STAR recognises that our club, Reading FC, is in a period of great difficulty, and that our supporters would like some clarity as to what is happening both on and off the pitch. We are doing our best to engage with senior officials at the club and will report back as soon as we have done so. We had agreed a date, but this has since been pushed back to later in September, and in the meantime, here are STAR’s views on some of the main issues:
Immediate pressures on the club
- Seven key first team players are currently missing from last season, injured, ill or sold. Alongside that, we have fringe players and emerging talent who are now side-lined.
- The EFL transfer embargo imposed on the club which limits both the size (23 players) and quality (wages, contract length etc) of the squad has impacted on recruitment and, to some extent, retention. Nevertheless, we have managed to make signings in the past week.
- Staff shortages at the club are mounting: no recruitment, many existing staff have spent time on furlough, some have been made redundant and others are working very, very long hours. Some areas of prior need, such as the match day programme production, have been cut out
- Staff that are currently in role are bearing the brunt of all enquiries. These people have been the unseen and uncelebrated backbone of our club for many years and deserve our respect, patience and gratitude at this testing time.
- Covid worries and security both at stadium on match day and at training ground impacts on workload and profitability of the club itself.
The transfer embargo
- It’s caused because the club did not meet the EFL Profit & Sustainability (P&S) rules in 2019-20 and is likely to struggle to do so for 2020-21, the accounts for which are not yet available, but income will be down because of the ‘behind closed doors’ season.
- The crucial element in all this is player wages: we have over-spent and under-achieved over many seasons.
- We will be under this embargo until we show we are sticking to a business plan that meets P&S rules. If we fail to abide by these rules, we could be in for a points deduction (see the recent example of Birmingham City).
- We don’t know the exact conditions of the embargo – i.e. which players count as ‘established’ in our total squad, whether players out long-term injured do not count, etc. We expect this will become clear after the transfer window shuts. The players we have signed in the last week show there is clearly some room for manoeuvre!
What is our fundamental problem?
- This is a matter of opinion. One major factor is the consistently poor return on incoming transfers – this has been a feature for the last three ownerships since 2012 post Sir John Madejski
- Since then, we’ve had seven different managers, and who knows how many directors of football, all with their own contacts, favourite targets, agendas and projects. Constant change and changes of direction have wasted money and created instability within the club, which has ultimately seen us decline in overall performance.
- At present the club has a conservative approach to the director of football role which is shared between four senior financial and sporting talent executives (including the Finance Director and Team Manager). This might cure some of the previous excesses on fees, wages and contract lengths handed out, some of which we are beginning to see in new signings.
The owner’s intentions and vision
- Dai Yongge has, as far as we know, been based in China since the pandemic started. A new CEO who speaks both Chinese and English was appointed a year ago and is based in Reading. This should help communications moving forward.
- The owner continues to support the club financially both in terms of loans and investing money in the club’s shares. The Bearwood training ground project has been completed at his expense, as was the free coach travel in 2018-19. His ability to invest more in the playing side is currently curtailed by the P&S rules.
- As far as we know, his intentions and vision are the same as they have been since 2017. He wants the club to play in the Premier League and to have an Academy that produces talent for the first team that also pays for itself through outgoing transfers moving forward.
- Mr Dai owns well over 90% of the club and it is, presently, entirely dependent on his continued support to invest in our club.
What can we hope for?
- We have been at this level for an unprecedented 20 years in our history. It would be a disaster to be relegated. It’s a big financial hit, and it’s not easy to get back: look, respectfully, at Wigan, Bolton, Charlton, Portsmouth and Sunderland, all of whom we played in the Premier League and are all now playing in the third tier.
- Being realistic, this season is first and foremost about staying in the division, then getting as far up the table as we can, blooding youngsters and getting the finances in better shape to move the club forward, longer term.
- We have asked previously for more direct communication with the owners. We’re told it’s not their style. We have had owners who are all talk (or song!) and no money so that stance isn’t the worst we could have.
- However, we do feel that we urgently need clarification from the club / owner and want to engage them in communicating regularly. We’ve arranged the next Structured Dialogue meeting at which we will discuss the list of questions that was gathered recently via social media
- Whether the manager stays or goes isn’t our call or our expertise – except to say for the sake of stability he should get every chance to make a success of this newly reinforced squad. From our point of view, he has been open with us and the rest of the fanbase and he has been dealt a very difficult hand.
- In these very trying circumstances we’d like supporters to cut the club staff a bit of slack. They are working hard and doing some good things: the new kits, the 150-season ticket pack (which was part-produced by a member of the STAR Board), keeping ticket prices fair and dealing with an ever-increasing wave of problems.
It’s a frustrating time to be a Reading fan, make no mistake. But as supporters, we should stick together and get behind the team. We saw this at Huddersfield with the travelling support on our coaches and beyond. Since returning from the pandemic, the support has been excellent despite results.
By the time the QPR game comes around, we will have a re-modelled team. Let’s give them every chance to succeed. In the meantime, as your supporters trust, we will continue to put pressure on the club to speak with Paula and Ben in the Structured Dialogue meeting and are actively encouraging them to confirm a date as early as possible, where we can put forward your questions and comments to senior officials.