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Supporters And The Club: An Open Dialogue

STAR board member (and TTE’s own) Ben Thomas on the current state of dialogue between STAR, the club and the fans.

Reading v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

“What’s the point of STAR?”

“Is that social club STAR still going?”

“Can’t expect STAR to hold anyone to account.”

Just some of the tweets I’ve read recently. And that’s the great thing about Twitter, everyone can have an opinion.

A little bit of pre-history before we go any further: I’ve been watching Reading for about 30 years. I had a good grounding at Elm Park, then moved to the Mad Stad, with a season ticket in the North Stand/Dolan for the last 16 years (hence my very popular column of the same name...). I joined STAR on and off in that time and the opportunity came up to apply to join the board earlier this year. That was officially approved in September.

Since I’ve joined the board, it’s been apparent chaos at this club. Embargoes, possible points deductions, up-and-down performances, Covid. Particularly when the season began, the off-the-pitch stuff from the fans and the club was pretty horrible. STAR got a shed load of criticism - was that right? Not for me to say. Should fans be members of STAR? Again, not up to me. But either way, it was clear that there was a need to reconnect the fans and the team and the club in one big cuddle.

I know from previous events I’ve attended that STAR are much more than “just a coach trip” (that’s another comment I saw). And I’m not precious about people commenting on the work of STAR. I know what they have done, what we are doing and what we plan to do. But what I do know is that, as with every organisation, there is always room for improvement and an injection of new ideas.

Let’s take the work they (we) have continued to do. The coach trips provide a valuable service for those fans who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to games. For some of our fans, these coach trips prove to be the highlight of the week and even month, and I personally won’t have anyone belittle the work, hours and passion that Mel and Colin put into these trips. Whether you want to use the service or not is relevant - it’s our service, put on by the supporters trust for our fans.

What about the community? STAR put on lots of events, which obviously have been tempered by the pandemic, but are just beginning to spring up again. These connect a variety of people, be they fans, current and ex-players and community figures. Take this week and the event with the museum, for example.

The club and STAR have always worked together. The pandemic put a stop to that temporarily, of course it did. I love the club, but I’m not sure I could work in the conditions the employees have had to recently. Having met heads of department this week and at the stadium, it’s clear the constraints they are under, but their dialogue with us is open and honest.

STAR have been levelled as not being “aggressive enough” but, as with any dialogue and problem, you have to approach it in the right way, through the right channels and with the right people. STAR can only get answers if the club put themselves up to be questioned. By the middle of next week, we will have had three formal discussions with a range of people connected with the club. Again, not looking for puts on the back here - it’s our role after all.

It’s about relationships, too. Paula, our chair, has taken years to get to know these people, both on and off the record in terms of conversations. Not every conversation needs to be or merits a published article; this doesn’t mean anything is being hidden, but if there’s something to report, we’ll report it. If we need to comment on something or seek answers for the fanbase, we’ll do it.

In a few weeks, I will shadow the chief safety officer at the Barnsley game (don’t abuse me!) and I will get to see first hand how the stewards work, how the club operates on a match day and how our fans behave, to be blunt. In my two conversations this week, I haven’t met anyone at the club who doesn’t want to move things forward and improve the fan experience, I really haven’t.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the Reading FC fanbase, on the whole, is brilliant as a community. But we all need to understand where the club is at right now and work with what he have. STAR are in a fortunate position in that we can get access to people at the club. But there’s no point doing that if we don’t have constructive comments, issues and feedback from our members and non-members. Anytime there is a fan forum or fan panel event (of which there will be moving forward), I strongly urge you to attend or submit questions. That way, we can all work together to move this club forward.

For me personally, I don’t do anything I don’t think is worth doing (ask my wife) and I, along with the STAR board, am passionate about doing all we can to work with the fans and the club. STAR will continue to be a critical friend to the club and perform this duty as frequently and as intensely as we can.

It’s not been easier, but we can all help to make things better.