Reading FC in Turmoil – Sell before we Dai

With memories of Brian Clough’s two-time European Cup-winning sides a distant in the minds of the Nottingham Forest fans lucky to be alive in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s

Reading in Turmoil


A mid-April 2012 night saw thousands of Reading fans triumphantly march onto the Leasing Car Stadium pitch, as the Berkshire club returned to the topflight of English football for just the second time.


Fast-forward just under 12 years to the present day, however, supporters are marching onto the very same pitch in completely juxtaposing circumstances.


Reading Football Club, now 21st in League One, has gradually devolved to become the EFL’s club at greatest risk of extinction, a place frequented by Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, and Bury in recent years.


Chinese businessman Dai Yongge purchased the Royals in 2017 with seemingly realistic ambitions of making the club a mainstay in the Premier League, having yo-yoed between the first and second tiers for much of the ten seasons prior.


Yongge purchased the club with the promise of serious investment just days after the Royals booked their place in the Championship play-off final. With Premier League football returning to the Leasing Car Stadium just a game away, many supporters felt the club was at the dawn of a new ‘golden era’ under Yongge’s investment.


But it wouldn’t work out like this. The Royals, narrowly beaten on penalties by Huddersfield Town in the final at Wembley Stadium, have been on a slope of dramatic decline littered with point deductions, transfer embargos, and unpaid wages since.


So, what’s gone wrong at Reading?


Despite Yongge’s inherited side just missing out on promotion, he remained determined to see Reading become a competitive Premier League football club in the coming years. He ambitiously invested tens of millions of pounds over the next five seasons, but alarm bells were already ringing.


The spending appeared risky, ill-informed, and without a coherent, identifiable strategy. It was a stark contrast from the managed growth and boardroom planning of previous owner John Madejski, who took the club from near oblivion to the Premier League.


Meanwhile, Reading’s ownership appeared clueless in recouping appropriate transfer fees for their most prized assets. Despite increased spending across the industry, only one of Reading’s ten highest player sales has occurred during Yongge’s stewardship of the club.


By 2021 the club was spending 234% of its revenue on player wages and appeared no closer to reaching the Premier League, having dropped into the bottom half of the Championship in three of the previous four seasons.

After a transfer embargo was placed on the club in 2021 for breaches of financial fair play, Yongge realised Premier League football was no longer an attainable goal and thus cut spending dramatically.


The results of continuous mismanagement of the football club and spending cuts have been deadly. Reading have been docked a total of 16 points across the past three seasons for breaches of financial fair play, unpaid player wages, and failing to adhere to terms set by the EFL after previous point deductions.


At the end of the 2022/2023 season, suffered relegation to League One for the first time in 21 years.


Since relegation to League One they have made further controversial and unprecedented spending cuts. In the last month alone assistant manager Andrew Sparkes has been one of several of the coaching team to face redundancy, while integral players have been listed for sale without the consulting of Manager Ruben Selles or Head of Football Operations Mark Bowen.



Who are ‘Sell before we Dai’?


The off-field turmoil, continuous decline, and serious risk of liquidation has resulted in Reading supporters forming the pressure group ‘Sell Before We Dai’.


Their goals, as stated on the pressure group’s website, are “to encourage Reading FC owner Dai Yongge to sell up to a new owner before more damage is done to the club we know and love. Our objective is for a secure and sustainable future Reading FC’.


In September 2023, Sell Before We Dai organised for over 200 tennis balls to be thrown onto the pitch during the 16th minute, creating an artificial storm that haltered play for several minutes.


The 16th minute is of particular significance to Sell Before We Dai, because it represents the number of points deducted under ownership of Yongge. Members are eager to point out that had the club not received a point deduction during the 22/23 campaign, they’d still be in the Championship today.


With the off-field situation rapidly deteriorating and the club dangerously sat in League One’s relegation zone, the persistence and scale of the protests have only increased.


While tennis balls have had a prevalence at many of Reading’s home games this season, last Saturday’s home game against Port Vale saw something staggering happen. The fans stormed the pitch during the 16th minute resulting in the game being abandoned.


Sell Before We Dai claims the pitch invasion wasn’t pre-meditated, but a natural manifestation of the frustrations of many Reading supporters.

The sight of the pitch flooded with supporters no doubt evoked memories of unlikely promotions to the Premier League during the Madejski era and perhaps perfectly encapsulated how this club has fallen in recent years.


Reading is not known for having a bohemian, rebellious, or anti-authoritarian fanbase, so the very presence of such large-scale protests should tell outsiders all they need to know about the severity of the situation in Berkshire.