The inclusion of Ryan East in our starting XI on Tuesday evening against Leeds United was a huge step in his career, as he earned his very first appearance for the Royals at first-team level. But it was also a big moment for the club as a whole; it brought the number of our Academy graduates to have come through the ranks and play first-team football for Reading up to 50.
But no sooner had that landmark been reached, than it was surpassed. Michael Olise was subbed on in the 70th minute of the game, quickly taking the tally up to 51.
Since our Academy was founded in 1999, the club has been buoyed by the success of the Academy. Under Eamonn Dolan’s stewardship, a pathway was established that allowed players to be developed on the pitches at Hogwood and prepared for the rigours of first-team football when the opportunities arose.
In any academy, not every player comes through and makes it. But at Reading, 51 have played a part in first-team affairs; plenty of others have also gone on to have successful careers in the game elsewhere. And even those that don’t can be assured of a positive experience and a fantastic learning environment, learning skills transferrable to any walk of life.
We know that our fans are huge supporters of our homegrown talent – and they have benefitted from seeing those Reading-raised players in action. Gylfi Sigurdsson was named our Player of the Season in 2009-10 – and then Shane Long the year after, and Alex Pearce the year after that. And then in 2013-14 it was Jordan Obita who took home the accolade in his breakthrough season.
Sigurdsson made Reading history last summer by becoming the first of our Academy graduates to score at the World Cup when he got his name on the scoresheet for Iceland against eventual finalists Croatia.
Two years prior, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu had been part of Wales’ incredible run to the semi-final of the European Championships. Most recently, Alex McCarthy became the first of our graduates to earn a cap for England’s senior side.
Those players continue to fly the flag. But the door is open for more to burst through, too. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, 10 new players have added their name to the list – the Academy is bursting at the seams with talent who are itching to get their senior-team opportunities. So far this season, a total of 75 appearances have been made by our homegrown players.
We continue to take immense pride in the way that our Academy operates and produces talent, and the way that the boys represent themselves. And we are even more excited about what the future may bring.
For more information about our 51 Academy graduates to have played for our senior team, click here.