Where have all the people gone? - 23 November 2003

Since the Madejski Stadium was built, Reading has enjoyed rising attendances and several full houses every season. Last year we averaged 16,000, not a bad average for any club, and many Royals predicted that following a successful season the club would match or better it this season. Rising attendances are a sign of progression, an indication of both the potential of the club and an affirmation of the positive direction that it is taking, helping to attract managers and players who are attracted to the smell of success.

erception is important in football. A footballer, for instance, would rather play for Hull in the third division rather than Colchester in the second because he realises that whilst Colchester are currently at a higher level, Hull have the greater potential and hence could take his career further. When Wimbledon were relatively successful in the Premier League, they found it hard to attract top stars because players do not want to play in half full grounds. Footballers looked at Wimbledon and saw the club had achieved its potential, that it could not grow any larger, and were put off.

This season our average crowds are down dramatically. There are some mitigating circumstances - we had 4 home games in a row and few can afford to attend every one - yet undeniably the level of support is dwindling which could have serious repercussions. Last season we were described in the press as an upwardly mobile club with reports usually highlighting growing stature of RFC aligned with the new stadium and ambitious manager. Consequently pre-season we were able to capture Scott Murray and the Goat, who said, when he signed, that he was attracted by the perceived ambition of the club to fulfil its potential and reach the Premiership. However the loss of Pardew has seemingly shaken the confidence of the club and the fans belief that we can still progress without him. He left, we began to loose games, fans stayed away and the teams confidence suffered massively. The appointment of Coppell, whilst a good move for the long term stability of the club, did not re-inject the confidence into the team and fans that we could and should look to progress into the Premiership. Consequently the press's perception of Reading is changing.

On Saturday against Millwall, I was in the press box with the Sunday Telegraph and I found the opinions of the amassed ranks (Every paper was there due to a severe lack of games that weekend) of journalists startling. Many had gone to Reading games the previous year and remembered bigger crowds, progressive football and a self-confidence to expand beyond their current horizons. What they saw this year was a team playing bad, although effective, football and seemingly content to remain in division 1. To an outside observer, the burning ambition to get to the Premiership seems to have gone with Wigan taking up the mantle. As the Mirror correspondent commented to me, Reading seemed to have reached their potential last year and is now in the early stages of decline.

Whether the journalists are right or not will probably become self evident over the next two years. If the players rediscover their ability to play passing football and believe in themselves that they can play in the Premiership, then the town will believe, and the crowds will return and the positive perception of Reading football club will return. However if the crowds continue to stay away or indeed decline further, then it's hard not to agree last year was the best we could ever hope for.

Edgar Morse

Thanks to Edgar Morse for supplying the above article for inclusion on Hob Nob Anyone?

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