Reading Academy demoted to Category Two

Reading have been Category One since the start of EPPP

Reading have been Category One since the start of EPPP

READING’s Academy has been demoted to Category Two for next season following a final decision from the Professional Game Board.

The Royals have been Category One since the inception of EPPP in 2012 and were often held up as a flagship Academy. Indeed, the Premier League has an annual Eamonn Dolan Award for exceptional contribution to youth development.

The award is named after the former Reading Academy Manager Eamonn Dolan, who died from cancer in 2016 at the age of 48. Lee Herron - who was Dolan's assistant before succeeding him as Academy Manager - was winner of the inaugural award in 2017. Herron is now Head of Talent ID at Arsenal’s Academy.

A number of issues were raised during the audit of Reading's Academy earlier this year, including understaffing and facilities not being fully open. For example, the gym was being closed at 5pm every day when it was needed by the players. The decision to demote the club to Category Two was ratified by the Professional Game Academy Audit Company Board and then the Professional Game Board and Academy staff, players and parents have been notified of the news by the club this week.

Former player Michael Gilkes has been the club’s Academy Manager since November 2019, although he was seconded to work with the first team last season under Paul Ince. His predecessor was Ged Roddy, who set up the EPPP itself during his time as Director of Youth for the Premier League.

Gilkes enjoyed a 13-year playing career with the club before becoming an Academy coach under Dolan and then Herron. He went on to lead the U18s and U23s.

The Academy has been hampered by problems with resourcing, staffing and facilities following their move to Bearwood Park during the covid pandemic, many of which were out of their control. The return of Mark Bowen as Director of Football Operations in May has now finally helped to provide a bridge between the Board and football department.

TGG understands that Reading will not lay off any staff because of the demotion and will reapply for a Category One licence at the earliest opportunity.

Last week Reading's former assistant manager Eddie Niedzwiecki returned to the club as Director of Player Development, overseeing both first team and Academy players. His responsibility will be “monitoring, tracking, assisting and enhancing their development to help maximise their individual potential whilst at Reading and beyond.”

Niedzwiecki had worked with Bowen at several other clubs as part of Mark Hughes' staff. Cheltenham Academy Manager Antoine Thompson also joined this summer as Head of Academy Operations.

Reading placed 12th in TGG's Academy Productivity Rankings for 2020/21 and there have been more than 20 debuts for homegrown players on Gilkes' watch.

As TGG reported last month, Burnley are also set to be demoted to Category Two, while West Brom and Nottingham Forest have been granted provisional Category One licences rather than the standard three.

The Premier League are yet to confirm this news, although they effectively will when the Academy fixtures for the U18s and U21s come out next week. These had been due to be released two weeks ago but were delayed while Burnley fought the withdrawal of their Category One licence.

Birmingham City have already confirmed they have been demoted to Category Two after failing to have their provisional one-year Category One licence renewed.

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