With Ghislaine Maxwell in the news this week after she was found guilty of five counts of sex trafficking, here we take a look back at the British socialite's association with football.

While Ghislaine was a director at Oxford United her father, as chairman, once hatched a bizarre plan to merge Reading FC with Oxford United - a wildly unpopular ploy that crashed and burned under intense supporter protest and widespread disdain for the idea.

With Oxford United facing the threat of bankruptcy in 1982, media mogul Robert Maxwell saved the club but his long-term intentions were far more sinister.

Reading Chronicle: Ghislaine Maxwell pictured at an Oxford United matchGhislaine Maxwell pictured at an Oxford United match

On April 16, 1983, Maxwell announced to the BBC that he was close to acquiring a controlling interest in Reading FC with a view to merging the two rival clubs into one, to be known as Thames Valley Royals.

The Thames Valley Royals would play their home matches at a new stadium somewhere in between Oxford and Reading, alternating between Elm Park and Manor Ground until the new ground could be completed.

Understandably there was concern from both sets of players and coaches. Oxford manager Jim Smith feared for his job while the Reading players, having spent the season languishing near the bottom of the table compared to Oxford’s promotion charge, were uncertain where there futures would lie.

Reading Chronicle: Media mogul Robert Maxwell. Image by: PAMedia mogul Robert Maxwell. Image by: PA

From a business standpoint there was perhaps a certain level of credence to the idea. Both clubs had suffered from financial challenges with Reading facing a murky future regardless of Maxwell’s involvement.

But from a football perspective, a human perspective, and a community perspective it was the worst possible news. Two proud clubs with a backbone of decades of history and strong fanbases ripped apart by one man’s idea. 

With support from the football league, Oxford United’s board of directors, and the Oxford city council, the plan was in motion with the two clubs set to finish their respective seasons before uniting to form the Thames Valley Royals in time for the 1983/84 campaign.

Reading Chronicle: Robert Maxwell at a matchRobert Maxwell at a match

Reading Chronicle:

But perhaps Maxwell didn’t quite take into consideration the power and weight of the two club’s supporters. Both sets of fans reacted with revulsion to the idea and quickly sprang into action.

2,000 Oxford supporters flooded the pitch ahead of their April 23rd clash with Wigan Athletic, delaying kick-off by more than half an hour. Maxwell responded by calling the protest a “bloody disgrace” adding that “nothing short of the end of the Earth will prevent this from going through."

One week later, Reading supporters marched from the town centre to Elm Park in a show of protest of their own. Ironically, Maxwell’s proposal had united the two rival clubs - just not in the way he had envisaged.

Reading Chronicle: Now at the SCL, Reading FC would cease to exist had Maxwell gotten his way. Image by: JasonPIXNow at the SCL, Reading FC would cease to exist had Maxwell gotten his way. Image by: JasonPIX

In the background, a rival takeover bid of Reading offered a potential light at the end of the dark tunnel that was quickly approaching. Roger Smee, born and bred in Reading before making more than 50 appearances for the club and going on to earn millions in construction and property businesses, opposed the merger and had the resources to do something about it.

Together with Roy Tranter, a Royals director who also opposed the merger, they fought back against Maxwell’s bid by filing a complaint with the High Court in order to block the sale of the club. An injunction was granted and despite Maxwell’s confident air, the wheels to his plot were starting to fall off in the face of Smee’s rival bid.

On the pitch - an arena that was nearly forgotten amidst the drama in the boardroom - Reading were relegated on the final day of the season despite beating Wrexham 1-0. Of course, none of that would matter if Maxwell got his way.

And that brings us to June 21st, 1983, a seminal and defining day in the history of Reading Football Club. During an extraordinary shareholders meeting, Smee narrowly defeated Maxwell winning 19,462 votes to the latter’s 16,420.

A new era had arrived. And it was to be a prosperous one. Under the chairmanship of Smee, Reading earned promotion from the Fourth Division in 1984, before going one further to reach the Second Division in 1986.

While more drama would arrive in the coming years, Smee’s stewardship helped lay the groundwork for the epic success Reading would find under John Madejski in the 1990s and 200s. Most importantly though, Reading stayed in Reading.

Speaking to the Reading Chronicle, Supporters Trust at Reading’s Roger Titford highlighted the failed merger as the most important moment in the club’s history.

“In my view, the events of 1983 were the single most significant turning point in the history of the club,” Titford explained.

“Reading became a different club overnight: new manager, new chairman, new board, new colours, new players and a new attitude to commerce.

“Roger Smee blew away 30 years of cobwebs.”