It is a pretty well known fact in football that the bond between club and supporters is very tight one, especially in the English Premiership. This does not only apply to big successful clubs but also those which, despite having been in existence for quite some time, found their bit of glory and spot in the highest division only recently. Such is the case of Reading, and to demonstrate that even in the realm of club-supporter relationships they are no pushovers, the Berkshire players have undertaken a quite unique initiative.
Indeed the Royals, who have yet to win an away game in the Premier League this season, are contributing more than £5,000 towards their supporters’ next trip to Manchester City. This means the first 350 fans who book tickets on the club’s official coaches will pay just £5 for the journey instead of the normal £20.
Reading captain Graeme Murty told BBC Sport: “We know that at the moment we are massively inconsistent. I would be lying if I said that the poor start didn’t enter certain people’s thinking, it can’t be good going to places like Fratton Park and coming out after a 7-4 loss wearing a Reading shirt. So it’s not easy to justify spending so much money to watch us perform, and this is us giving something back to the fans. But more than that there has been a growing realisation among the players of how expensive it is, especially for parents who bring their kids to a game.”
Steve Coppell’s side have endured a difficult beginning to their second season in the top flight, and following their 3-1 defeat at Fulham on Saturday are only five points clear of the relegation zone. Reading froze their season-ticket prices for the 2007-08 campaign, but (probably because of their poor match form) have seen attendances fall slightly as of late. They now intend to recognise those who follow them around the country.
The Reading captain pointed out that the subsidisation of travel may not become a regular offering, but added: “We decided that it would be a nice gesture if we could get behind the fans the way they get behind us and try to alleviate that financial burden. The players had the ultimate say-so over whether we did it or not. It’s not something we’ve been ordered to do, it’s something that as a group of people we felt was right. (…) We feel, not guilty, but that we a have a little bit of responsibility towards that cost. I’m not saying it’s getting beyond a joke, the level of cost, but it certainly is almost taking the game away from its roots. If that eventuality ever comes to pass then football is going to be the only loser. If you take the game away from the common person in the street then football is going to go downhill from there on.”
The BBC article adds that the move by the Reading players comes after a week in which the UK Sports Minister (Gerry Sutcliffe) claimed sky-high wages and ticket prices in top-flight football are alienating fans. “Ordinary working people who want to see Manchester United face being priced out. There is a danger that there will be a move away from the game and we don’t want to be in a position where people are alienated.”
The chairman of the UK Football Supporters’ Federation (Malcolm Clarke) has applauded Reading’s gesture, but insists it does not mask the wider problem of overpriced tickets in the game. “The Reading players are to be congratulated for recognising the contribution that their supporters make,” said Clarke. “What is badly needed is a big reduction in ticket prices so the cost of watching football isn’t as big as it is at the moment. But, certainly, a particular gesture by this group of players is to be congratulated.”
Other publications such as the Daily Telegraph are more skeptical on the move, which can be seen as “both a magnanimous gesture and an extreme act of sadism” due to Reading’s poor run in the league so far.
Any thoughts on this? If a slightly lower paycheck helps the Reading players recover from their slumber, I say where’s the harm. If anything, it’s a refreshing novelty in the multi-million dollar business that football is today. Kudos to Reading.
Marco Pantanella writes on the mCalcio blog