A few weeks ago I dropped in to see my former Chairman, Sir John Madejski. The penthouse at the top of the football stadium that once bore his name is tastefully decorated with the pictures and trinkets of the people and places that have shaped Sir John’s life.

There are snaps of Sir John smiling alongside various members of the Royal family, most notably, Her Majesty the Queen. And neatly piled books and academic papers betray a lifelong thirst for academia that saw him become Chancellor of the University of Reading.

I was delighted to find him in excellent spirits and sporting his trademark sense of humour. Sir John seems to have found a peace in his life that he may well have thought unlikely when the property bubble burst in 2008.

Even so, he was keen to get down to business, and there was a lot to talk about. I wanted to get Sir John’s backing for a sports task force I’ve set up that aims to achieve City status for Reading. And I was also keen for his input on The Dave Kitson Academy, a football academy offering Category One level coaching to anybody between the ages of 8-23.

The great man was as generous with his time as he was thoughtful and considered in his advice. It turned out that he had never been involved in a bid to win City status for Reading, much to my surprise, but was happy to lend his support this time round. And while the John Madejski Academy is indeed his proudest achievement, there are things that I ought to know before I embark on a football Academy of my own. I listened intently to every word and asked questions where questions ought to be asked.

Sir John’s wealth of experience is a fantastic resource to draw on for ex-players like me. I consider Sir John’s friendship and advice one of the great ongoing perks of having played for an incredible football club at a golden time in its history.

More about these projects in the coming weeks.

The truth is that both of us were impatient for the conversation to land on Reading Football Club.

We all know that Reading is in a mess, so much so that my good friend, Kieran Maguire, who wrote the excellent book, The Price of Football, and co-hosts a weekly podcast of the same name, fears that administration is a very real possibility.

How did we get to this?  I’m afraid there aren’t enough column inches to dissect every part of it, and in any case, I agree with Sir John that our energies right now should be focused on the cure rather than the cause. But at the same time, it’s important that I put my thoughts on the record.

If Kia Joorabchian is the “leech”, Dai Yongge is the man who sanctioned the bloodletting. In a little over ten years Reading FC has swung from a profit-making Premier League club to a £200m loss-making League One outfit. The last six years have been on Yongge’s watch.

At the crux of what has gone wrong is an astonishing refusal by Yongge to surround himself with people who know how to build successful football clubs. In my experience, football is not an industry that forgives isolation. People are key. Talented people. People with the courage of their convictions to make critical decisions in all aspects of the club, and the confidence of the boss to carry out their job well.

There are capable people working at Reading, but not nearly enough of them and not in positions of any great influence. The blanket silence imposed on staff is a desperate example of how Reading has been run under Yongge; nobody to tell the King he has no clothes on.

If there is cause for optimism, it might be the news that Yongge has accepted that selling the club is preferable to playing tug-of-war with his Chinese bank account every month. But as fans, we’ve been here before. Since Sir John sold Reading in 2012, a succession of owners, each with visions grander than the last, has systematically reversed the fortunes of a club that was once held up as a virtue of sustainability.

What Yongge needs now – what we all need now – is what he hasn’t had at any point during his tenure: sound advice.

Because whether it’s a football academy, a sports task force attempting to secure City status, or running an entire football club, you’re far more likely to make better decisions if you surround yourself with talented people and listen to what they have to say.

If and when a sale is agreed, it’s hard to know what, exactly, will walk through the door. What I can say is that I have refused to endorse three consortiums that on further inspection are nothing more than property developers with their eye on an easy windfall. But that isn’t to say that any one of them won’t end up owning the football club, after all, Yongge can sell to whomever he likes. The rest of us just have to hope that he does the right thing.

Sir John and I said our goodbyes as we walked past his stretched Westmorland Rolls Royce.  It seemed to stir something in him. “You know something, Dave”, he said, “I’ve had no money, and I’ve had lots of money. But today I don’t owe anybody anything.”

I don’t think Dai Yongge can say the same.

Announcing The Dave Kitson Academy

I’m excited and proud to announce the launch of my new football academy – The Dave Kitson Academy.

My aim is to provide a high-quality standard of coaching for young people in Reading and the surrounding areas – and hopefully to produce some stars of the future!

I will be offering group coaching and one-to-one coaching sessions for boys and girls, and young men and women, from the ages of eight to 23.

I will be announcing when and where the first group sessions and one-to-one coaching will be taking place soon – watch this space for more details!


If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, for news about special offers, discounted coaching sessions and free places and more, please send an email to: info@davekitsonacademy.com