It’s an exciting time to be a Reading fan. Third in the Championship, a host of exciting new signings showing their quality, under new owners who have given manager Steve Clarke their full backing in the transfer market – things could be a lot worse for the Berkshire club. Indeed, sometimes it’s hard to remember that only a year or so ago, they were a lot worse.
Wealthy Russian owner Anton Zingarevich had flirted with taking over the club, buying a minority of shares before promising to complete transactions and dealings to become the majority shareholder. He never did, and the ensuing financial repercussions meant the club had no option but to sell our best assets in the summer of 2014, with the money from these sales going more or less entirely to unpaid bills and the taxman.
Adam Le Fondre was sold, and some of the elder statesmen of the squad were released, to get them off the wage bill. This, and a combination of other factors, including a feeling of utter staleness around the whole club, meant the Royals finished last season in a terribly disappointing 19th place, a finish that reflected massive underachievement from their squad.
However, it might just have been possible to see the green shoots of recovery in some of what happened last year. The takeover of the club by a Thai consortium in summer 2014, whilst it did not yield immediate dividends in the shape of a massive transfer budget or more obvious finances available, things slowly but surely progressed throughout the season.
The various academy sides all did well, making sure Reading once again are in the top tier of development sides across the country and thus making sure they receive the most available funding for their academy. The FA Cup run gave the whole town a feeling of pride and belief in the team, and the promise of a potentially key summer in the transfer window meant things were definitely looking up when the season ended in May.
Added to this was the promotion for the under 21 side into the top tier of the development league, meaning the fans could feel confident about the young blood coming through the ranks, something which always gives a club a boost.
The start of the season brought the Royals performances but not results. Birmingham away saw them hit the bar three times, miss a last minute penalty a generally dominate the game and still lose, and then home games against Leeds and MK Dons saw the same game management but again not that cutting edge that is necessary to roll sides over. It was only really the game against Brentford that saw the incisive, short, sharp passing and resolute defending that is rapidly becoming a hallmark at the Madejski.
The side that finished in the playoffs last year were easily disposed of, and Ipswich were then mauled at the Mad Stad, 5-1 a fair reflection of an attacking performance full of confidence, skill and swagger. New signing Orlando Sa, a newly rejuventated Nick Blackman, and Watford loanee Matej Vydra all combined to produce an attacking display the like of which a home crowd starved of goals and entertainment had not seen in many a month.
Gritty away wins at Bristol City and Burnley, as well as an excellent performance at home to Premier League Everton in the League Cup have done nothing to lower expectations, which are now sky-high.
The combination of increased muscle in the transfer window, new owners who seem happy to invest in the team, the stadium and club, a manager who seems to be able to get the best out of mercurial talents like Nick Blackman and Hal Robson-Kanu, and fans who suddenly feel good about the team again means it’s suddenly a good time to be a Reading fan.