“You’ve got to shoot for the stars.” Chief Executive Ron Gourlay is here to take this club to the next level and, whilst realistic in his aims and expectations, he is not afraid of ambition.
“I’m here to transform this club for the future. And we’re in a good position. We have to be respectful to the challenge ahead; this is the hardest league in the world…people are talking about 12 or 15 different clubs who could win the title. Where else does that happen? So this is an incredibly competitive period in the club’s history.
“But we want to get to the Premier League…of course we do. Our owners, Mr Dai and Miss Dai, are ambitious. I’m ambitious. This club is ambitious. And we have a very ambitious coach in Jaap Stam, who has impressed me enormously in his style, his management principles and how he works with the players both on and off the field.
“I’ve been successful in the Premier League, successful in Europe…and there is nothing better in football than those big games at home. And nothing would give me more pleasure than getting this club, the owners and everyone who works here back to the top flight.”
But he can’t do it alone. “The fans are key to this football club and I want this club to interact with the fans of the future. We’ll be transparent and let our supporters know what is planned for the future, but in return we need them to make the Madejski come alive and come here in their numbers to create an atmosphere that the manager and the players can feed off.
“The performance of the club last season…Jaap did a fantastic job to get this club so close. And there has been landmark investment in the football side of things this summer – the owners have put their marker down in terms of what we’re trying to achieve. And we did very good business. Not only in the seven summer signings, but we also protected our young players in the squad we shaped - we had the signing of new contracts from some very key players as we made sure that the core of the team, the youth, the future, have all had their deals extended in the form of long-term contracts. I think we’ve got the balance right.
“And I think we’ve got a very, very strong squad now. We’ve got to get it right on the field now and, hopefully, myself and the owners have given the manager the toolbag to move forward and improve on the fantastic achievement of last season. And the owners and I want to give the fans the toolbag to help them make the difference on a matchday…they need to tell me and my colleagues at the club what they need from us to help our fanbase give the players the extra push in the back that they sometimes need.
"Personally, I am an advocate for the advancements being made in safe standing and the club have had a similar stance in recent years – we are closely monitoring the progress that is being made on that front. But in the interim, I need to understand how we, as a club, can help our core supporters add that 1% to our team’s performance. Since I arrived as CEO, we have been conducting a comprehensive review of all aspects of the club and we are aware of some of the important issues, such as matchday travel and parking for example, which supporters want us to address. We are listening, because we want to make the matchday experience better for all our loyal fans.
"And, in return, we need our fans to be that twelfth man, making as much noise in every single game we play, home and away! We all want to improve the football club and press forward, and with the fans’ help we will give it a real go this year and let’s see where we are at the end of May.
“We have an owner who has already demonstrated his intentions to invest. But we need a fuller, louder Madejski Stadium and so we need our fans to come and play their part, be a vocal part of what we’re trying to achieve!”
The owners have not only invested their finance, but also their time, energy and emotions into the club since taking the reins last May. “Mr Dai is a football guy. He understands football. The role is for me to drive the club forward, but Mr and Miss Dai will be here a lot.
“Nothing is guaranteed in football. Investment of this scale doesn’t always give you the results you want, especially not immediately. There has been a bigger spend in the Championship than ever before, the league is stronger than it was last year and everybody is looking for success. So we know it’s going to be tough.
“We’re setting ourselves goals within the club, of course. But whether it’s this year, next year or the year after – as long as we’re improving the club, we’re going in the right direction. And all our supporters have a part to play on a matchday in helping us to create the right atmosphere for the players to perform in.
“The fans will be looking for the club to move forward and the ambition is there. As long as we are improving across all parts of the business, as long as we’re all pushing in the same direction, working as a team, that is progress. And we also know that sustainability of the club is important to supporters; the fans of this club will be here a lot longer than I will and they want to know that the club is being managed well, looking to bring success but protect the long-term future.”
And Gourlay is confident that we are well positioned for progress, with the club in very good hands. “I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with a lot of top coaches, the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink, and Jaap has been very impressive in what I’ve seen. I’m sure he will do great things for the football club.
“In Mr Dai, the club is very safe hands. He has bought into the manager’s footballing philosophy and you can see that philosophy being rolled out right down to the seven-year-olds through up to the first team.
“And me, I’ve never been a CEO in the Championship before, but I understand what it means to a club to be part of the Premier League and to stay there. And I think that experience is going to be very important to this club going forward.
“Because the long-term goal is not just getting to the Premier League, but sustaining that. And while we are very realistic and understand that that doesn’t happen within one or two years, you’ve got to shoot for the stars.”