Fans will only have to go back ten years to see Reading were a Premier League outfit, albeit only for a year. Their ten years in the EFL since has been tumultuous for the Berkshire-based team. Reading have seen finishes as high as third and seventh, whilst also narrowly missing out on relegation on multiple occasions with two successive 20th placed finishes in 17/18 and 18/19, shortly followed by a 21st placed finish in 21/22 and finally their relegation in the 22/23 season.
The Royals currently sit bottom of the third tier, and without forgetting their points deductions, it is safe to say they are having a horrible time in League One. Reading have already been deducted four points so far this season with a suspended deduction of a further point waiting on certain terms. The campaign started on -1, a deficit that the Blues did not see as impossible to beat. That deficit soon became four. The club were ordered to pay 125% of their wage bill into an account by September 12th. The deadline was missed, and the deduction was handed to Reading. A further point deduction will be handed should Reading fail to play their players on time or in full.
On the pitch, Reading are not finding life easy. It is easy to assume the players will be distracted by the off-field interruptions but that is not a good enough excuse for the squad. Reading have accumulated 10 points all season, a tally which would only see them move up to 23rd without deductions, sitting two points clear of Cheltenham, three behind Fleetwood Town in 22nd and five off safety. The Royals have now lost five League One games on the spin, their previous two defeats coming at home within the space of a week.
A loss to relegation rivals Fleetwood Town courtesy of a 92nd-minute Josh Vela winner was followed by a 3-2 loss to Portsmouth, a game which saw Reading take a 2-0 in the 27th minute. Goals from Chelsea loanee Faustino Anjorin, Colby Bishop and young midfielder Terry Devlin secured all three points for the visitors. They would follow that up by beating MK Dons 3-2 in the FA Cup and drawing 1-1 to Bristol Rovers. Goals from Sam Smith and Dom Ballard would see Reading go ahead 2-0 within a quarter-hour, but Shrewsbury pulled one back and equalized in the 92nd minute, before securing the comeback win in the 96th minute via Jason Sraha.
Yongge and his company Renhe became majority shareholders in May 2017, owning a 75% stake in the club. His company Renhe specialised in turning air raid shelters into shopping centres, owning 23 centres by 2016. Yongge’s sister and business partner Dai Xiuli is the reason for the company’s interest in football. Xiuli lived in England in the early 2000s, watching Chinese defender Sun Jihai play for Manchester City and took an interest in the sport since. The company first took over Beijing Renhe, formerly Shaanxi Baorong Chanba, in 2007. The club eventually folded in 2016.
Following their first venture into football, Renhe took an interest in English football. Yongge and Xiuli saw an opportunity to take Premier League side Hull City in August 2016 with a £130 million offer which was unsuccessful. Following the failed attempt, Renhe acquired their share in Reading after passing the English Football League’s fit and proper test.
The downfall to follow would prove Renhe were not suitable owners for Reading. The three seasons after saw Reading climb up in league places as everything seemed to be looking up for the Royals. A 20th-place finish in Yongge’s first season as majority owner were followed by 14th and 7th-placed finishes, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. As fans prepared for another season chasing playoffs and hopefully promotion, a 21st-place finish was recorded which preceded their eventual 23rd-place finish and relegation in the 22/23 season.
As previously mentioned, the clubs’ point deductions have come due to financial mismanagement and inability to pay staff and tax bills. It is reported Reading recorded pre-tax losses of £146 million over five years. The EFL has a set limit of £13 million pre-tax losses annually, accumulating £65 million maximum over five years. Reading’s losses were more than double this threshold forcing the EFL to act against the club. In 2021 alone, the club spent 234% of its revenue on player wages.
The subsequent relegation would see the Royals take a deduction of six points due to financial irregularities. Without this deduction, the club would have spent another season in the championship with Cardiff City instead taking the spot in League One. Following their losses up to 2022, Reading was handed a winding-up order on June 27th of this year due to unpaid tax bills. It seemed the club would end up with the likes of Bury and Macclesfield, clubs who suffered at the hands of poor owners and an even worse management of finances.
The latest nail in the coffin for reading is the club being placed under a transfer embargo. The recent embargo for the Royals was only lifted on the 3rd of August 2023 but due to unpaid tax for the month of September, the club will once again be unable to make transfers for the foreseeable future. Fans will be feeling a sense of déjà vu with such occurrences happening so close to one another. In good news, significant interest in taking control of the club was confirmed by the higher-ups along with the embargo news.
