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COLUMN: Ron Gourlay – the man who never ‘got’ Reading FC

Gourlay departed the Royals this week

RON GOURLAY’S sudden departure on Monday morning was met with a wave of positivity on the Reading FC corner of social media.

The former CEO had only been at the helm for some 16 months, but in that relatively short period of time he’d already alienated vast swathes of the fanbase.

Falling attendances, dire football, questionable recruitment and reported instability behind-the-scenes were all problems for which Gourlay was ultimately responsible. However, one thing stands out above everything else: he never actually understood Reading Football Club.

Gourlay played a key role in bringing Paul Clement to Reading

This club’s success has always come from doing things very differently: canny recruitment, giving youth a chance, and fostering a culture of loyalty and stability behind-the-scenes. Gourlay, for all his experience at global powerhouses Manchester United and Chelsea, wasn’t the man to maintain those values.

If you want a CEO that can maximise revenue and boost a club’s commercial value, you couldn’t do much better than him. But if you’re in dire need of someone to regroup and rejuvenate a mid-sized club from Berkshire, you couldn’t do much worse.

What Reading need in a CEO – whether you’re talking about Gourlay or his successor – is someone with a deep understanding of the club’s identity. ‘Identity’ is always hard to define in specific terms, but in Reading’s case it certainly should include a strong connection with the supporters, a desire to keep the club closely intertwined with the community and respect for the academy.

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The first two were major failings for Gourlay – made clear by the mood on social media and an increasingly depressing Madejski Stadium atmosphere. The third can’t go ignored either, with the hugely respected academy manager Lee Herron departing, and the apparently ‘youth sceptic’ Paul Clement arriving, during Gourlay’s time in Berkshire.

The club’s owners now desperately need to find a replacement for Gourlay who can put Reading FC back on track.

Simeon can be found on Twitter @SimFromBucks and his Reading fansite account is @TheTilehurstEnd.

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