Fans Forum 15 April 2004 in the Princess Suite at the Madejski
Present: John Madejski, Steve Coppell with Jon Keen in the chair and about 250 STAR members
First some written questions:
Is Dean Windass off your Christmas card list? How frustrating was his behaviour? Is it acceptable to do absolutely anything to get 3 points for your team or is there a line beyond which professionals should not step? How far over that line was Windass and did he really bite Ricky Newman?
SC: The key word is professional (and yes he is off my Christmas list). I didn't see it but I know Ivar and he knows the consequences and it was human nature to push away someone who punches and head butts. They will end where they deserve if they depend on that kind of play, football should be about skill.
What lessons have you drawn from the Alan Pardew affair?
Has it changed your approach to contracts?
JM: I found it totally disagreeable, he wanted a 3 year contract and the only caveat was not going to a competitor, I think contracts should be stuck to and we won the moral high ground but had to accept a deal.
What were the shortcomings of Scott Murray's game that led
to you deciding to sell him back to Bristol City?
Do you have any players lined up to replace Murray? Maybe Darren Campbell will get a chance?
SC: Scott Murray was a good signing and SC expected him to do well, even AP was surprised that he did not work as well - SM needs a left-footed midfielder and ours are right-footed. He was gradually not being picked. We had many calls asking to loan him and when the offer came in it was too good to miss. A replacement has been approached and we hope he will be signing in June or early July - there is a Reading connection. Darren Campbell is not yet ready - he has plateaued and time will tell if he can make the jump to the higher standard.
I have been accused of sycophancy because I defend your right
to spend your money as you wish. However, it seems to go with the job that
where the club has a chairman known to be wealthy he is expected to put in
that little extra when necessary. For the second successive season we are
within tantalising touching distance of the Premiership and there is a pocket
of opinion that says had strengthened in January we would be in a better position
now. What do you think?
When you spent £5 million on the Degas statue was there any point at which you thought 'Maybe I'll get Jermain Defoe instead' ?
JM: Le petit danceur will probably be worth a lot more in a few years than it is today! The brick on brick approach is necessary; for instance, the training ground is being built and that is the last major part of the infrastructure. Not every player wants to come to Reading, even if we can afford them and not all the big signings have been successful. The Academy is successful and in the future it will build on the community of Reading by bringing on local lads. I want to thank the supporters for the change lately in the stadium.
SC:Thanks for the change in the atmosphere over the last 7 or 8 games. The players have mentioned the difference and it has been well received in the squad.
At the last forum when talking about your management style
you said that you liked to pick a team of players and give them the responsibility
to play the match. How much of a culture shock was this to our players, and
have they all been capable of taking responsibility when it's handed to them?
SC: Comfortable with a tight squad as everyone knows they have a chance of playing, no-one is just picking up their money. It shows in the reserve team who have just won the Pontins league. The players have enjoyed the responsibility and it has shown when they get and take their chance like Kitson - as no-one can take away his place now.
We are delighted to see the reserves bring some silverware
to the club by winning their league. Congratulations to Brian McDermott and
his team!! However, this does present a curious paradox in that we obviously
have good reserves, yet we are told we have a thin squad and we have problems
when there are injuries and suspensions. Just how good are these second level
players and why have they not been given their opportunity in the first team?
SC: Been most effective when least expected. Bringing in new players has been seamless and the youngsters have had a chance to sit on the bench and everyone has and feels involved.
After the events of the last weekend where blatant cheating,
unseen or ignored by the officials, contributed to our defeat followed by
Neale Barry's unfortunate intervention against Norwich, I'm sure that the
team was devastated. How do you go about raising them for the next game whilst
avoiding descending into 'the whole world's against us' self pity?
SC: My take has been if you get bad luck a bit of good luck is waiting round the corner. A group of 20 young men are so good at bouncing back; the dressing room was a morgue but a couple of days later they are raring to go against Crewe.Our good playing surface may tell against us then, as they are a good footballing side.
It seems pretty certain that we'll finish in the top 10 this
season which will be our 3rd best finish ever. However if we don't make the
playoffs there will be some who see the season as a poor one. What criteria
would SC use to judge whether it has been a good or bad season?
SC: I'll wait for 4 games, the 10 month marathon is now made into a sprint and I hope we have enough power and ingenuity to finish on a high.
