signing for Dunfermiline Athletic.
Since then, he’s turned out for the likes of Yeovil Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Woking across the lower leagues and non-league, but has ultimately settled at Chesterfield. They were a League Two side when he arrived, but now ply their trade in the fifth tier.
It’s been a bittersweet few years for George McLennan since leaving Reading in the summer of 2015. The left back immediately found success at Cheltenham Town, playing regularly in a side that won the National League, also taking home the longest winning run (9) and unbeaten run (21) in the 2015/16 campaign.
However, the current Maidstone man (via Sutton United and Ashford Town) spoke out last year about the state of his mental health during that season, saying:
“I’ve been struggling with mental health issues in football for a while now. I’ve decided to speak out because it’s been hanging over me and I want to get it out. I had to take a year out from football last year to try and seek help from different avenues, but nothing has properly worked.
“I played a whole season at Cheltenham Town with my health gradually getting worse and worse without anyone knowing and looking back I have no idea how I played each week, let alone be part of a league-winning side. Everything looked so positive from the outside looking and it should have been, but I was struggling as it drains the life out of you.
”For those who know me I’m the most laid back, fun loving guy and I’m never usually serious, but I feel I have to be here. I honestly believe in my ability, but I can’t fully harness it all the time as my mind is stopping me.
”It’s a crushing feeling knowing that I’ve had to turn down big opportunities and it’s my health stopping me. I’m going to keep persevering as I love football and I’m hoping there’s a solution along the way.”
It is of course sad that McLennan has gone through that, but seriously impressive that he managed to win the league in spite of the problems he’s experienced. Perseverance in the face of a daunting challenge like mental health problems takes guts, and it’s great to see him sticking with the game.
Best of luck, George. You’ve got this.
Two players on this list have actually played against Reading in a competitive fixture while at their respective non-league clubs - in both cases in the Berks and Bucks Cup. The first of those is Nana Owusu who netted Maidenhead United’s fifth penalty during the Royals’ shoot-out win over the Magpies a few months ago.
The winger joined Maidenhead in 2017 after a spell at Basingstoke, but has recently signed for Oxford City - a popular destination for Reading academy graduates who never appeared for our first team.
The other of those two players is Louie Soares, who was part of the Slough Town side that ran out 3-1 winners against our academy in the Berks and Bucks Cup Final last month. Scott Davies, who did play for the Royals’ first team, also made an appearance that day.
The bulk of Soares’ career appearances came at Aldershot Town - almost 150 between 2006 and 2010. He’s also turned out for Southend United, Hayes and Yeading, Basingstoke Town and Hungerford Town.
Like Jack Mills, Abdulai Bell-Baggie was another to appear for England at youth level but ultimately end up in non-league. The Sierra Leone-born winger turned out for his country of birth at senior level, but had already played for the Three Lions’ under-16 and under-17 sides.
Bell-Baggie has been at eight different clubs in the eight years since quitting Reading, but only made more than 10 appearances for four of them: Tranmere Rovers, Stockport County, Poole Town and current club Weymouth. The Terras are now in the National League South, with Bell-Baggie having helped them to promotion from the Southern League Premier Division last season.