Champions-Now What?

Posted on April 22, 2012

I have read various books and watched several documentaries in recent years regarding  psychology in sport, about how to create a winning attitude, how to deal with failure and indeed, more critically, success, something that when achieved, can leave a huge and dangerously depressing vacuum in sportsmen. When my beloved football team won the Championship yesterday I was actually in the bath. This was because despite only drawing earlier in the afternoon, Southampton had just lost at the Riverside Stadium, handing the Royals the title in slightly anti-climatic circumstances. I gave the air a half hearted punch and said “get in there” to myself before being overcome by a wave of sadness as I realised that the chase was over and I had go back to reality again.

The dramatic chasing down of West Ham and Southampton has pretty much consumed me and my eldest son over the last six weeks or so, to come from a position of obscurity to finally and dramatically knock the top two of their perch’s has been an extraordinarily gripping achievement, but now it is finished I feel a bit lost. My mate Stewart said the other day that it was quite possibly an end of an era in the history of Reading Football Club and though I didn’t see what he was getting at, at the time, I do now. This team was built by Brian McDermott by blending experience with academy players on a low budget and a team spirit that made everyone at the club, including the supporters, feel like they were part of the whole campaign. Everyone felt they had done their bit.

All this is about to change, new Russian owners who we know little or nothing about, Premier League status and the possible introduction of “marquee signings” to replace players who took Reading to the top, but are no longer worthy of a place are all things that will evolve in the coming weeks at Reading Football Club. John Madjeski has his faults, but he is a Reading man with the club at heart and once he is no longer calling the shots who knows what is going to happen? If the new owner wants his own manager and players and starts running the team like a toy, Reading could become another joke club like QPR or even worse, Portsmouth. The Reading fans site “HobNob Anyone” is full of  often euphoric ignorance about what Reading are going to achieve in the coming years, but I am not the only one who is nervous about the whole thing.

It may be that this takeover is a genuine one, after all the M4/M3 catchment area to build on Reading’s support base is a large one. It was apparent at the away game at Southampton that Reading now have a youthful following that has grown enormously since they became an established Championship side flirting with the top flight. Why support London teams when you have decent growing club on your doorstep? As a business, it is easy to see how the club can be developed in sizeable towns such as Bracknell, Maidenhead, Basingstoke and Newbury, there is a potential for growth that must be the envy of clubs like Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan who stand under the shadow of the Manchester and Liverpool clubs. It will be interesting to see where Reading will be in ten years time, it could easily be in the Premier League top ten, but it could also be a local derby versus Aldershot if it is not managed properly. However, ten years ago this month, Reading were celebrating winning promotion from League One after a late Jamie Cureton equaliser at Brentford, on that day things changed, they have been in the top 30 teams in the country ever since. This week has seen the next step.

Youthful Support: Young fans in Berkshire are now supporting Reading rather than the London Clubs

Football clubs must evolve like any business, nostalgia will get you nowhere, but seeing the videos of McDermott and Madjeski celebrating in the early hours at the Purple Turtle pub in Reading made me realise that this was a small town club that was very much part of the community spirit, you just don’t see players and staff being so lucid with supporters in the world of Premier League superstars like you do at Reading. That is all about to change, the big money is arriving and the expectations are changing and whilst that has to be good for the local economy, it will mean that the gap between the club and its followers may just widen, in fact it’s inevitable that it will, but I guess that is part of the drama of it all. I just hope we take out a leaf out of the book’s of Norwich and Swansea rather than QPR.

Anyway, it has been great fun being there rather than sat in an armchair with a Sky remote like Manchester United fans, it has re-ignited a passion in me that I thought had gone, so for that I have to thank Reading FC for a great season, the Southampton game will live long in the memory. I guess I will have to focus on my cricket now, that starts next Sunday, as does my latest bid to score my maiden fifty in the face of hostile bowling from a combination of hopeless youths, divorced middle aged Dad’s with no discernible talent (like me) and arthritic sixty year old’s who just can’t bring themselves to call it a day. If this happens and I nudge a cheeky single before pointing my bat to the empty pavilion, who knows how I will deal with it. To achieve something I have been chasing from April to September for the last seven years may be a bit too much to take.

It would be a tragedy if I was found hanging from the Oakley CC rafters a few days after achieving my ultimate personal goal.





3 Replies to "Champions-Now What?"

  • mark greenwood
    April 23, 2012 (5:49 am)

    Some good points again Bob. With regards to the Youth following Reading, in my experience many of those I have met are Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool fans who can’t afford, or just not able to follow their first teams. This could be a new phenomena, following a second team, or is it?
    When I was that age I to used to go to Elm Park because I couldn’t get a ticket, or just couldn’t afford the trip to Goodison Park. It was also well known that the majority of the Shed was full of Chelsea fans, who couldn’t make the journey up north.
    My second point is the ‘yo yo club’ that Reading could turn into. Because Reading were the first club I ever went to see, I think it Reading v Halifax Town in 1978-79, it would be good to instil in the local youth supporting the local team, having stability at the club.
    Oh and good luck with your maiden 50.

    • Bob Lethaby
      April 23, 2012 (8:26 am)

      Funny that Mark, my first game was also 78-79 a giant killing of Rotherham United in the League Cup, though I have to confess supporting Man United (for that I apologise) until I was about 11 followed by a flirtation between Reading and Chelsea until about 16, it was as a glory hunter the “13 in a row” season in 1985 when I finally became a true supporter, a 2-0 win at Newport County did the trick. The change has been a dramatic one, it will be intriguing to watch the next chapter, I really can’t foresee where it will all end!

  • Andrew ferguson
    May 2, 2012 (6:33 am)

    Great bob thanks a joy to read

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