JM: the season took a blow when AP left, and I could not talk to SC straightaway, as Brighton had crucial games. We have done very well following that and we are still there and could still make the Premiership; but if not, with SC here, we look forward to the next season.
Referring back to the events of September last year, we've
seen how the media reacted, but what was the reaction of your fellow Chairmen
and other Boards within the Football League?
JM: Contracts are contracts, and people I respect in the game thought I was justified. There were a lot of untruths in the papers at the time and despite understanding AP's desire to go to a larger club he should have thought of that before.
Which Royals performance has given you the most pleasure
since you joined the Club and why?
SC: Coventry. I saw them play Preston 4-0 up and it was like watching Brazil, so when the team dug in and scored good goals they looked very solid which augers well for the future. We have a young squad with some senior but no really old ones, which if supplemented with new signings will go well. The new training ground - somewhere to call home will make a difference.
Has your time with us so far lived up to your expectations?
What, if anything, has come as a pleasant surprise? What, if anything, has
been a disappointment and what would you like to do about it?
SC: A disappointment has been the pitch at the hockey ground where it is not always possible to pass the ball. This means the new training ground will make a difference.
Best thing is how human the club is, the stadium is great and with the training ground is 'fur coat and no knickers.' But it is being built as a good community club, and Reading means something to local boys and pride in the club is great. Not about buying success but building success.
How do you feel the club is seen by the wider community in
Reading ? Do we get the support we ought to from the council and local businesses?
JM: Shame we are not filling the stadium, it is for the community and the building has to be organic. Reading BC is great in supporting the club, and we have a perfect position near the M4. Embarked on a new enterprise in Whitley (schools academy) should enhance the Academy even more. Multinationals' head offices are often in other countries so they are fair weather friends needing premiership football, but we have many smaller companies in the business directory supporting us.
How do you and other managers in the first division view
the daunting prospect of getting into the Premiership, only to come back down
the following season which looks likely to happen to Portsmouth Wolves and
Leicester? Is the jump too great for most clubs these days unless you are
willing to pump in untold millions?
SC Let's get there and try it, and fight with everything to stay there. The gap is huge but teams have proved it can be done so we should not be frightened of it, we all want to test ourselves against the best.
JM joked I go to the changing room and say "Lets win so we can get some real players when we get to the Premiership!!!" There is a belief and positive culture at this club; if we get there, some money comes from TV so lets get there and try it.
Our first team squad has 21 players in it (including loan
players but excluding the young players who have not yet featured in the team).
Ideally what size squad do we need to compete over the course of 46 games
at the top of the table?
SC: You can't say - fitnessand suspensions (I take pride in a team that has a good record, although we haven't done so well recently! - we still have the 3rd best disciplinary record in the division) are imponderables so you can get by on 21.
We have 4 goalkeepers on the books at the moment, but in
a squad the size of ours I can't imagine we can keep all 4 happy all season.
Are we likely to see one or more released and if so can we assume that despite
being out of contract in the summer Jamie Ashdown has done enough recently
to be one who is kept on?
SC: Kelvin is currently just to be seen and it has lifted the tempo of training of the others. Jamie A and Jamie Y and Marcus coming back so they are all competing well. With Bosman the player is in control. I want to do contract offers all in two or three days as soon as our destiny is decided, but even then offers are not always accepted. You will know as soon as it happens.
I'm sure SC will already have players he wants to bring in
next season on a list in front of the board. Is he looking at players who
will get us out of this division ( the sort of players Norwich went for) or
players who could go on and form the basis of a Premiership squad (which is
what Alan Pardew seems to have tried to do)
SC: Out of this div, div 1 is 3 parts, wanting promotion, happy to stay, desperate to stay. We are the first, and are building towards promotion all the time. Norwich made a gamble and it has paid but will they stay there? There is a great chance of being successful at this club and that is why I'm here.
There are still some clubs who appear to be playing by different
financial rules to the rest (Wigan being perhaps the most obvious) but generally
there seems a lot more financial realism around. Do you feel clubs generally
are being better run, and do you think players have also accepted the new
reality and are prepared to take lower wages than a few years ago?
