Tim Dellor's Royal Watching: A lot has changed in 10 years at Reading
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The sun was setting over The Algarve. The crickets were humming on the immaculate hotel lawns. I had a cool beer sitting on a glass table in front of me and was reclining on a wicker sofa on a stylish patio. It was a warm, still, mid-summer evening in Portugal. The infamous Russian oligarch looked me in the eye, and in his heavily accented English said “we want to get the club in a good position for its 150th celebrations”.
It sounds like I am trying to cast myself as the next Bond. In truth it was the only time a Russian oligarch has ever bought me a drink. Being ten years ago this was also memorable as the first time anyone had mentioned the 150th anniversary of the formation of Reading FC.
He was out in Portugal on a Reading FC pre season tour. I was the lone journalist out there. Zingarevich stayed in the sort of hotel you would expect a Russian multi-billionaire to hang out in. BBC expenses did not stretch to me enjoying the same accommodation, as I remember it.
Since that barmy evening I spent with the Russian oligarch on the hotel patio, things have not gone in the direction any Reading FC fan would have hoped, but we have reached the 150th anniversary “celebration”.
Zingarevich might have kept paying the bills, stayed, seen Reading up into the Premier League, and be about to play a central role in the anniversary. As it is, my cool beer was just about the last thing he stumped up the cash for at Reading FC, he is long gone, and nothing but a trail of chaos and destruction lies in his wake.
Instead, Reading find themselves in the worst crisis since Robert Maxwell’s Thames Valley Royals proposal in 1983. Cut adrift on the brink of the relegation zone, but with in form Derby racing up behind them, the league position and dire form is only half the story. Unrest amongst supporters, owners who know nothing about how to run a club and lack the basic courtesy of communicating with fans, and a Chief Exec who is less visible than Lord Lucan, all make the atmosphere toxic.
Naturally, the one good communicator caught up in the middle of all this is Veljko Paunovic, the manager. Based on results, it is entirely understandable most fans want him out. Nobody has any idea whether Paunovic is in danger, because the only person we are able to talk to is Paunovic himself. He’s a likeable guy, so asking him if he is likely to be sacked is “tots awks” as the kids say.
Statistically, based on what has gone on in the last three months, Reading will be relegated to League 1 in May. It would take an enormous swing in form and points per game for Reading to survive now. When looking at the league table ignore where Reading currently are. The key thing to see is where Derby County are despite a 21 point deduction.
“We want to get the club in a good position for its 150th celebrations”. Anton didn’t. Nobody has. Still, the night out with the oligarch was fun.