STAR Fans' Forum - 14 August 2003

In attendance: Roger Titford (from STAR), John Madejski, Alan Pardew, Brian McDermott, Scott Murray and about 250 STAR members

RT - Introduces guests to rapturous applause!

[To JM] UEFA has announced plans to reduce the Premiership and other top flight leagues in Europe to 16 teams. In the light of this, is it essential to win promotion this season or next?
JM - Thinks promotion is essential every season! Reading FC always pursues excellence and leaves no stone unturned in the hunt for promotion each and every season. The club is built for the highest division, although two successive promotions would have been something of a miracle. Promotion as soon as possible is the mission statement.

[To JM] What do you think about Chelsea's recent takeover?
JM - Thinks it's a bad thing - that kind of money throws the game into chaos. That kind of money pushes player salaries up and makes life difficult for the less glamorous clubs. Chelsea fans on the whole will be pleased but some will rightly be concerned that their club is in an artificial situation, as Mr. Abramovich may not be around for ever.

[To JM] Is the Arborfield training facility the last piece of the club 'jigsaw'?
JM - Thought that was still a secret! Arborfield is a fantastic acquisition and will indeed be the last big piece in the jigsaw. It will be terrific for the club to have its own training facility. Indeed, the Academy was planned for Arborfield too but it had to be built at the Madejski Stadium because the Arborfield land could not be acquired in time (which turned out for the best as indoor facility is now a successful commercial asset too).

[To AP] Alan, how's the foot? (refers to AP's admission that he hurt his foot kicking the wall in frustration at Ipswich the previous Saturday)
AP - OK now!

Reading have won more league points this century than any other club - was AP aware of this?
AP - Yes, aware and very proud. The team and staff are keen on breaking records and are delighted to be the team of the millennium so far.

Did last season's success surprise the manager?
AP - It did after the opening day defeat at Derby! It was a surprise in a way, but it built up gradually alongside the confidence that the team could do well in the division. That self-belief has carried on into this season. The younger players like Harper and Shorey are full of confidence and really believe they can win the league this year.

How strong is this year's Division One compared to last season?
AP - It looks stronger on paper but then again last season it looked very daunting until the season got underway. Reading FC is stronger as a team this year.

Does the arrival of Shaun Goater spell the end for the 4-5-1 formation?
AP - No, it is still very effective away from home but at home it doesn't provide enough goal threat. RFC now has players to play a number of systems, and, crucially, who can score goals as well. 4-5-1 will still be used, particularly on the road.

How difficult is it to manage a team that is growing and changing so fast?
AP - It's true that the team and the club as a whole is growing - the number of people who have turned up tonight proves that! In terms of the team changing - everyone was up in arms when Darren Caskey left, and it has been the same with Jamie Cureton; they are very good players but in the end they were impossible to fit into the team. Regarding Curo, RFC offered him more money than any other team in England, but Korea offered him a brilliant deal.

How did the management feel about Sammy Igoe's departing complaint of a "lack of "fun at Reading?
AP - Had a good laugh at that. Sammy was a great player for Reading, and that's that.

Any chance of Jamie Cureton re-appearing at RFC during the Korean close season?
AP - No - he loved it here but he's in Korea now and hopefully it will work out for him there. Still, never say never.

[To SM] How difficult was it to decide to come to Reading?
SM - Had a chat with the manager at the Millennium Madejski hotel, was really impressed with the surroundings and was excited by the chance of playing in such a beautiful stadium. Can't wait until Saturday for home debut (if selected, of course!)

[To BM] Any comments on the players the club was linked with over the summer, such as Richie Partridge and Teddy Sheringham?
BM - Not really; lots of names always get linked with the club, and the club is always looking at players. Reading's scouts had been watching Scott Murray for three years!

How is Omar Daley going to fit into the side, with all the midfielders already at the club?
BM - Doesn't know but he is a great lad and a pleasure to feed! (Omar Daley is currently staying at BM's house!)
AP - He is a terrific player and has been amazing in training; in fact training this week has been better than ever before. AP will find a role for him somewhere.

