Fool me three times, shame on football? Reading FC and KSV Roeselare’s shared ownership nightmare should be a wake-up call for all football fans

With the news breaking today that Reading FC’s owner Dai Yongge looks set to sell the sides state of the art training facility to League One rivals Wycombe Wanderers, its another stark reminder of the negative impact that Yongge has had on every football club he has ever owned. In Belgium, KSV Roeselare’s fate under the Chinese billionaire was much the same as what Reading FC are currently going through. In 2016 Yongge acquired the club, which by 2020 ceased to exist. The now former clubs final Instagram post is a picture of an empty stand with the caption ‘Out of sight, never out of heart’.

Belgian clubs having financial difficulty and then either folding or merging with another side is nothing new. Yet, as the old saying goes; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Of the Chinese owners two clubs he owned alongside Reading FC, both begin their Wikipedia entries with ‘was a professional football club’. Beijing Rehne was the second side dissolved under the ownership of Yongge, a year after KSV Roeselare ceased to exist.

Yongge took over Roeselare following the sides ninth place finish in the Belgian second tier. The side went on to finish fourth once and fifth twice before ending the 2019/2020 season in seventh. However, by then they had been declared bankrupt after the funding was pulled by Yongge and his sister Dai Xiu Li. Hopes of a takeover in the summer that never materialised meant that, like Reading now, KSV were at the hands of an owner who had no interest in the club. After clearing the debt owed in September 2019, the club even released a statement saying that ‘The club is financially sound and continues to have the full support of the owner to succeed’. How many times have Reading FC fans heard the same thing from Yongge and his team over the past few months?

Fast forward a year after the statement and KSV Roeselare had been relegated to the third tier of Belgian football and ceased to exist. Back in the noughties, Roeselare had enjoyed five seasons in the Belgian top flight, flirting with relegation each season but surviving until the end of the 2009/2010 season. That fourth place finish in 2016/2017 ended in a similar way to how Reading’s first half season under Yongge ended. They made the promotion play-off final, which back then saw the winners of phase one and phase two in the league compete in a two-legged play off. Antwerp were victorious over both legs, and like Reading in their play-off final loss to Huddersfield, the side did not get close to promotion following that defeat.

With the reported sale of the Bearwood training ground, and the fact that Yongge also owns the Select Car Leasing Stadium, formerly know and still referred to by many Royals fans as the Madjeski Stadium, there will are questions as to what anyone looking to buy the club is actually getting in return? Roeselare’s old stadium, the Schiervelde Stadion, has been used by Club Brugge’s youth side, Club NXT, who now operate in the Belgian second tier. Quite a sting for fans whose local ground is now being used to help develop talent for on of Belgium’s biggest sides. This is not to blame Club Brugge in anyway, as it does mean the stadium is at least still being used for football.

Yet even with Yongge now no longer involved in Belgian football, the issue of ownership and stewardship of peoples football clubs is still a major issue. In recent years we have lost clubs in Mouscron, Lokeren and Virton. Roeselare’s fate is also one that many in Oostende are also experiencing. Unlike Reading, the club have at least got an administrator in who is taking the sale of the club seriously, and there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. The side, like Reading, are continuing to fight for survival on the pitch.

In Kortrijk, Vincent Tan has appeared to pull the same move as Yongge, trying to sell the club, failing and then allowing it to slide towards an inevitable relegation. There were some moves in January to try and avoid the slide, and the players and head coach Freyr Alexandersson have tried to turn things around. But the side remain bottom, and Tan is certainly responsible for what has happened there.

Belgium and England are not the only countries were owners have come in and destroyed a communities football team. It is also a reminder of why, in Germany especially, fans are so protective of their 50+1. It may hamper their competitiveness financially with other leagues, but at least they can be confident that they will have a team to support.

That a football owner can own three clubs, each of which is going in the same way, should really be a wake up call for football and its fans. However, as the teams at the top continue to spend as if there is nothing wrong with how the game is functioning lower down, it feels like Reading will follow Roeselare and nothing is likely to change. Football has an ownership issue.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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