Fan’s View 23/24 – No.34: Reading at home

Article by Paul Beasley Tuesday, February 6th, 2024  

FAN’S VIEW 23/24 – NO.34: READING AT HOME

As expected Owen Dale signed and went straight into the squad. At Blackpool he was getting a few minutes at the end of games as sub. Another new face in the squad is Jay Matete on loan from Sunderland. If Soccerbase is to be believed he’s not played at all competitively this season. Last season he either came on as sub or was subbed off for the Black Cats in the Championship before being loaned out to Plymouth where he started eight games and came on as sub in eleven. He hasn’t scored many goals to date but can be relied upon for a few yellow cards.

At least they were available. There’s a very long list of those who were not. Billy Bodin, Josh Murphy, Will Goodwin, Sam Long, Jamie Cumming, Joe Bennett, Fin Stevens, Marcus Browne and Kyle Edwards. The latter is not even listed in the first team squad on the club’s official website. Is there something they’re not telling us?

If we think we’ve got problems with numbers available for selection our visitors will likely argue they can match them. Six players departed during the transfer window which Reading manager Ruben Selles wasn’t happy about. He does though think they’ve kept the spine of the team. Could we beat a spine?

OXFORD UNITED 1 READING 1

I wasn’t happy with the result obviously but I’d be telling fibs if I said I was truly angry. I’m just resigned to it all now. Every now and again there’s a little upsurge in passion like when we got that late equaliser against Pompey. It’s easy to then go all crazy and think maybe we can do this and get in the play-offs. This game like so many are the reality, the reality that tells we’re nowhere near. (Unless there’s so much other crap around that a team doesn’t have to be all that to sneak into 6th place?)

Realistically we’re not top six material let alone Championship quality. Yes, I know teams that get promoted make a lot of changes to their squad for the following season but they have a core that remains. How many of our lot could cope in the second tier? The only names I’d definitely throw in are Cameron Brannagan and Greg Leigh and even with these two I wouldn’t want to stake my life savings on them being a great success at that level. Tyler Goodrham would have to be considered too but against some of the better clubs in L1 he’s been kept quite quiet and the step up is huge.

If we were one of the smallest clubs in League 1 on a tiny budget I could just about take it and accept our drift to mid-table mediocrity but we’re not. Granted there are much bigger clubs in this league but much smaller too and our budget is very competitive. When Colin tells us that our spend has been bigger than Pompey’s that is telling. Telling that we’re under achieving. Blame for this has to lie somewhere. It’s not all down to bad luck through injuries. You reap what you sow. Sign an injury prone player what do you get? Yes, not surprisingly an injury prone player who doesn’t play much.

It’s not just the players that are out though, it’s the players that are in. If they’re not good enough why are they here? If a manager (any manager) cannot get the best out of what he’s got at his disposal should he remain in the job? If the recruitment team keep recruiting players not fit for purpose shouldn’t questions be asked? As an ex-internal auditor I was often asked “Who audits the auditors?” Got me wondering who recruited the recruitment team?

All very harsh maybe but isn’t that the reality of it all?

This was a game of football that had little to commend it. Low on entertainment and low on skill. Two teams that could be categorised in L1 terms as somewhere between average and poor. Given Reading’s plight they’ll be happy with a point. The reaction of their fans shows that. But we’re supposed to be aiming to establish ourselves as one of the top 30 in the country. Absolutely delusional I’d say unless there’s a complete refocusing and raising of standards all round but if that’s what we’re about then we should be spitting feathers based on this effort. It just wasn’t good enough, end of.

When we went one up it was one of those when I obviously celebrated but I didn’t give it large because I knew we weren’t playing particularly well and could see a long hard road ahead if we were to retain the lead and get all three points.

I always thought a second would be needed. Simon Eastwood in goal doesn’t inspire confidence in the crowd and probably not on the pitch either. He’s not as good as he was and is now merely a back-up but circumstances have brought him back. It’s not his fault, obviously. Not that I’ve rated Jamie Cumming so far either. He’s let in on average two goals every 90 mins played – same as Easty.

