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Are tennis ball protests harming Reading’s results?

In June of last year, Reading fans set up a pressure group to encourage owner Dai Yongge to sell the club. The group, appropriately named ‘Sell Before We Dai (SBWD)’ was set up following Mr Dai’s failure to pay wages on time and in full on multiple occasions in the 2022/23 season, resulting in the club being charged by the EFL. These charges and points deductions ultimately relegated Reading to League One, who would have survived without deductions.


As protests started at the beginning of the 2023/24 season, SBWD dabbled with a few ideas for protests in and around league fixtures and the Reading area. For the first game of the season against Peterborough United Reading fans hosted a ‘sit-in protest’. At the same time, electronic boards around Reading train station displayed the message ‘Sell Before We Dai’.


In September, the protests began to escalate with the introduction of the tennis ball protests. The first of which took place in Reading’s home league game against Bolton Wanderers, a game in which Reading went on to get a shock 2-1 win. All of the tennis ball protests have taken place in the 16th minute of the game, a nod to the 16 total points Reading have been deducted during Dai Yongge’s tenure.

This was followed by another protest of the same nature in the following five home league matches, with results of two draws, two losses and one win against relegation rivals Carlisle United. In that time, Reading continued their cup runs in both the FA Cup and Bristol Street Motors Trophy, albeit against weaker teams. But for the article's sake, it is important to note that no tennis ball protests took place in these cup matches.


The most publicity the protest received was in Reading’s televised FA Cup match away to Eastleigh. Before that game, ITV spoke to Reading’s Director of Football Operations, Mark Bowen, who revealed that he not only supports the protests but also that he and Ruben Selles had forfeited their wages for November to ensure other staff could be paid in full. Again, in the 16th minute of that match, Reading fans expressed their frustration, this time by adding fake money to the tennis balls being thrown onto the pitch.

This was, and still is, the biggest in-game protest Reading fans have done with a significant impact on the game and even more media coverage. However, the adverse effect of this was that it was the worst result Reading had recorded since the protests began, losing 2-1 to a National League Side.


3 days later, Reading won again in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy against Charlton Athletic, a match which was not targeted with a protest. The last of the tennis ball protests came against Barnsley on the 9th of December, despite Barnsley being much higher up the table Reading again lost.


Results and points have been hard to come by for Reading this season, despite building an exciting squad with many young and promising players invested in the project sold to them. It is entirely possible that the off-field mess has affected the players and results on the pitch, and this is likely to have been heightened by the protests interrupting games.


Of the eight games which have seen protests take place, Reading only won twice. It is important to note the strength of the teams which Reading faced during that time, playing three of the current top six. At this stage, points are all that matter for Reading and since the protests have stopped Reading have gone undefeated in the league picking up draws against promotion-chasing Oxford United and Peterborough United. Along with hard-fought home wins against relegation rivals Wigan Athletic and Exeter City.

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