Reading Town players were willing to finance themselves after receiving the shock news they had been withdrawn from the Uhlsport Hellenic League by their club owners.
Dave Wright of the Reading Chronicle writes – Their stunned players were even prepared to pay the referee’s fees at their remaining three home matches as they were determined to finish the season on a high note. Owners, the Battersea & Wandsworth Trades Union Council, decided to end the season early for the Uhlsport Hellenic League Division One East team after agreeing a deal with Highmoor Ibis FC for them to take over the Scours Lane ground.
There is likely to be a merger of the clubs with Highmoor Ibis retaining their name, but this will be from season 2016-2017. Acting chairman Natalie Newby, a BWTUC representative and RTFC CEO, broke the news to the players on February 12th. “We couldn’t believe it,” said Mrs Richardson, mother of manager Tranell Richardson, who works behind the scenes. She and family members were largely responsible for keeping the club going this season.
They came to the rescue after the whole of last season’s squad, plus team officials and club officers, had walked out. The mass exit followed a well-documented dispute last season with BWTUC over expenses. It looked as if the club, due to celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, would fold.
However, the Richardson family offered their services although rookie manager Tranell was left with only a few days to get a team together before the start of the season. Off the field, they had no-one with any knowledge of how to run a football club at this level of non-league football and received help and advice from Uhlsport Hellenic League General Manager Brian King.
To get the club back on its feet, Mrs Richardson spent close to £2,000 of her own money, although she did receive most of it back from the BWTUC. On the field, the makeshift side suffered a string of heavy defeats, but received a boost last October when the owners talked about a five-year plan for the club and were happy to keep Tranell as manager.
With what appeared to be a vote of confidence, the manager started to strengthen his squad and they recorded their first win just after Christmas. They then went on a six-match unbeaten run and were even fourth in the league’s form table.
Town had also seen two changes in the chairman’s seat. Kevin Brandstatter, heavily criticised last year, stood down due to his commitments with team sponsors GMB. John Tuohy took over, but only for a few weeks as he was replaced by Newby, with health problems being given as the reason.
But as Tranell Richardson said: “In the short time John was with us, he did more for us than Kevin and Natalie did put together. “He even came to an away match and on one occasion his wife also helped out financially.” The former Henley player added: “Shutting us down has all come to a great shock. There was a very good team spirit here.
“Players came from as far as Basingstoke, Windsor and Chichester to train and play. After games, the players didn’t dash away as they were prepared to clean out the dressing rooms and generally keep the place tidy. “On away games they paid for their own petrol and even some helped to pay fines incurred by others.”
The GMB did give the club a new set of away kit during the season, but it still needed team captain Jordan Blake to dig into his own pocket to get the shirts printed so they could fulfil an away fixture. Mrs Richardson said: “You have got to feel sorry for the players. They have been well and truly stabbed in the back. No team deserves to be treated in this way. Why now? Why couldn’t they be allowed to finish the season? “That is the least they deserved. Thanks to their hard work, the players were turning things around and things at the club were picking up.”
Brian King said the Uhlsport Hellenic League has held a meeting to decide what action to take against the club and their owners, which is ‘confidential to the League and the RTFC Board.
In the meantime, the club have received a lot of sympathy via social media as well as offers of help. One local businessman was even considering sponsoring their three remaining home games. One of Town’s former managers, Stuart Plumridge,who spent a lot of his own money in keeping the club going last season, said the BWTUC and Kevin Brandstatter should be “ashamed” of their part. He added: “The union have destroyed a 50-year-old football club.”
His assistant at the time, Andy Silver, claimed: “They [BWTUC] had absolutely no interest in the football club. The CEO, Natalie Newby, said last year she didn’t care if there was a football team or a rabbit hutch on the pitch.” Newby made it known several times last year her directors were considering closing down the club.
Highmoor Ibis, who are managed by Tranell’s brother Marcus Richardson, have yet to disclose their plans for Scours Lane, but they could play there next season. Plans to improve the facilities at the ground are also planned. Ground tenants Woodley United, currently bottom of the Division One East table, will also continue to use Scours Lane for the rest of this campaign. Town players want to stay together, even forming a new team, but in the meantime they will be keen to join other clubs.