13 May ~ For once Reading are content with their lot in the play-offs. Circumstances deem that we haven't just missed out on expected automatic promotion, nor is there a burden of expectation to win them. The thing is, we're not very good in the play-offs. In the four we have competed in, two have been ineffectual losses over the first two legs, and the others have been defeats in spectacular games in the final. In all, there was a huge desire for promotion, driven either by the opportunity to compete in the top league for the first time, or by our financial situation requiring it.
But Reading have now had a recent taste of the promised land. For the club, fans and town, this brought mixed blessings. Situated where they are, people in Reading have ample opportunity to support a Premier League team, and indeed the majority do. Those that shunned the opportunity, be it through family ties, football tradition or just idleness, have instead chosen a club whose history and expectation mirrors the town: unspectacular, steady and with recently found prosperity.
The seasons in the Premier League, while very nice to have had, weren't necessarily seen as the be all and end all of the club's progression. Getting to see some of the world's great players every week loses some of its appeal when it is John Terry bawling out the referee, or the inevitable diving. The latter is no more offensive than the highbrow anti-diving campaigns in the broadsheets, but it still grates for a home crowd refined in recent years on the subtle technique of the likes of Mick Tait and Billy Whitehurst.
The enforced fire sale brought about by relegation has seen the clubs youth structure raided in quantity for the first time since the Mark McGhee teams of Adrian Williams, Stuart Lovell and Scott Taylor in the early 1990s. In the past two seasons a clutch of academy players have blossomed, with half a dozen now forming the spine of the team. This seems to have brought pleasure to more fans than the multi-million purchase of yet another unheard-of player from the French leagues during our time in the Premiership.
The consequences of not going up won't mount to much. Financially, the deep cuts needed to adjust from Premier League to Championship levels of income have long since been made. As always with the chairman, the exact nature of the club accounts are unknown, but messages from previous seasons about a need for ongoing prudence seem to have abated. Reading's only really saleable asset is Shane Long and it remains to be seen how much interest his tally of 23 goals so far this season has generated. With the rest of the team comprising of academy graduates or journeymen operating at just about the right level, there shouldn't be a clamour from players wanting to leave. Indeed, there is probably more wariness from the current squad about how secure they would be if we were to go up.
In the meantime, the club, players and supporters seem to be enjoying the fact that for once we appear relaxed with the play-offs. Happy to be in them, happy with who we are playing, and happy whatever the outcome. Whether this translates into carefree progression or passionless defeat, remains to be seen. Robin Foot