James Beadle was comfortable with the ball at his feet; Eastwood is not. He’s not suited one bit for playing out from the back. He doesn’t move wide to receive the ball which would make it easier for the man in possession to pass to him and also make it easier for his next move be it a short pass or playing it long. That style of football requires the keeper to temporarily become the 12th outfield player. Yet we still at times tried to play that way. I don’t think we’ve got the tools to do so but problematically we’ve probably not got the tools to play it any other way either. Hence we again looked a bit lost in what we were trying to do.

For the record and in the interest of balance it should be noted that Beadle let in four for Sheffield Wednesday at Huddersfield. There’s more chance than not that we will be playing the Owls again in the league next season. There’s always next season.

Our goal came with just over half an hour gone. Stephan Negru’s beautifully flighted ball down the touch line set Tyler Burey away. He was able to get a cross in without being hampered with the visitors having no defensive shape whatsoever. The ball got to Cameron Brannagan but even though his heavy first touch off his thigh took him wide this didn’t prevent him cutting the ball back for the unmarked Mark Harris to turn in. Our number 9 was where strikers need to be to score goals. He may have been in the six yard box but was onside whatever Reading defenders may have claimed.

As we know successful teams find a way of winning when not playing great. That’s all we had to do even if we couldn’t get that second and that looked quite remote.

Our second half performance was worse than our first. Reading improved a bit but weren’t that much of a threat even if Sam Smith had us thinking why hadn’t he played like that for us when we had him for half a season in 2018/19? (Answer – he was only 20 then and hadn’t picked up the experience he now has).

So how were we going to lose our lead? By gifting a goal to Reading that’s how. We lost the ball from one of our throw-ins as is usually the case but Negru ended up with the ball at his feet. As two hooped shirts quickly closed on him he confusedly ran sideways with it and got dispossessed. (Play the bloody thing quickly or if in trouble whack it into the crowd). Away went the incredibly tall Kelvin Ehibhationham who had only been introduced two minutes earlier. He cut the ball back from almost the same spot as Brannagan had done earlier. The finish was also from a similar position but this time clumsily despatched by our own Ciaron Brown.

Yes we’d got a late goal against Portsmouth but I had no belief we’d do so here – and we didn’t. Depressing.

There are some positives but they’re massively outweighed by the negatives.

Mark Harris is now scoring regularly. He’s got five goals in the last six league games.

Greg Leigh being back is massive. Big, strong and wins so many headers with powerful leaps. He’s got so much more presence than most of those around him.

And for effort and the desire to win Brannagan deserves a mention. He never has to be persuaded to get stuck in. I do though worry that the way he goes about it could lead to serious injury. And his dead ball delivery wasn’t anything to write home about.

I’m still trying to work Burey out and probably will still be doing so the day he leaves us. Dale was as I’d been told, quick. How he, with that attribute, will be harnessed into effective team play remains to be seen. Nothing came from the bench to increase our chances. James Henry and Josh McEachran remained seated and Matete got about five minutes’ worth of running around. Gatlin O’Donkor had about 15 but he’s not going to turn a game our way is he?

Most of the time we didn’t move the ball quickly enough. No first time passing. No tempo. Many times this has been said yet we get the same time and time again. Ruben Rodrigues is massively guilty in this regard.

The right back/right-wing back position is another area of concern.

We keep being told so and so will be back for the next game or next month. Like tomorrow the next game never comes and before we know it we’ll be waiting for next season. I’m sick of waiting; I want it now. It being a consistently good football team to watch. I’m not stupid enough to fail to understand that there will be ups and downs each season with the whole team and individuals having some dips in form but last season was nearly all downs and we only avoided the big relegation down right at the arse end of the campaign. Now this. Two points from the last four games. No clean sheet in the last nine. More home games not won than won. Dropped out of the top six with the three teams immediately above us having games in hand.

