The FA Cup defeat to Aston Villa recently may have put paid to Reading’s hopes of silverware on the pitch, but there has been success for the club off the field with the Royals named the Championship Family Club of the Year.
The award was presented to Marketing Manager Sara Jacobs and Customer Service & HR Manager Jackie Evans at the official Football League Awards on Sunday night in front of 900 representatives from Football League clubs, their sponsors and the football industry in general. The award is in recognition of the work carried out by Ms Jacobs, Ms Evans and all the behind-the-scenes staff at Reading FC in making attending matches at Madejski Stadium enjoyable for all the family. From more affordable ticket prices for children through schemes like Kids for a Quid and Young Royals membership to clamping down on unsociable behaviour at matches, the club have worked hard alongside the Football League’s Enjoy The Match campaign and have now received the public acknowledgment they deserve.
The past few years have seen the Royals enjoy a rare moment in the sun with national recognition coming from spending their first ever seasons in the top flight. With money-fuelled glamour boys Chelsea within reasonable distance of Berkshire and the traditional heavyweights of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool still dominating playground fantasies, it has never been the vogue for kids to support Reading. Premier League football has offered the current generation of new football fans in the catchment area a chance to support a successful football team with household names but that success could not be taken for granted. The fickle nature of childhood fandom means it would be easy for the young Reading fans of 2007 to migrate to being the Chelsea fans of 2010, especially with the Royals back in the less glamorous environs of the Championship. What the club have excelled in is offering up various initiatives to attract people back to the Mad Stad, and they may well have gained some lifelong fans in the process. Involving local youth football teams in pre-match and half time presentations as Reading have done with their “guard of honour” and American-style penalties is a great way to get large numbers of children involved, and being on the pitch as part of the matchday experience is something they will not forget. Any club needs a solid fan base to prosper long term and Reading have not rested on their laurels in their efforts to keep whole families returning.
It was a good weekend all round with the playing staff recording a seventh win in eight league games with a very comfortable 2-0 triumph at home to Bristol City. The Royals have looked almost unstoppable in recent weeks but the Robins have proved no pushovers at this level over the past couple of years and so the near-total domination must rank as one of Reading’s best performances this season. Brian McDermott admitted after the match that he spoke with his side about the need to try and find that third goal with 2-0 never being the most comfortable lead to defend, but he will have been pleased that his side were again creating plenty of opportunities. The bulk of the plaudits were again bestowed upon Gylfi Sigurdsson who has proved to be one of the revelations of the season across the whole of the division. Sigurdsson was the recipient of high praise from one of his more experienced peers recently when Derby midfielder Robbie Savage described him as the “best ball striker in the league.” Love him or loathe him, Savage has spent the majority of his career at the top level and so it should not be taken for granted when a player of his ilk bestows such a testament on the young starlet. Of course, Savage has first hand experience of the Icelander’s shooting prowess having donned the goalkeeping gloves as an emergency shotstopper in the meeting between the two sides last week.
Having notched his 11th and 12th goals of the season, Sigurdsson has spoken of the importance for himself and the team to continue their excellent form. A midweek game with QPR on Tuesday is the last of five straight home matches before two very tough away fixtures in four days at Middlesbrough and Leicester. The string of recent victories have helped to pull the Royals gradually away from imminent danger of relegation and the games in hand that they have left offer further opportunities to climb up the rankings. What remains to be seen is how far the team can go over the last dozen games of the season. On current form, the top half looks a near certainty and even the play-offs are not beyond reach, yet a couple of poor results are likely over 12 games and could derail the Reading charge. It will be how they bounce back from any setbacks that determine whether they finish with a bang or a whimper.
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