Merging company

Tributes to former Reading FC manager were instrumental in stalling Thames Valley Royals merger

Tributes were paid to former Reading FC manager and lifelong supporter Brian Roach.

The former amateur player, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died last weekend aged 79 and is survived by his sons Mark and Stuart, grandchildren Sam, Jessica, Ebba and Greta , and his second wife June.

He had a long association with the Royals which began in the late 1950s when he covered their games while starting out as a sports reporter for the Reading Chronicle.

He later became a key figure in helping former Royals chairman Roger Smee block business guru Robert Maxwell’s plan to merge Reading FC and Oxford United in 1983 into a new club called Thames Valley Royals.

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In response to his efforts, Smee named Roach director as a thank you. He also undertook agency work for the better part of a decade for players which included playing pair Kerry Dixon and Steve Wood, while he was also a representative for Stuart Lovell.

Other players on his books included Lee Dixon, Brian Marwood (both from Arsenal), David Speedie (Chelsea) and Brian Deane (Sheffield United).

Roach was a regular in the press box at Reading FC matches until a few years ago, writing reports for the Reading Sports Service which he founded, providing match reports for national radio and media .

“He loved it,” said his son Stuart. “It was his Saturday routine and he loved the club. He grew up watching Wolves but when the family moved to Reading as a teenager he fell in love with Reading and his enthusiasm was truly infectious.

“It was a big part of his life. He loved being a director and that time was special for him, as it was for a lot of people.

“I always wanted to be a football writer and it was no coincidence that it was because of him. I always wanted to be involved in sports and travel and I also got that from him.

“His enthusiasm and passion was so infectious and that’s why Mark (brother) and I followed him in different ways in what he did. We just wanted to be a part of it.”

Fellow journalist and former Reading Evening Post and BerkshireLive writer Russell Kempson recalled how his career would not have been the same without Roach’s “firm but fair advice” along the way.

“Brian Roach was Reading FC through and through, a lifelong enthusiast of precious blue and white hoops,” Kempson said.

“Wherever he is in the world, on his frequent trips around the world, Reading’s latest result has always been of primary concern – whatever ungodly time zone he was in or whatever the serious business calling him.

“If he ever wanted to jump out of his seat in the press box every time Reading scored, he never did. A total professional.

“Brian’s love for the Biscuitmen – and, more recently, the Royals – was no more exemplified than when in 1983 he helped derail the ludicrous plan to merge Reading and Oxford United to form a club. “Thames Valley Royals” at Didcot.

“His wise advice and support enabled Reading manager Roy Tranter and successful local businessman and former Elm Park striker Roger Smee to thwart the mad plans of the crazed Oxford owner, Robert Maxwell.

“Smee became chairman and Brian joined the boardroom at Elm Park, followed later season after season in the press boxes at the old ground and the brand new Madejski Stadium.

“Telling the nation how their beloved Royals fared – still neutral, even though Reading was awful!

“And he taught me so much too, especially when he poached me as a rookie journalist from the Read the evening post to run his agency Thames Valley Sport.

“Without his firm but fair guidance, I would not have been able to enjoy the career I have had. Bravo, Brian.”

A 1980s Reading FC team photo featuring Brian Roach (front row, second from left)

Book club historian David Downs recalled how important it was for the likes of Roach to block the Thames Valley Royals merger.

“It was the turning point in the history of the club because without these brave people who resisted the merger there would be no Reading Football Club,” he said.

“I remember a very eventful meeting one evening at the Post House hotel in Basingstoke Road which Maxwell attended having arrived by helicopter and those of us who opposed the merger fought against it and Brian was a leading member of this organization.

“Without Brian, who knows, there might be no Reading Football Club, so all the club’s supporters should be indebted to him, for his work not only in the press box, but also behind the scenes.”

Downs, who is a regular in the press box at Reading matches for Hospital Radio, described how Roach was an “older statesman” among those in the local media.

“We were colleagues at the Madejski Stadium for many years and he was someone who in many ways could be described as the ‘senior statesman’ of the press box in Reading, both at the days of Elm Park and Madejski Stadium,” Downs said.

“I know a lot of people who would love to have a conversation with him about Reading and wondering about the club. He was a wonderful character and I was lucky enough to enjoy his company in the press box and during social occasions.

Femi Azeez of Reading

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“His passing will be a great loss to those who are fortunate enough to be his colleagues.

“The most excited I have ever seen Brian Roach was the last game of the 1978/79 season when Reading won 3-0 at Port Vale to win the Division Four championship and also when Reading set a record the Football League by playing 11 games without conceding a goal.

“He was a great character and will be greatly missed by those who were fortunate enough to know him and work alongside him.”

One of Roach’s great traits was his warm personality and his ability to make people smile.

His son Mark said: “Anyone who knew him knew his particular sense of humor. Even if they didn’t think his jokes were very good, as most of his jokes were, he did always smile people.”

And Kempson recalled: “Even his ironic but awful joke – that age never got better – he missed sorely. Let’s just say he never would have made a living as a comedian!

“This huge void is now permanent. Reading FC have lost a passionate fan, a great servant and a good man.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Alzheimer Society in memory of Brian Roach can do so here.

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