Sir John Madejski has shared his dismay and hurt at a Reading newspaper article that attempted to link Reading FC and the Hillsborough tragedy with hooliganism.
The March 20 edition of the Reading Chronicle – which now sells just 5,981 copies every week — splashed with a mocked-up picture of a ‘hooligan’ (posed by a model) and headlined ‘The other face of football’.
A three-page article inside detailed ‘shock revelations of violence on match days’ citing ‘drunken brawls, racist chanting and sickening Hillsborough slurs’ that is ‘blighting Reading FC’ – even though the article revealed nothing of the sort.
The article hurt Sir John, who has spent years building up Reading’s well-deserved reputation as a family-friendly club that cares for the wider community, witnessed through its Academy, social inclusion projects and being named Family Club of the Year by the Football League.
In an open letter published on the Reading FC website, Sir John said: “The article itself is an unwarranted and sensationalised attack which undermines everything our club tries to represent. To paint a full picture, last season there was only one Reading fan arrested at Madejski Stadium, and only ten arrests out of nearly half a million home and away fans through the turnstiles, all for minor offences.”
He added: “The newspaper also contains a comment relating to the Hillsborough tragedy that has deeply offended many of us in the football family.
“With all that in mind, we have decided to suspend our relationship with this particular publication. We have a duty to protect the club’s reputation, and particularly to protect our supporters’ reputation. This is not a decision we take lightly because we value the freedom of the press and have enjoyed excellent relationships with our local media in the past, but we are sure our supporters will agree that we cannot allow the fans’ good name to be besmirched in this way.”
Sir John’s letter is not the only voice of disapproval. Royals fans have been quick to condemn the Reading Chronicle for its article, which attempts to make mountains out of molehill.
One such non-incident is cited from the October 26 game against Millwall; the Chronicle’s report noted “Reading FC sent two plain clothes staff to sit in the area and … they established no racial abuse had been used”.
Royals fansite Hob Nob Anyone? has looked at the latest arrest statistics available, produced when Reading where in the Premier League last season and produced by the Home Office.
Its report says: “Reading’s arrests amount to much less than 1% of the total arrests in the top tier last season. “Well behaved” doesn’t go far enough.”
On its message boards, fans were equally quick to condemn the Chronicle’s reporting.
SPARTA said: “Never heard anything so ridiculous. Terrible reporting from the Chronicle.” Bobby1413 said the Chronicle’s coverage was “a disgrace” and Mouldy Royal added: “Lowest common denominator reporting merely seeking to confirm the out of date prejudices non-football supporters have about football fans.”
On the Reading Chronicle’s Facebook page, readers have also been complaining.
Lawrence Piddock wrote: “Disgraceful article! Not only a slur on Reading FC and their supporters but you also managed to slur the victims of Hillsborough and their families too. Hang your heads in shame.”
Charlotte Hennessy said: “Good evening. My dad was killed at Hillsborough.
“Can I ask that you educate all of you staff with the following information set out by the Attorney General and that you do not make such articles again as this will jepodise the inquests that we have fought so hard for.”
Danny SeventySeven: “As a Reading resident who was present in Leppings Lane on that fateful day, I am utterly disgusted and ashamed of my local paper for today’s front page. Cheap, shoddy, ill-informed and VINDICTIVE journalism – an appalling example of local reporting and the media at its absolute worst.”
The same sentiments were echoed on Twitter, with users labelling it poor reporting, terrible journalism and deeply offensive.
The Reading Chronicle’s managing director Keith McIntyre has issued a statement saying:
“Berkshire Media Group, publishers of the Reading Chronicle wish to apologise unreservedly for appearing to link football hooliganism with the Hillsborough tragedy on our front page of this week’s issue. It was never our intention to do so and we fully accept that hooliganism played no part in the tragic events of 15th April 1989.”
But this has not pacified Reading FC fans who want an apology too.
— Kirsty Maher (@kirsty_maher) March 21, 2014
— Richard Stone (@richierock) March 21, 2014
Rarely does an article appear that unites so many people so quickly, but this is one of them.
The Reading Chronicle’s report is a disappointment and deeply upsetting for Reading FC, the town, Liverpool football club and those affected by the Hillsborough tragedy. It takes a big leap of imagination to link the Royals and their fans – known for their light-hearted chants about Bill Oddie – with thuggery and violence.
The Reading Chronicle must issue a full and fulsome apology for this ‘report’. And it has to be on the front page of the next edition and makes substantial donations to the Hillsborough Family Support Group and the Royals’ Community Trust.
Until it does, its sale will be 5,980 and falling next week.