Are we looking for another centre-half and why was Marc Edworthy not signed?
AP - Edworthy is not really a centre-half, more of Ricky Newman type and AP didn't just want to sign another similar player. The team does need another centre-half but it is not as urgent as some people seem to think and AP will take his time.

What obstacles have to be overcome in signing quality players these days?
JM - Signings are planned well in advance, and secrecy is of the utmost importance. If you are perceived as a wealthy club then prices go up, so keeping potential transfer news out of the press is vital. Several players have visited the Madejski Stadium "on the quiet" - once you get players to come and look around, they are much easier to persuade.
AP - ..and as soon as RFC shows interest in a player, other clubs come sniffing around. Shaun Goater is a case in point - as soon as a fee was agreed with Kevin Keegan, Goater's agent informed other clubs who were straight on the phone to Man City.

Is a player's character as important as his playing ability?
AP - Yes, have always maintained this. David Connolly springs to mind. On the telephone AP had a "bad gut feeling" about the player who seemed to be more in it for himself alone and not the whole team. You need to take care. One bad egg can spoil the lot, and the team spirit at Reading is excellent.

Will AP be looking to the Premiership for loan signings again this season?
AP - Yes. It's good for Division One clubs that Premier League teams cannot loan players between themselves. Although the squad is slightly smaller this year, there is plenty of cover there, despite what some people might think.

What is it about Reading's fitness regime that surprises new players when they arrive?
AP - Reading FC has embraced sports science more fully than many other clubs. The players' fitness is the sole responsibility of sports scientist Niall Clark and not the manager. AP compares the team's fitness ratings with those of Celtic, Man Utd and Arsenal, and Reading's are better even than theirs.
SM - The level of fitness at Reading is "frightening"! Had never done so much weights before either, and the whole set up is more professional than anywhere else SM has played.

Do we have to have music when we score - and is it AP's idea?
AP - It's just an attempt to improve the atmosphere, which could often do with a lift inside the ground. If people don't like it then it can change, it's just a question of coming up with ideas. Atmosphere inside the Madejski is still a problem, even with the bigger crowds - AP is still looking for that atmosphere "that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up."
[A show of hands for and against post-goal music reveals a fairly even split]

Isn't the atmosphere better at grounds which position home supporters behind both goals?
AP - That's a good point. Some teams (like Ipswich) cram away fans into a little corner of the ground - if Reading had more home supporters then we could do the same and reduce the number of visiting supporters, or do away with them altogether!

What's with the blue shorts?
AP - Don't know the answer to that one. Re. The kit in general, it's always slightly controversial every season as AP is keen that the kit looks good and works well on the pitch, whereas the club wants shirts that will sell in the club shop. So there's usually a compromise.

What was your most enjoyable game last season?
AP - Nottingham Forest at home: great football, brilliant fans and a great battling performance from Reading to come back from severe pressure and win the game. Hopefully this Saturday will be as good.
JM - Sheffield United away [3-1 win].

[To AP] What annoys you most about managing Reading FC?
AP - Nothing - loves it here. The supporters took a while to come around to AP but now everyone is on the same side and AP hopes to be here for a very long time.

[to BM] Is it difficult attracting young players to the Academy ahead of our local rivals?
BM - Not any more; RFC has become a much bigger club in recent years, and no longer has much competition from the likes of Swindon, Brentford and Wycombe. Players are continually being offered to the RFC academy.
AP - Adds that Reading have just this week acquired a young player from Wycombe.

Is Marcus Hahnemann likely to be unavailable due to international call ups this season?
AP - It is an objective of the season to get three internationals in the side, so that at least games can be called off if players go to play for their country. But Marcus is unlikely to be going anywhere - he had a "stinker" in his last game for USA!

We are very good at defending set pieces, but awful at scoring from them. How can the team improve on this?
AP - Set plays are indeed a problem - the team doesn't have a giant centre half or centre forward. Instead last season the tactic was to move around and create space but this can over-complicate things. This season the set plays will be simpler. Shorey and Harper have been concentrating on improving their set piece deliveries over the summer.

