Madejski seeks a successor at Reading
The year is 2006. Kevin Doyle heads a late equaliser at the Walkers Stadium. The hordes of Reading fans in the corner of the ground enter a state of delirium. They know what’s about to happen. When the final whistle blows, the Royals are Premier League bound. Joe Brewin pays tribute to Sir John Madejski.
Madejski strolls over to the travelling army, blue scarf wrapped round his neck, and punches the air in triumph. This was a far cry from the club he had once known.
The 69-year-old celebrated twenty years at the helm of Reading just under two weeks ago, a reign which has seen him play chief role in hauling the club from the lowly depths of the third division to English football’s Holy Grail.
Madejski arrived at Elm Park, Reading’s former home, in June 1990. The club were floundering in mid-table of the third tier after several years of dashed hopes, their future appearing bleak on the horizon.
Fast forward two decades and the Royals are now an established Championship outfit with two seasons of Premier League experience under their belts, along with a stadium most clubs in the Football League would be envious of. This being, of course, a stadium which the board decided to name after Madejski himself.
It isn’t too difficult to tell how all this was possible. Madejski has transformed the fortunes of Reading during his prolonged tenure to create a club totally unrecognisable from the disorderly mess present when he first set foot through the door.
“Reading has always had fond memories for me as a club, it’s my home town and I’ve always been very much engaged with the community. I’ve just tried to do my best for that community,” he said recently.
“My memories go back a long way and in those days I would have had no thoughts of becoming chairman. Now, I’ve been in the hot seat for 20 years – that is a long time.”
Attempting to find a club better run than the Royals during the same time frame would be difficult. Madejski’s management has seen the club emerge as one of the most financially sound outfits in the English game, a feat of enhanced proportions given the state of several clubs in our domestic game we have all been exposed to so regularly.
Reading supporters of a more ripe age will remember how close the club came to heading out of existence after being forced to fight off a merger with Oxford United just seven years prior to Madejski’s arrival.
To say that Reading would no longer be in business had it not been for his timely intervention would be disagreeable. But the one thing certain is that the club would not be where they are today without his vision, financial input and unrivalled dedication.
Reading supporters today recognise the admirable scale of Madejski’s achievements but, while a club lives within its means, there will always be frustrations. The man they call Mr Mad has always had a reluctance to back his managers with significant funding, and the club’s perceived lack of ambition to compete in the Championship has begun to grate on some.
The label of ‘selling club’ is one which is never welcome to clubs of the calibre of Reading, but the perennial sales of star players – most recently the big money departure of Gylfi Sigurdsson — has often led disgruntled supporters to question the man at the helm.
But Madejski’s recent comments should offer enough of an explanation to those who doubt.
“The hard part is trying to make ends meet, it always has been,” he said. “There has also always been the pressure of trying to keep going in a way we can satisfy demand and aspirations.
“The malaise of football and how easy it is to get wrong is there for all to see. The trick is to get it right and that takes an awful lot of effort from an awful lot of people.
“Again, it is only trying to get it right because sport is mercurial and you can never guarantee anything in football”
Madejski will not be around forever, indeed not for much longer if he gets his way. The Royals supremo has made no secret of his desire to sell the club — but only to the right person.
Given his above comments it comes as little surprise to hear his struggles in finding an appropriate suitor for the club, like a mother insistent that no girl will ever be good enough for her son.
“I’m earnestly looking for someone to take over the mantle; I’ve always been honest about that. But they are few and far between. You’ve got to have the perfect mix of somebody with integrity and money who can take the club on.
“It’s very well getting into the Premiership, but in terms of going all the way, into Europe and so on, you need enormously deep pockets. We are looking, but make no mistake that every day I am here I will give my very best for Reading Football Club, as I always have done.”
Whether you like him or not, the fact that Sir John Madejski has worked wonders for Reading Football Club is beyond question. His tenure may have been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride, but be sure that there have been far more upward turns that downward spirals.
Madejski’s name will continue to run throughout the club long after his departure, and when that day finally arrives, football will bid farewell to one of its admirably genuine characters.