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The Highs And Lows Of Reading’s 2023: October-December

Sim rounds off his 2023 review with a look at the highs and lows of the last three months at Reading.

October

High: March Before We Dai (October 28)

Sell Before We Dai had started small before growing bit by bit over the months, and eventually reached its peak in late October with a huge protest march before the Portsmouth game. More than a thousand fans walked from Blue Collar Corner, down the A33, then on the A33 itself and finally up to the Select Car Leasing Stadium in a massive demonstration against Dai Yongge’s ownership of the club.

It was an incredible spectacle to behold: a horde of supporters from across the fanbase all united in common cause. They were joined by Dave Kitson, as well as local MPs James Sunderland and Matt Rodda, both of whom gave speeches outside the Select Car Leasing Stadium.

This was how to do a protest. This was how to get the attention of the wider football community. I’m hugely proud of what Sell Before We Dai achieved that day, and of everyone who took part.

Low: That time we thought William Storey was about to buy the club (October 11)

When a club in trouble is up for sale, it’s bound to attract the attention of, er, a variety of business people. It had already emerged in mid-September that William Storey - a widely derided figure who’d previously very publicly failed to buy Sunderland - was supposedly interested in acquiring Reading.

Then in mid-October, all hell broke loose. The Telegraph - up until then a reliable outlet with a proven track record of getting solid information about Reading’s behind-the-scenes drama - reported that Storey had agreed a £50m purchase. Plenty of fans (myself included) immediately panicked: how on earth could this happen? Surely Storey being owner would be little better than Dai’s ownership?

Fortunately, following several media appearances that definitely weren’t about getting attention, Storey officially withdrew from the running on November 1. Then again, it’s doubtful he was ever likely to buy the club in the first place.

November

Low: 364 days... and counting (November 11)

Reading’s league away record had long since become a joke by mid-November 2023. Following November 2022’s late win at Hull City, the Royals had picked up just two points, thanks to 1-1 draws at Norwich City and Bristol City. So there were high hopes and plenty of pressure going into the trip to Shrewsbury Town - a day short of a full year since that game at Hull - of a long-awaited three points being taken home.

A quarter of an hour in, we were on track thanks to early goals from Sam Smith and Dom Ballard. A Harvey Knibbs error that led to a goal being pulled back intensified the nerves, but up until the 92nd minute the Royals were still leading. Four minutes and two balls into the box later, Reading were 3-2 down.

If you can be both gobsmacked and not at all surprised at the same time, that’s how the bumper away contingent was feeling in that moment. This was the sickest, cruellest way for the away losing streak to continue, and it felt like a particularly bitter pill for Reading’s long-suffering fans to swallow. But then again, it was typical Reading FC.

High: The end of the 378-day wait (November 25)

A fortnight later - the next league game after Shrewsbury in fact, due to an international break - Reading’s luck changed at Wycombe Wanderers. Again the Royals went in front through Smith, but this time they headed into the break having scored last, with Lewis Wing’s deflected strike the perfect reaction to a home equaliser.

Likely fired up by what had happened in Shropshire, the Royals redoubled their second-half efforts in this game and saw the match out confidently. Cue wild scenes of celebration in the away end.

The curse had been broken and this game proved to be a turning point in the Royals’ away-day fortunes. Reading have played three more times on the road since the win at Wycombe and remained unbeaten: 1-1 at Lincoln City, 2-2 at Peterborough United and 2-2 at Cheltenham Town, all of which required Reading to fight back from a losing position. The resilience and confidence to do so surely came from that day at Adams Park.

December

High: A comfortable win over the Latics (December 23)

What better way to go into Christmas than an enjoyable and relatively stress-free home victory? Reading picked up their first league win since late November with a 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic on Christmas Eve Eve, a result that massively increased fans’ confidence in the Royals’ survival chances. It was also the first clean sheet in the league since a 0-0 draw with Burton Albion at the end of September.

Femi Azeez particularly loved it. December was an excellent month for him, containing three goals and an assist in all competitions, but the pick of the bunch came against Wigan. With Reading in need of a moment of quality to break the deadlock in the first half, he absolutely leathered the ball home from range for 1-0.

Low: A wave of redundancy letters sent out (December 21)

Although things were going better for Reading on the pitch in December, the news on December 21 that 17-20 staff had been sent redundancy letters was a reminder of just how grim the situation was behind the scenes. Training Ground Guru reported:

“In the week before Christmas, between 17 and 20 staff have been sent letters notifying them that their jobs are at risk of redundancy. If they cannot be redeployed, or if there are no offers of voluntary redundancy, then enforced redundancies will take place, TGG understands.”

Staff being at risk of losing their jobs is horrible at any time, but particularly sour when it comes right before Christmas and in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. It also came just weeks after non-playing staff had only been partially paid at the end of November, with the remainder of their salary arriving a few days into December.

A takeover and some financial stability at Reading cannot come soon enough.