Evening Standard

Back in 1990 when Sir John Madejski bought Reading, he marked home victories by making what he felt was a simple gesture of thanks to his players.

“I would take them to the bar of Elm Park [Reading’s old ground] and buy them a drink. I can’t do that any more because they now have all these sports scientists, nutritionists and God knows what else. But I still go into the dressing room before a game and give them a talk.”

However, as we meet in his penthouse suite in the stadium that bears his name, the Reading chairman confesses he is not sure what he will tell his players before Sunday’s match against Queens Park Rangers. With both teams facing relegation, this could be a dress rehearsal for a Championship fixture next season.

“Some games it is easy to do the ra ra stuff: ‘Beat the blighters’ and so on,” says Madejski, who will be 72 on Sunday. “When we’re playing Manchester United it is a touch of Agincourt. ‘Come on boys, we’re definitely the underdogs today, go and punch [above your weight] and do something really exciting.’ This kind of game I would probably be inclined not to give the players much to think about.”

He will certainly not admit to his players that the club are doomed.

“As chairman I have to have that belief so I would never actually condemn Reading until the fat lady sings and she’s not singing yet.” But he admits: “It would take quite a small miracle for us not to be playing in the Championship next season.”

However, should that miracle not take place, Madejski can take great comfort that the Premier League have not changed his club, in stark contrast with Rangers. “We’ve built this club brick by brick and we haven’t gone for a quick fix. QPR have got all the hallmarks of quick fix or allegedly quick fix.” This saw huge spends by the west London club in the January transfer window: £12.5million on Chris Samba and £8m on Loic Remy.

“Over the years I have come to realise that it doesn’t always work out,” says the self-made millionaire, who is ranked 777 in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List. “You’ve got a 50/50 chance of them working out when they come to a club and, when you’re paying a lot of money, it can be quite an expensive pastime.”

Reading did come close to a big spend in January trying to get back their former midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. And Madejski reveals that it was not money but problems at the Tottenham end that scuppered the deal.

“What happened was Tottenham were trying to buy somebody. If they had, then they would have sold Sigurdsson to us. It went right up to the wire but their deal didn’t come off.

“I don’t know who it was, it is none of my business but I think it was a guy from Brazil.”

This was, almost certainly, the Brazil striker Leandro Damiao whose move from Internacional broke down on transfer deadline day.

Reading’s bid, says Madejski, was: “Anton [Zingarevich, who Madejski sold the club for £25m last year] trying to be ambitious. Arguably, if we had got Sigurdsson it might have improved our chances.”

Madejski proudly says Sigurdsson represents “the Reading way”.

“We grow our own and have produced some very good players through our academy. Sigurdsson is a great example of this. He came here at 14, went through our youth academy. We sold him in the summer of 2010 to Hoffenheim for a substantial amount of money. We didn’t particularly want to sell him but had to. It helped save the club that season.”

One man who played a big part in this ‘grow your own’ policy was Brian McDermott. Long the chief scout, Madejski appointed him manager in 2009 when Brendan Rodgers left for Swansea.

“I got derided for that decision because a lot of people felt that we weren’t being ambitious enough,” says Madejski. “But I would much prefer to have people that understand the club and how we work. Brian stepped up to the plate and the proof is in the pudding [saving Reading from relegation to League One in 2010 and getting them promoted last season]. A thoroughly straightforward, honest guy, he was perfect. And he was instrumental in getting so many of the other players that we have in our team at the moment. He was with me for 12 years and I really enjoyed working with Brian. I am delighted that he is now working for Leeds.

“Brian is a tremendously good appointment for them. Leeds are a sleeping giant and, if he gets it right, then they will start moving.”

Such praise for McDermott (left) seems strange given that, a month ago, Reading sacked him, bringing in former Southampton boss Nigel Adkins. And, when I put this to Madejski, for the only time in our conversation there is a pause. Madejski looks at the club’s PR man sitting across from him and says: “This is where we come unstuck, isn’t it? I’ve got to be careful here because I’ve got to play the party line with my new owner, Anton. He had his reasons. He had obviously made his mind up, not just on the spur of the moment but over some time, that he wanted to have a change. Probably because he owns the club he wanted to bring his own man in.”

Madejski quickly goes on to say: “I am very happy with Nigel Adkins. He is a really enthusiastic man. Everybody knows in football it’s all about winning. If you don’t win you can expect to be shown the door. I happen to like keeping managers for a very long time. However, I’m delighted that Anton owns the club now because it is not for the faint hearted. It’s for people that are wealthy and his family are certainly that. Anton is football mad. I’m not. I’m different.”

Madejski is so different that, even after 23 years as chairman, he can confess: “I didn’t go looking to be involved with football. I got involved by default because nobody else wanted to. I did it for the good of the community. In 1990 Reading were looking down the barrel. But we didn’t go into administration and start again saying Reading Football Club 1990. We paid off the debts and carried on running the club as best that we could.

“In 1990 I had no idea I’d still be here in 2013, that wasn’t in my plan at all. I didn’t know anything about football at the time. I know a wee bit more now.”

Then with a laugh, he adds: “When I took over, the club were losing £20,000 a week and it took me 10 long years to get that up to £80,000 a week, which was quite challenging really. But, nevertheless, we’ve had some great times, twice in the Premier League and the community appreciates the club.”

Whatever the pain relegation may bring, Madejski is a man who has a lot to smile about.

A big benefactor of the arts as well as football, he says: “When you’re privileged you should share it around a bit and that’s exactly what I did. I once saw a T-shirt which said, ‘He who dies and leaves the most wins.’ That was terrific. That makes you smile.”


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