Reading FC could be nearing the end of its search for a new owner, following a tumultuous season that has sparked a debate in parliament over the future of English football. In a statement, the club’s head of operations, Mark Bowen, praised fans and staff alike for their commitment to the club during a succession of point deductions due to financial issues.
The Royals have been docked 16 points in under two years, including more than six points across this year, thanks to late payments to staff – and late payments to HMRC could see even more points knocked-off depending on the ruling of an on-going disciplinary commission.
The club’s woes have sparked a campaign to pressure current owner Dai Yongge into handing over control to a new owner. Now, an ‘encouraging’ amount of interest has been shown in taking on the club, according to Mr Bowen.
He said: “We are in constant discussion, negotiation and engagement with an encouraging number of individuals who we believe are all capable of making viable takeover bids.
“The nature of these negotiations, the structure of these potential bids and the identity of these individuals plainly has to remain private for legal reasons and for the benefit of the successful sale of the club. It is also very difficult to speculate on the timescales involved, but I am very positive that this process is now nearing a much-needed conclusion.”
The club’s ownership question has galvanized a wider debate about English football clubs and the people who own them, with Reading East MP Matt Rodda this week bringing a debate on the issue to parliament.
The MP has called for the club to be the pilot case for a proposed new independent football regulator.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Rodda said: “To put it clearly and simply, as loyal fans did on the march last week, we want our Reading back. The story of what is happening to our wonderful club is quite simply heartbreaking. It is terrible, and I could use much less parliamentary language—as was occasionally heard as we marched down the A33.”
“The situation we face stands in stark contrast to the history and traditions of our great club.”
The government has pledge to introduce a football governance Bill to create a new regulator, involving fans and creating new tests for both potential owners and directors. Fans will also be given the power to veto changes to badges, home shirt colours, and club names.
But government minister Sir John Whittingdale said it was not possible to commit to a pilot.
He said: “I fully recognise the plight of Reading football club, as the honorable Gentleman described, and I understand his wish that measures should be brought in as soon as possible. I am afraid that I cannot commit to a pilot at this stage, but I can tell him that the experience of Reading FC and other clubs will continue to inform policy development and decisions about how the regulator is set up.”
Mr Yongge Dai currently faces a misconduct charges from the English Football League, who have referred the issue to an independent disciplinary commission.
The commissions ruling is expected within the next eight weeks.