In last season's play-offs Reading were the underdogs because we are seen as a relatively small club - does this affect the players in a negative way?
AP - The profile of the club is very important, most of all in terms of attracting players to join. Reading doesn't have the illustrious history of teams like Wolves or Forest, but now, in the football world, RFC is seen as one of the bigger clubs. Think big, and we will be.

There has been a marked improvement in the atmosphere in the stadium. The boo-boys can no longer be heard - has this been noticed?
AP - Yes it has. The negativity of a few seasons ago - even up to the playoff final defeat at Cardiff - has gone, and it has taken a while. But now the players get a positive feeling from the stadium - now all that's needed is a bit more noise.

Is Shaun Goater likely to get involved in a coaching role?
AP - Wants him to score a few goals first! Shaun is well qualified, a great character and a gentleman and it is intended that he takes some of the younger players under his wing, Darius Henderson in particular.

Is anything likely to come of our contacts with Barcelona?
AP - The contact is via the agent who installed the new President. Even squad players from Barca want huge wages, but RFC has been offered one or two youngsters from the Nou Camp. The trouble is it's hard to tell if a Spanish 18-year-old will be a success in Division One, however talented he is. Still there are possibilities.

Does the club have any say in altering distant midweek fixtures?
AP - None at all. The only things that influence our fixture list (apart from TV) are the Reading Festival, internationals and the police.

We are so good defensively, is it a problem finding a centre-half good enough to challenge Brown and Williams for a place in the team?
AP - Yes, that's true in some respects. Steve Brown is likely to be player of the year this season - he has improved his fitness so much over the summer. The club's centre halves are very good and to get someone equally good would cost the entire transfer budget. AP and BM are instead looking for someone with the potential to be as good as Brown and Williams after a few months of coaching, and someone with a bit more pace. But loan signings may be the answer in the short term.

What's the latest on Bas Savage?
AP - He's back but nowhere near rediscovering his form. He is learning all the time but he lost a year to injury and that is a long time for a young player.

Have the club appealed against Nicky Shorey's sending off at Ipswich?
AP - Yes, as it was a harsh decision. AP spoke to the ref and asked him to review the decision but the referee did not answer.

Why did the team play in the new black kit on the hottest weekend of the year?
AP - Felt it may be a problem, but there are pressures to wear the new away kit when it has just gone on sale. In the end it wasn't really a problem.

How is Graeme Murty's fitness?
AP - Fine. He will be fit for Saturday.

Did we get any serious enquiries for any of our players over the summer?
AP - A couple for younger players but neither were considered.

Should we expect more from Martin Butler this season?
AP - Last year Butts didn't do himself justice, but he has seen the error of his ways and has been working hard and is in great shape. AP still believes in him, and is looking to get a really good season out of him - the club needs Martin Butler back to his old self.

Is it difficult keeping so many midfielders happy?
AP - Yes it's tough, especially for players like Watson and Newman who are on the fringes of the first team. It's important to give every player the belief that they will get a chance in the side. What will not be tolerated is players gloating that they are in the first team, but that is not a problem as the spirit in the camp is great.

[To SM] Will you be offering the same friendly gestures to our rivals this season as you did to the Reading fans after scoring in the 3-3 draw at Ashton Gate two seasons ago?
SM - (Laughs) Has been reminded of this a hundred times since signing for Reading. It was just passion really - City were 2-0 down after ten minutes and fought back for a draw. Did the same to Cardiff!

[To AP] Did you complain to the newspapers for linking you with the managerial position at Fulham last year?
AP - No!

[To AP] What more do you want from the fans?
AP - Just that everyone sticks together in the bad times as well as the good. Sheffield Wednesday's supporters demonstrated the importance of this last season when Reading were 2-0 up at Hillsborough, but the crowd never gave up and inspired their team's comeback. Just have faith, and have a cracking season!

Thanks to STAR for the above information supplied to Hob Nob Anyone?
Thanks to Jusin Beasley for the notes

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