A personal view of the sacking of Brian McDermott, and what this now says about Reading Football Club.
Are what happens on the pitch, results in matches, points in the table and ultimately league position the only important things in football, or are their wider things to consider?
For many fans, sadly, I'm afraid the answer is a resounding "yes" - what happens on the pitch is *the* only thing that matters to them. But for a great many other supporters, football can't exist in isolation - it's a part of the real world, and what happens in the world of football happens in a real world context, including moral issues and what is right and wrong.
Many would say that the world of football lost its moral compass years ago, and that the combination of Premier League levels of money, the obvious wrong'uns who have been leeching off the game for the last two decades and the countless financial vested interests across the game have destroyed what little shreds of morality or decency the game might once have had.
But I know for sure that that that's not the case. If you look hard enough, you can always find small oases of decency and honestly in the vast desert of football's greed and hypocrisy. There are numerous people spread across the game who are going against its grain and who are fundamentally legal, honest, decent and truthful. The likelihood of finding them tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of money and the size of the club involved, so the lower down the leagues you go the more likely you are to find people who trying their best to do the right thing, for the best of intentions, often with meagre resources.
They also tend to proliferate amongst the Supporters Trust movement, for instance the group of honest fans at Portsmouth giving up endless time, money, angst and mental energy just to try and ensure their football club still exists after being ravaged by the greed and arrogance of outsiders who care only for money, power and prestige. There are countless other such stories to be told and countless good men and women across the game - but they're just examples, and not the subject of this piece.
Because The Tilehurst End is about Reading, and so this piece is ultimately about Reading. Because as well as supporting what happened on the field for 37 years, just like any other supporter, one of the reasons that I've loved this club for so long is that I was proud - so, so proud - of the way they always did things. There was always something special about them that set them apart from other teams, a knowledge that they were consciously different and had a deliberate policy of trying to do things the right way, even if this meant they seemed out of step with the rest of football and the way things were typically done in the world of football.
This approach, called by some "The Reading Way" but in reality so much more than just a soundbite, manifested itself in so many ways. From a policy of refusing to conduct transfer business in public to taking legal action against West Ham for making unauthorised approaches to lure away Alan Pardew - and then showing how it should be done with by-the-book requests to Brighton before speaking to Steve Coppell - this ethical and decent approach ran through the club's DNA at all levels.
And it was a product of the people running the club. Sir John Madejski, although I dislike his politics and his approach to taxation at the time he sold Auto Trader magazine, is a fundamentally decent and trustworthy man. And other key figures have been the same - the combination of Steve Coppell and Graeme Murty, two of the most thoroughly decent and honest men I've ever met, as manager and captain meant that ethos ran through the whole club.
And Nigel Howe and Nicky Hammond are the same, for all that they tend to be derided by supporters who don't understand what their jobs actually involve, and both decent, honest hard-working men trying to do their jobs for the best, in the right way and for the benefit of everyone involved at the football club, often whilst the under numerous constraints and with insufficient resources. The key thing, and this is what I really, really loved, was that although they were at the same time being successful on the pitch, the club had integrity oozing out of every pore, and integrity is such a scarce commodity in football that it should be cherished and nurtured wherever it's found.
A perfect example of what set this club apart from the rest came in 1997. on behalf of STAR, I met a group of charity walkers who'd trekked from Portsmouth to the MadStad to raise money. It was a bitterly cold day and, without any prompting or forward-knowledge, staff at The MadStad spontaneously invited them in, gave them hot drinks, and even found someone to give them a tour of the changing rooms, pitch-side and dugouts etc. The walkers were absolutely blown away by this, and said that the only contact they'd had from their own club across the whole of their charity walk was its Chairman gesturing them to get out of his way at Fratton Park so he could park his Rolls Royce, I remember, as if was yesterday, thinking "God, I love this club!"
And, of course, Brian McDermott had the same approach. Although he certainly could be ruthless when required, he was made from the same mould of decency and integrity that made him such a good fit for Reading. The one thing that everyone has said about Brian is how honest and decent he is, and just how nice. And although "nice" might not be a sought-after attribute in the cut-throat world of football, the fact that he was "nice" and was still such a successful manager speaks volumes for him and for Reading.
So the events of today make me wonder if this club is changing for the worse, and if "the Reading Way" of doing things differently and properly, is becoming a thing of the past. Yes, managers get sacked all the time in football, but the timing, the manner and the sheer brutality of it leaves me cold, especially after Anton Zingaravich's words on Match of the Day 2 so recently. There are right and wrong ways of doing things, especially to dedicated long-time servants of the club, and this doesn't feel either the right way or the type of thing that the Reading Football Club I love for their integrity would ever do.
In fact, today has definite shades of the sacking of Maurice Evans in the early 1980s - Maurice was another thoroughly decent man, an outstanding long-time servant of the club who'd achieved great things as a manager just a few years previously. And his shameful dismissal was a blight on the conscience of Reading Football Club, hanging over it like a stain for decades until Maurice was finally commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque at the MadStad after his death.
So today is not a happy day. It's clear from the wording of the club's statement that this is the act of Anton Zingaravich alone, which doesn't surprise me as I can't see those who previously always had so much integrity acting this way to one of their own. Again, it's not the act, it's the manner of it and the timing that's so unlike Reading.
Perhaps we should write the date in our diaries for posterity : Monday 11th March 2013 - the day Reading Football Club stopped being something special and something different, and became just another football club with the same lack of integrity or decency.
As a footnote, as I write this there's considerable speculation that the next manger will be Paolo Di Canio, famously and unapologetically a fascist. Even if he were the best manager in the world (which he's not by a long way) the thought of someone like that at my football club makes my blood run cold. The day that ever happens is the day I'll know Reading FC has become utterly bankrupt, morally - and will be the day I walk away. Because for me it's certainly not just about what happens on the field - I simply just don't know how anyone could support, either emotionally or financial, any organisation that doesn't have basic ethics or moral scruples.