JM: Yes, thank God. ITV digital was a great blow and as we were just getting there; many others had spent the money before it came. It still cost me personally £1/2m. Wages are still high as there is a dearth of good players. Many Boards have directors who do not have a monetary stake and are good at spending others' money. Reality is creeping in, if not yet enough.
What is your opinion of agents?
JM: Parasitic, PFA should be able to act for players. There are some good ones around but they are just taking money out of the game.
We've been at the Madejski Stadium for 6 seasons now. I'm
sure when we moved there were various plans for how the board wanted the club
to develop on and off the pitch. How would you say we are doing compared to
those plans (or hopes!), what have been the areas we have done best in and
what areas have we perhaps fallen short?
JM: Done very well
Now questions from the floor:
Over the last few years, we have seen some horrific refereeing. Do managers have any influence on the rule changes and interpretation of the rules by referees?
SC: The manager reports on every game which gives a chance to comment constructively, but it is multiple choice with little room for comments. I often go on to the other side of the page! But you always have to be aware that the ref will be presiding over a game in the future.
Is the budget the same every year, as it was not enough this
year to get out of this div, so will need big name players?
JM We have tried to get some of those sort of players but they went elsewhere, but the manager will do his best. You cannot just go out with a shopping list and spend your way out. In addition we could spend more if there were larger crowds.
SC a club is like a patchwork quilt: it is fitting the players together and buying big players may not work, it does not always pay off.
Not fair that all the pressure on you to fund all the growth,
so would you consider going public?
JM: Yes, but it would not work as the costs of going public are enormous and there are not enough people wanting to subscribe - it has been looked into.
Is National media perception of Reading annoying - eg West
Ham lost not we won?
JM Because we have never played in the top flight, we are seen in a different light but it means that as an emerging club we are gradually winning over the media, and it takes some pressure off the club.
SC we are the new kids on the block and we have to earn respect but we are doing it.
In view of Andy Hughes in left back, would you think of playing
5-3-2 with him and Murts as wing backs?
SC: Preference is through the squad here I played (5-3-2) at Brighton last year. You play football where the men are (more defenders you start defending more) so you use the big guns where you can, preferably up front.
At this point John Madejski had to leave and was thanked for his time.
If the Board were to let you spend £5m on players (plus
enough to cover the salaries and bonuses!), who would you buy and why?
SC: Not thought about it as it won't happen. In F1 the best car wins, and so I want to build the best car. (the best way to get rid of agents is to make the players not the clubs pay them).
Would put all the money in forwards, and wide players to provide the ammunition.
Marco van Kitson(!) is looking a good player, how much is
still to come from him?
SC: You can tell he wasn't an apprentice, so appreciates what being a footballer really means and how good the life is. He has grabbed the opportunity and intends to stay there.
Dean Morgan has played mainly as a winger, but he also appears
(in reserve matches) to have a good eye for goal. What is his best position?
Has he done enough to earn a long term contract?
SC: I think he is a centre forward and I have a wardrobe full of them. DM is probably the most skilful of the centre forwards and to get the best out of him he has to play. LO will never let you down, DK is demanding to play, SG has a great win percentage.
Who makes the final decision on whether a player's contract
is renewed? There are a number coming up this summer?
SC: Board meeting this week, I have to look to see if there are better players out there and cheaper. I like specialists - RN has done wonders but we need more defenders. There is a query over NS with his infection although AH has does well. To answer your question me!
STAR and its members obviously include the most passionate
and loyal Royals supporters. What are the key things we can do to help you
make the team successful?
SC: Be there. The Club is getting a reputation that it is not just the Chairman's plaything. The support has been top quality and the away support has been brilliant and the team love it and comment on it. It is the sign of a real club.
Why do the players not clap the fans at the end of the matches.
It wasn't too bad on Monday against Norwich, but prior to that they have barely
acknowledged the fans (with the notable exceptions of Murty, Williams and
SC: I don't know and it may be my fault as I disappear at the final whistle. Perhaps we take the home supporters for granted and I will mention it to the players.
Does it not give players the wrong message when having helped
to defeat Cardiff, Coventry and West Ham you then drop real 100% players such
as Ricky Newman and Dean Morgan? Is it not more positive to leave a winning
SC: DM was left out as I was desperate to have Fozzie there, although he did not do himself justice, RN knows what SC thinks of him and knows well enough that it will be the specialist that gets the place. I want to be fair but I have to pick the team that will win the cup final - that is the best team available.