Yongge has admitted on multiple occasions he is seeking new owners for the club as his time at the Select car leasing stadium is slowly ticking down to the delight of fans. Despite this blissful news for supporters, the rumoured name to take over is former Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley.
The backend of their time in England’s second tier saw the club boast some of the most impressive players the championship has to offer. Midfield maestro John Swift was consistently regarded as one of the best players in the league, with current Crystal Palace man Michael Olise also on the books of Reading. Swift left the club on a free, joining West Brom in July 2022 despite a £7 million market value.
Olise left Reading for £9.3 million, a club-record sale. Should the money have been properly invested, the Frenchman could be regarded as an unsung hero for saving the club’s finances. As we now know, this isn’t the case with the club in financial ruin. With the talent the club has boasted, it is easy to say without the distractions the club would be in a much better place financially and in terms of performances.
Current Stoke City player Josh Laurent left Reading on a free transfer amidst their troubles following the 21/22 season. It is alleged the January transfer window saw Reading make a transfer proposal for Laurent to return to the Madejski in 2023, offering Stoke a fee for the midfielder they let go for free just months earlier. Once again, the financial mismanagement and blatant cluelessness of the board shone through.
Alex Neil on the rumours of Josh Laurent going back to Reading:
— The Bear Pit TV (@TheBearPitTV) January 27, 2023
As of now in League One, the club still has a squad base to build on in League One for years to come should they avoid relegation. Former Manchester United man and son of Robbie Savage, Charlie Savage is one of few to have impressed for Reading this campaign. Alongside Savage in the Royals’ midfield sit Sam Hutchinson and Lewis Wing, three of the top performers according to average rating so far this season.
Having only scored 12 league goals this season, Charlie Savage and Lewis Wing have three between them, with the former equalling the chart toppers for Reading in goals this season. Savage has also recorded one of the six recognised assists for Reading goals in the league this season.
The Blues have the eighth-best average possession in League One with 53.7% on average per game. Despite having such control over the game, the possession cannot be converted, and this shows with their 17.1 xG (expected goals). The deficit of -5.1 to their tally of 12 goals shows the team cannot finish their chances. They also have an average of 0.9 goals scored per game, the 18th-worst team for goals scored in the third tier this year.
They have created 15 big chances this season whilst also missing 15 big chances, again one of the worst teams in the league for both creating and missing these chances. Defensively, they are no more competent than their attack. The Royals have kept only three clean sheets throughout this campaign, operating at a rate of a clean sheet for every three games so far.
Reading boast the joint second-worst defence in the league with 28 goals conceded in 16 matches. Only Fleetwood Town have a worse defence, conceding 25 in their 15 games played. On average, Reading are conceding 1.7 goals a game with the teams they have faced only recording an accumulated 20.4 xGA (expected goals against). A deficit of -3.6 isn’t as drastic as it was in the scoring department but still shows a lack of defensive stability.
Prior to the game against Portsmouth, an estimated 2000 Reading fans marched 3 miles from the town centre to the stadium in protest against Dai Yongge. Fans have started the movement “Sell Before We Dai” to push the chairman to sell the club before it is too late. Supporters were in fine voice, with banners and signs voicing the opinions of those who have seen their club ruined by a careless individual.
Reading FC fans marching in protest of owner Dai Yongge before their game against Portsmouth today
Respect to all royals fans that were involved in the march👏
— League 1 news (@League1news22) October 29, 2023
The march was not the only act of protest, with fans throwing tennis balls onto the pitch to disrupt proceedings in their loss to Pompey. This isn’t the first time this has happened this season and has been a recurring theme at home games for the Royals this season. The Blues’ game against Burton earlier in the campaign was suspended due to the throwing of tennis balls and again this method was used as a protest against Bolton, but the game was not suspended.
According to reports, there were 200 tennis balls thrown onto the pitch during their 2-1 win against Bolton, with manager Ruben Selles completely agreeing with fans protesting, potentially landing himself in hot water with the current owners.
Reading fans have seen it all over the past few years and face the very real possibility of liquidation if a resolution is not found for the issue at hand. Owners such as Dai Yongge come too often in English football currently, ruining clubs and making a case for a revamp of the EFL fit and proper test. Hopefully, the significant interest in buying the Royals comes to fruition and the club can rebuild what has been broken by poor stewardship from unfit an owner.
By: Josh Wright / @joshwrightt12
Featured Image: @Juanffrann / Bradley Collyer – PA Images