It’s the chant Reading fans love to reel out: ‘He’s one of our own’. But Aaron Tshibola is highly unlikely to ever hear it again.
Which is odd, given he spent almost a decade at Madejski Stadium, coming through the academy alongside the likes of Jake Taylor and Liam Kelly. What’s more, he was heralded as a true star of the future despite only ever making 17 first-team appearances.
Perhaps that is the point - we never saw the best of him. His £5 million move to Aston Villa in 2016 came ahead of his prophesied starring season after a spate of injuries, and he recalls that he was happy to stick around once Jaap Stam arrived.
He told me earlier this month that few fans actually know what happened next.
“I was like, ‘Wow, Jaap Stam. This is big’. When he came he called me straight away and explained what he had seen of me, how much he wanted me to stay and how he wanted me to play.
“I was really impressed and happy to be a part of it. I said to him I was happy to stay, I just wanted an improved contract.
“Weeks later I was still waiting. For me, it was getting a lot – it was in the news everywhere that offers were being placed and I was still waiting for [a new contract] to be placed on the table. It was very weird.
“I started getting mixed messages, I started to feel like they didn’t really want me. It was bizarre.
“I had sat in the office with the director and told him that, yes I was still a young kid but I wanted to feel like the rest of the players and like an important part of the club.
“He said the board were a bit sceptical of my injury. I was really baffled and really hurt, I had come up through the academy and this was my home.
“I wanted to stay, I had asked to stay and now they were telling me they weren’t sure. My head was flying and then I heard from the club that Norwich had a bid accepted and then rejected because of a clause Reading wanted.
“I had no knowledge about it and it had been accepted, it was all over the news. It was crazy, I didn’t even want to go there, and I felt like I was being sacrificed because the club could get some money out of me.
“As a young player, what do you? How do you deal with it? It was really frustrating, I couldn’t train properly. I told Stam my head wasn’t there and that if a Premier League club came in I wanted to leave.”
Speculation was indeed rampant and fans were left with an impression Tshibola had chased the money amid Villa’s somewhat desperate spending following their relegation. I think his desire to reach the top-flight was inevitable and attaining such a move would probably have been seen as fair game.
But he didn’t go up a division. Tshibola ended up joining a side that finished 23 points behind the Royals that season, and he wasn’t even at Villa after January after being shoved out on loan.
It is this narrative that he finds upsetting when looking back, as if his hard work to reach the Reading senior team and to fight off demoralising injuries counted for nothing.
“I was the ‘bad guy’. I was confused, it got to a point where I felt I needed to get out. I had been shown no love whatsoever and it was clear they wanted to sell me.
“It’s upsetting. I had seen all different things, that fans were bitter and the narrative is that I wanted to leave and pushed it through but what they didn’t know is that Reading made me feel that I wasn’t going to be part of the club.
“I just felt like I was in a situation where I needed certainty, something to show I was committed, but there were question marks everywhere.
“I had given everything to be in the first-team and worked my b******* off to be there, and I feel like I had a good connection with the fans. So to end it on a negative where all fans remember is being money hungry or trying to push through a move is upsetting.”
Tshibola spoke for nigh-on 90 minutes about his time in the game, still somewhat fledgling at the age of 25, and felt determined to tell his side of the story. It gave a sense that there is unfinished business with Reading. Business which won’t be settled soon, at least, while he finds his form with Portuguese side Aves.
Would fans accept him back with open arms? I like to think we always have a place for ‘one of our own’.