Initially I considered the 12:30 kick off an annoyance but Thames Valley Police had to do what they had to do. Huge operation. Section 35 and 60 AA orders in place in large parts of Oxford and Didcot. I’d never heard of 60AA before. Five arrests and they all seem to be Reading supporters.

Thankfully I saw none of this. Outside the ground I think I only saw a couple of Reading fans as we walked back to our car. Home by just gone 3 o’clock and beer in hand soon after. So the early start not all bad. It certainly wasn’t a celebratory drink I can tell you.

NEXT – there’s always a next. Our next next is Blackpool away. They’re one of only two teams to have clocked up 10 home wins so far this season. Their 1-0 reverse at Stevenage on Saturday was their first defeat in 2024. If they beat us they’ll be just two points behind with a superior goal difference. E-I-E-I-E-I-O down the football league we go? Obviously hope not.

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Colin Barson’s Financial Analysis of Reading FC

 Reading FC Financial Analysis, words to strike fear in the heart of the accountancy world, the football authorities, and fans of the club. There is so much to get through here, so much to unpick, that it’s difficult to know where to start. So, what I will do is start with the figures on my normal benchmarking spreadsheet and go on from there. This may well be a long and meandering road that we take.

Looking at the figures from the 2022 accounts we analyse the same 14 categories each time. Reading come top in six of these, second in one category, fourth in another, and fifth in two more. They had the highest income that year, and the highest expenditure. Big club, you might say? Big bloody mess is what I’d say! They also had the biggest loss and the biggest negative equity, and there’s nothing big, nor clever, about that.

It’s worth remembering that we’re looking at figures relating to Reading being in the Championship, where the TV and EFL money handed out is far more than in League One. During the year in question they also had a very good year of player trading, making over £8m profit from it, the best of the current League One clubs. To then end up with an eye watering loss of over £17m takes some sort of special idiotic behaviour! But this wasn’t a one off, they’ve been at it for years.

In 2017 Reading changed ownership and the outgoing Thai consortium (including a certain Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth, aka Tiger) sold to a Chinese group headed by the now infamous Dai Yongge. The last year of Thai ownership produced a profit of £4.7m, following a loss the year before of over £15m. Since then their losses have been, in chronological order, £21m, £30.1m, £41.9m, £33.6m, and then the £17.2m from 2022. Just let that sink in, it’s a total of £143.8m of losses in five years! As if that isn’t bad enough, within that period they also had a cash injection of £24.5m when Dai bought the club’s stadium, in an attempt to stave off prosecution from the football authorities due to their mounting losses.  Although their 2023 accounts are not out yet they are widely expected to show a similar level of loss on the P&L. What I find inexcusable is that during all of that time they were in the same division, so they must have known how much it cost to run a Championship club, what the income streams were, and what they needed to do to either make a profit, break even, or just make a “respectable” loss. But they don’t seem to have given a toss, not one single toss. They’ve just spent money, way beyond their means, year after year, after year.

So, where have they spent this money? Well wages are one area that they’ve also got a gold medal for stupidity in. Their playing staff wage bill, as a percentage of turnover, is as follows: 2016 – 119%, 2017 – 76%, 2018 – 197%, 2019 – 198%, 2020 – 216%, 2021 – 234%, and 2022 – 101%. This means that over a seven-year period their wage bill amounted to 167% of their total income (including player trading profits). That’s one hell of a seven-year itch!!! To put that into perspective the average wages to income ratio for League One in 2022 was 75%, and that’s with an average loss on the P&L of over £2m per club across the division. Several £m per annum has to be spent on the other aspects of running a professional football club, so I just don’t understand what those in charge at Reading thought was going to happen to correct this financial madness? I suppose the question is slightly rhetorical, as I think they must have been gambling on getting into the Premier League land of milk and honey, with its £100m+ TV pay-outs to each club. But such behaviour is reckless, and selfish. It’s the football equivalent of gambling your house on the spin of a roulette wheel, losing, and then doing it again, and again, and again. It’s not even as if they got close either. Their league positions from 2018 onwards were 20th, 20th, 14th, 7th, 21st, and 22nd.