Are there likely to be any changes in the backroom staff
SC: No, delighted with back room staff. We currently have Wally Downs around to help and he may come but it will be to supplement not replace.
Apart from Reading, which sides would you like to see promoted
to the Premiership and why? (You may select three!)
SC: I like Norwich, WBA not so sure, Ipswich I like because Joe Royle and I went to same schools. Apart from that, selfish: we will get there! More questions from the floor:
Do you think West Ham will be taking any staff or players?
SC: No, AP mentioned 3 players he would take if given any encouragement - I gave no encouragement and I think he would not go behind my or the players' backs.
It upset us before the game that AP called it his team?
SC: Didn't worry me, Niall Clarke put some cuttings up and it worked to our advantage with some players. Our team was influenced by the WH team as much as ours, as I used fast strikers to go against their slower defence, but the atmosphere was special that day in the dressing room as well as in the stadium and we need to replicate that more often (with the routine games).
Can you upset managers then? Are there any more nuggets like
SC: DK was a gamble and a good gamble - he has to build on the games he has had and progress. DM has the ability and maybe the application. Brian McDermott is the scout and we have our eyes on a couple of players in a similar position. I would rather have a young team determined to prove something rather than an old pro.
John Salako has always played well when playing for his
contract can you put him on a fortnightly contract?
SC: I asked for a weekly contract as a fortnightly one may make him complacent!
How bad is Nicky Shorey's injury as I had a friend who had
to have an amputation following an infection on the bone?
SC: He complained after the Palace match (which is very unusual as he is so quiet) and their doctors gave him antibiotics, but it really blew up in Cardiff. We are now being careful and making sure now that it is nothing nasty, as we want him back for next season.
Along with Sunderland we have the best 2 full backs in the
div, are the wingers not very good?
Not many good wide players in our division, we have to play central midfielders wide but there are not many alternatives. Agree we have two of the best.
Why did we let Nathan Tyson go?
SC: He forced the issue, as he wanted to be playing. SC thought it a mistake as he is too good, but he wanted to go and wonders if he is too comfortable.
In a recent home game, I think it was the one v Sunderland,
the first three incidents involving Shaun Goater resulted in two free kicks
to the opposition and the third an unopposed header for the centre half. Coupled
with the significant reduction in scoring opportunities in the second half
v Norwich, after Shaun came on as sub, this seemed to sum up his season. Whilst
the records show he has scored a few goals do you not feel that someone, anyone,
else in the current squad could have done better. Do you now regret not encouraging
him to take up Ipswich's loan offer? Will you listen to offers for him at
the end of the season or indeed cut our losses and place him on the transfer
SC: When Ipswich came in, I told him, and he did not want to go. Since then he has tried to impose himself on the team and has not succeeded as he wishes. He is a goal scorer, and I hope he will continue to be.
How does it make you feel when the Chairman says he is not
a football fanatic?
SC: Don't let him fool you, he doesn't miss many games, but it is a handy veil to cover his knowledge and he knows more than he lets on.
Are we going to Sweden pre-season?
SC: Yes, one is the team played last year and as I know the agent who has arranged it I know it will be a useful exercise.
We need a "I'm leaving early stand" for those trying
to beat the car park, Do the players pick up on it?
SC: No they have mentioned it; they have mentioned that it has changed from a flat atmosphere to a lifting inspiring one.
Have you seen the URZ flag and would you like to see it covering
SC: No I'm oblivious to everything on match day.
The final written questions:
At the last forum you commented that none of the Academy youngsters were yet pushing for a place in the first team. Have any of them done enough in the last 3 months to change your view? Would you give an opportunity to the likes of Castle, Boucard etc... if - for example - the game at Watford is totally meaningless to both sides?
SC: I won't give them a chance because the game is meaningless, but because they deserve it. Mullins, Rifat, Castle, Howell and Soares are all showing that they could cope with the first team. Even a meaningless game is important because it is the last game before next season and so sets the tone for the start of the next season.
The forum ended at 10pm with thanks to Steve for giving his time, and his reply thanking us for making him so welcome at Reading that he has no doubt that he made the right decision in coming here.
Thanks to STAR for the above information supplied to Hob