In June, I wrote What the F*** Happens Now? following news of serious EFL charges against Reading and Dai Yongge. In July, I wrote What The F*** Happens Now? Part Two following a rare glimpse of good news that Reading were free from their total embargo against signing players. In that, I prophesied: “Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a trilogy!”. Alas, this is the third (and by no means final) part of this series.
The question of ‘What (The Fudge) Happens Now?’ at this exact moment in time is ultimately the most important one in the modern history of Reading Football Club. Not since the Thames Valley Royals fiasco and perhaps some more prehistoric instances of near-extinction have we breached these heady depths.
I won’t focus too much on what’s gone wrong, we know all about that, but with the Port Vale abandonment and protest - and the recent happenings to prompt a pitch invasion - the fanbase has now largely come to agree that the end of days could well be upon Reading.
That is because nothing will get better while Dai Yongge still owns the football club. Therefore a takeover, by one means or another, is the only route with any kind of promise. Does the pitch invasion bring that closer? It certainly brings two possible routes closer but perhaps doesn’t affect the third.
It doesn’t appear that a hard-fought negotiation between a buyer and Dai Yongge is any closer because it just doesn’t appear feasible at all - which is a problem as it’s the most realistic route any club takeover goes down. Genevra tried to haggle their way into power but found that, as the saying goes, you can’t negotiate with terrorists.
Reading can be saved by a billionaire who is willing to pay over the odds just to kick him out for the heroic reception that would be bequeathed upon them. The extra £10m/£20m or so would effectively be in exchange for guaranteeing there is some sort of club left to buy, and that the fanbase would adore them pretty instantly.
I must admit, it would be foolish to pretend that such love would not ultimately be transient - five or 10 years down the line and one wrong move can blow up anyone’s reputation in this game.
It’s also incredibly difficult to find someone like, for example, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. God knows what will happen at Manchester United but he’s paid over the odds for a tiny slice of a club he purports to have an emotional connection to, with billions to boot. There is no sign that Reading has that.
Thirdly, the protest may well play its role in kicking football into action via something radical. But the government’s football regulator will come too late, unless there is emergency legislation that it is simply unimaginable for this government - let alone any, really - to prioritise to the extent Reading need it to.
The EFL would need the backing of its members, aka other clubs, to either prevent the club from dropping out of existence (via the creation of a NewCo a la Rangers in League Two) or it would have to convince an independent disciplinary panel to force Dai Yongge to remove himself as owner within 90 days or so.
It tried to do this last month when Dai Yongge failed to adhere to the 125% rule… and a panel fined him a measly £20,000 instead. Again, the chance of something radical seems thin. Turkeys fearing relegation to League Two don’t tend to vote for a Christmas where its rival can clinch safety instead.
Unfortunately it’s all very depressing, not least in the short term, when a relegation battle becomes ever more difficult due to a possible points deduction from an independent panel verdict on missing HMRC payments looming, and an asset-stripped squad flogged to pay the bills.
At least it shouldn’t get any worse because of the protest, where replaying the fixture behind closed doors seems logical and, in my opinion, a price worth paying. It may not be that bad anyway, given Manchester United dodged any kind of punishment when their fans stormed Old Trafford in 2021, causing a Covid-times Liverpool game to be abandoned.
Is there anything that can save Reading now? Staying up would help, in terms of cash flow, general morale and as a prospect to investors. Any kind of agreement filtering through would certainly rally the fans and team but in reality there is no time for a deal that can impact this season now - unless it were to be magicked up tomorrow.
I still believe it to be true that Reading can be a viable, profitable football club though. If it can be run long-term on a tighter budget in the transfer market, promote from within and sell its top academy talent at a good price after investing in them on long-term contracts, then there is absolutely a football club worth taking on for any investor. We know there is no shortage of them, but do any of them have the guts and the wallet to pay Dai Yongge off and get it done?
What The F*** Happens Now is someone sticks their hand up to be a hero, the EFL do something radical to save the club… or we’ll all be supporting AFC Reading in the Combined Counties Football League next season.