It’s not just wages where they’ve spent heavily though. Their administration costs (a very apt word where Reading are concerned, but in this instance it means the general running costs of the club apart from playing staff wages) are the highest of all clubs in our division at just shy of £17m against a divisional average of £3.9m. Why, and to whom, they are paying out over four times as much as other clubs is another bewildering statistic. They have also paid out an average of nearly £1m per year to their Directors during the period from 2017.

Against this backdrop of runaway spending and declining income Reading have also seen their stadium sold from under them to Dai and also quite a lot of the area around the stadium was hived off by RFC Prop Co Limited, a development vehicle that has among its Directors Tiger and Horst Geicke, both as you’ll all be aware among our ownership group. Furthermore Jonathan Clarke, our Stadium Project Director, was formerly employed by RFC Prop Co Limited. To further muddy the waters, in the 2022 accounts of RFC Prop Co Limited there are some interesting Related Party Disclosures. They owed Reading FC £2.26m at the end of that financial year, and Reading FC had a shareholding in RFC Prop Co Limited of 24.7%. There is a further loan from Empire Asset Group Pte Ltd of over £6m. Within the two loans is a sum of £1.7m that is attracting interest at 15% a year! So, what does this mean in relation to Oxford United? Well, we have two of our ownership group involved in a company that owns land that it acquired from Reading FC. That company has borrowed money from Reading FC and Reading FC owns part of that company. The guy who we are paying to lead our new stadium project was formerly employed by this same company. It’s all there in the public domain, and some of it has been known for a while now (although there will be other things that are not in the public domain) but it all leaves me feeling more than a little uncomfortable.

Moving back to Reading and their ownership it is through Renhe Sports Management Limited that Dai owns the club. Renhe is in turn owned by Great Shine International Limited, a company registered in Hong Kong, but also under the control of Dai. At the end of financial year 2022 Renhe owed Great Shine over £220m, yes that’s right TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILLION POUNDS! Renhe has also owned two other clubs, one in Belgium called Roeselare and one in China called Beijing Renhe. Both were top-flight clubs in their respective countries, both went od spending sprees beyond their means, and both have subsequently gone bankrupt and no longer exist.

I’ll finish by looking back a bit at Reading’s history. They are currently being portrayed in the media as something of a fallen giant, an ex Premier League club who have fallen upon hard times. Hard times they may be, but Reading are no fallen giant. In the late 1990s both Reading and Oxford United had new owners. They got John Madjeski and we got Firoz Kassam. For the 20 odd years since then the two clubs fortunes have gone in opposite directions. Both were third tier clubs at the time and while Reading went on their journey to the Premier League we all know about the journey Kassam took us on. Was I jealous? You bet I was. Were they understanding of our plight? Absolutely not, and in fact their fans mocked us at every opportunity. “We’ll never play you again” they sang at us.

But before then Reading had spent only two years out of the previous 62 years out of the basement divisions, two seasons in the 1980s where they finished 13th and then 22nd in the second tier. Between 1972 and 1984 they spent eight seasons in the fourth tier and had average attendances of less than 4,000 as recently as 1992 in the third tier, before Madjeski came along.

They have been a small provincial club, playing in the lower divisions, in front of meagre crowds for most of their existence, so you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t buy into the current media narrative regarding them, and what a terrible shame it is. They got lucky with Madjeski, it then all unravelled, and they’re now back at their natural level. They may, or may not survive, but they were happy to accept the overspending while it was sustaining them above their natural level. I walked across the car park before our game, and some loud mothed Reading fans were taking the piss out of our ground, and the missing stand (how original) while singing “Palmer Park is bigger than this”. I did feel obliged to tell them to f**k off to Palmer Park then. It’s this sort of arrogant disrespectful follower, who probably never went to Elm Park, that I think of when I think of Reading, and that’s why they get absolutely the same amount of sympathy from me, as they’ve shown us. None.

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