Reading Football Club are deeply saddened to learn that young Royals supporter Ryan Duval has passed away.
Ryan, a former pupil at the Avenue School in Tilehurst, was the inspirational spark behind a #RyansRoyals project that garnered the love and unequivocal support of all connected to our club.
Aged just 14 years old when we first met him, Ryan had been diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative condition which meant he relied upon the use of an electric wheelchair in recent years to go about all his daily activities.
Finding it increasingly difficult to physically cope with the condition and maintain control over a range of movements which so many of us simply take for granted, Ryan attended the Avenue School Special Needs Academy.
There, teachers helped him lay out a series of goals that would enrich his life and build on his interests. They wanted Ryan to work on projects which would motivate him and be meaningful. Ryan was and always will be a Royal! Football mad and a big Reading fan, the project he chose was to design a new football strip. This is where #RyansRoyals began…
Nearly five years ago, as part of the work our Community Trust do with the school, first team stars Jem Karacan, Simon Cox, and Anton Ferdinand were invited to visit The Avenue to see a special memorial the pupils had made to commemorate the centenary of World War I as part of the Football Remembers initiative back in December 2014.
Inspired by Ryan’s story, his character and bravery, and impressed by the kit design that Ryan had drawn up for his own personal school project, captain Karacan suggested the club could look into turning his drawings into a t-shirt for the first team to wear in his honour.
Over the next four months, the project gathered incredible pace. With help from our kit suppliers, club sponsor and his school we helped Ryan’s design become a reality…literally.
On Saturday 11th April 2015, the Royals first team wore a special one-off shirt, designed and inspired by this 14-year-old Reading fan. Ryan was the VIP guest that afternoon, enjoying matchday hospitality, embarking on guided tours in the players’ tunnel and into the home dressing room, featuring on the front cover of the matchday programme and being interviewed by Sky Sports News - who had followed his story from the start - before emerging onto a red carpet which took him onto the hallowed Madejski Stadium turf as our official mascot for a meeting with Blackburn Rovers.
That special day was the culmination of a very special community project and we were honoured to be able to give that opportunity to a very special Reading supporter.
And it didn’t end there. Ryan Duval’s school project was always designed to enable him to leave a legacy. His story spoke to the hearts of our fantastic fanbase who raised an incredible £15,000 for The Avenue School through the auction of those match-worn #RyansRoyals shirts. The money raised was used to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that would improve community access for the pupils at the school. This vehicle, emblazoned with Ryan’s kit design, is used around the town of Reading every day. And Ryan himself was invited to be our mascot at Wembley later that month when we took on Arsenal in an historic FA Cup semi-final in front of 80,000 fans.
Almost exactly three years ago, Ryan was awarded with the Child of Courage trophy at the Pride of Reading awards.
Our deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathies are with Ryan’s family, friends and all at The Avenue School.
A brave young man who inspired so many.