As humans, we like to sort periods of history into “eras”. We understand that history never stops - it keeps going eternally every day, stretching out plot threads until their logical conclusions maybe centuries down the road. Nonetheless, looking back, we often still consider time periods in eras when looked back upon.
The Royals have enjoyed a few “eras” since the turn of the century: the 106 team, the Brian McDermott years and the reasonably successful consistent playoff-challenging and cup-running years all brought their own group of club legends and treasured memories. Now though, heady memories of challenging for the playoffs (outside of a blip in 2020/21) have mostly been far from the mind for the better part of five years.
Reading’s current historical era, for me, has been ongoing since about May 30 2017. That would be the day after the 2017 playoff final, when just a few inches from the penalty spot separated Reading from a return to the Premier League. Since May 2017, the club has seemingly been in a constant downward spiral, perhaps illuminated by occasional bursts of light, but mostly going in the same direction: downward.
While other eras have come with their own “legends’ as the club so kindly reminded us a month back, this particular era hasn’t been overly generous in that regard. After all, while players capable of scintillating performances have come and gone in this period - John Swift, Lucas Joao, Michael Olise - it’s tough to say any of them truly stamped their entire personality on the club’s ethos.
Now though, with his contract signed, and the captaincy all but assured for next season, I think we can say Andy Yiadom fits firmly into the category of Reading legend. The fans’ player of the season’s four campaigns in Berkshire have been remarkably consistent. While the above trio have had higher highs than our Ghanaian, nobody has been more consistently and reliably solid than Yiadom in the post-play-off final era.
This has been a period which has required a different sort of champion. Where previously we enjoyed a mix of players with immense skill and talent, as well as the more classic “Reading way” hard workers, in the last few years we have had an increased need for players whose mental fortitude can weather the rollercoaster of emotions experienced in the bottom half of the Championship.
That’s part of why hard workers such as Michael Morrison, Yiadom and Josh Laurent have made such an impression. On top of being useful players, they’ve been willing to answer the bell on the field, speak to fans directly, and mostly not let the negative situations get ahead of them.
Yiadom’s place in the team has been one that has been rarely questioned, and has meant that while countless other positions on the field have been question marks, right back has always been locked down by one man. That consistency has turned Yiadom’s side of the pitch into a reliable outlet for chances throughout his tenure.
Yiadom was the man who stepped up to talk to fans who angrily blocked the bus after a desperate draw with Peterborough when relegation-avoiding-fortunes looked bleak. His lack of fear and sense of responsibility in that moment spoke of the character of a man who truly loves this football club, and understands why the fans have been in a near-permanent state of frustration in recent seasons. Yiadom has obviously been a captain before so the mentality already exists within him, but this off-pitch earnest effort was one of many moments in which he took a clear step into a similar role for Reading.
On the field, Yiadom has arguably been our most consistent performer since his arrival in May 2018. He was brought in as a stiff challenge to Chris Gunter’s seemingly perennial right back slot, and immediately made an impression, starting 45 matches in his first year, usurping Gunter’s position after a brief stint at LB. The fact that Gunter’s name causes Reading fans to pull themselves in fractious directions but Yiadom’s does not shows how much calm assurance he’s added to the team.
Sure, he’s had times when he’s let us down in the past few years (conceding the penalty against Barnsley during our play-off fight in 2020/21 springs to mind), but outnumbering those moments by far have been great memories and consistent presence in his right-back spot. Yiadom is ever-present in the side, regularly puts in man-of-the-match performances, and is not a player who goes missing in games.
His stats tell the story of a consistency. Across simple metrics such as goal involvements and more quasi-subjective algorithms like player ratings, Yiadom has been reasonably consistent through his time in Berkshire, despite wildly changeable circumstances.
Moreover, he’s the kind of player you pay to watch. He can be relied on to provide forward running, even when it’s not always serving him, and his frequent winnings of tactical fouls while shielding the ball allow Reading’s fragile defence valuable time to reset.
Partly down to his level of competition, it has been obvious whenever Yiadom is not available. The Royals have tried to cover his injury with teenagers and out-of-position Toms, but neither have been a suitable replacement.
Yiadom joined the Royals just as I myself was leaving the UK for a new life abroad. That meant I didn’t get to watch Andy play until April of 2019. My American wife and I stepped off a red-eye at 9am in the morning at Heathrow, and promptly decided that the best way to stave off the inevitable sleepiness was to head to the Madejski (I know, a seemingly bizarre choice) for the day’s match against a Neal Maupay-led Brentford.
That day, though I’d never seen a large number of those Royals play before (such as Matt Miazga, Ovie Ejaria and Emi Martinez), Yiadom stood out for both of us immediately. His designs on going forward and frenetic energy down the wings was exciting; it’s the kind of football you associate with the traditional 3pm on a Saturday kickoff. Indeed, looking back, he played two crosses that day, won two fouls and played a part in Yakou Meite’s opener.
Here since he was 26 years old, and now with us until he’ll crest 32, Yiadom - a reasonably seasoned international player who may yet represent us in Qatar later this year - has chosen to spend his prime years in Berkshire, despite everything that’s gone on around him and despite other influential players from the same era choosing to move on. For that, we can only thank Andy, and hope we can look forward to three more years of stellar full-back play.
Thank you Andy for staying with us. If half of the squad can show just a fraction of your passion and skill in 2022/23, next season could be a little easier than most expect currently!
If we do manage to stay up and begin looking up again after 2022/23 (or even achieve things soon) and a new era of our history starts, as some of the smart appointments potentially point to, perhaps we’ll begin to look back on these years of keeping a struggling club in the Championship as an achievement. If we do, Andy Yiadom is on the way to be the principal Reading legend of the closing era.