Madejski's frugal philosophy has the Royals flushed with success

As Reading continue their seemingly inexorable march to the Premiership, their chairman tells Matthew Beard about his plans to retire rather than take part in the top-flight's financial 'nonsense'
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The tycoon whose prowess in the company boardroom has earned him an estimated £325m property and publishing fortune was unsure where to fit his shin-pads and attempted to take a throw-in netball-style.

But far from feeling uneasy about his modest sporting pedigree, Madejski has made a virtue out of it and says that it helps him see hard business sense where other club owners may have been misguided by boyhood dreams into parting with more cash than is prudent.

"You can try to buy success and we have seen it time and again in football but money is not always the panacea. One of the joys of this season is that we had a squad without anyone in it who is a household name and that is great," he said.

The Royals, who take their nickname from the residents of Windsor Castle a few junctions down the M4, now look certain to join football's aristocracy. A place in the top flight for the first time in their history looks certain - they were 21 points clear of third place before last night's game against Crystal Palace, having won 22 times and lost once. Their readiness for the Premier League was underlined in midweek when a Leroy Lita hat-trick knocked West Bromwich Albion out of the FA Cup.

"I don't follow the prognosis that if you are going to hang out in the Premiership you have to spend millions and millions. There's still raw talent there to be honed and to be had. Our academy is going stronger and stronger and quite frankly that's the way teams like Reading have to survive."

Madejski has had good value for the £40m invested in Reading since he saved the club - the League's fourth oldest - from bankruptcy 15 years ago. For that sum - which the game has paid for a single player - he has relocated the team from its humble home in the back streets of west Reading to the Madejski Stadium, which is as well equipped as one of the chairman's beloved collection of luxury cars.

Madejski's route to business success is the stuff of local legend. As an indefatigable advertising salesman on the Reading Evening Post, his proposal to launch a car sales magazine was rejected by his employers, so he put his house on the line with a £50,000 loan. Less than two decades later Madejski had a return of £170m on AutoTrader, so the chairman knows what a good investment is.

Kevin Doyle, a pacy striker who has scored 11 League goals since he was signed in the summer from Cork City for £80,000 was an "amazing coup" and not untypical of the "thoughtful" and the "cerebral" manager, Steve Coppell. "I could easily have quoted you a six-figure sum for Doyle and you would not bat an eyelid," he said.

Players in general have risen in his estimation and he has some advice for the scriptwriters of Footballers' Wives. "I've never watched it but it's a joke. How could players possibly carry on like that when they've got to charge up and down the pitch? Footballers have grown enormously in sophistication in the last 15 years." In the Elm Park days he would stand his players a pint after the game but now he knows the tastes of his largely abstemious "athletes" better than to offer, notwithstanding the fact that the Courage brewery is next to the ground.

Although Madejski is cautious about forecasting promotion, plans are already afoot. Boosted by a Christmas half-price offer, season ticket sales have reached 18,000 for a stadium with a capacity of 24,700, which Madejski considers a good spring-board for a sell-out first season in the Premier League, although prices will have to rise beyond their current £350 average.

If they avoid instant relegation, the club will increase the capacity to 33,000. The chairman is currently "looking at recent models" of promotion, and admits that there are some salutary lessons to be learned. "I think you'll find that Leeds and Bradford - and certainly Leeds - really did push the boat out and try to achieve something they were unable to achieve," he said. "There's no way I'm going to buy success in the Premiership. It's not my bag and it's not my philosophy. As far as I am concerned I have done enough in terms of this club."

Madejski is well on his way to establishing a legacy in Reading, the town where he made his fortune after moving from Stoke-on-Trent as a schoolboy. His name, taken from his stepfather, a Polish wartime pilot, is emblazoned on the stadium and adjoining four-star hotel and is soon to be added to a local school turned sports academy.

"If we are lucky enough to get promotion," he said, "I will get an enormous amount of satisfaction in having helped Reading into the Premiership and all the inherent things that does for Reading. Make no doubt about it, it will enhance Reading as a place. I also look forward to going to some grounds I have never been to. I haven't been to Anfield, Maine Road [sic] or Old Trafford and it would be really fun to see them."

Once Madejski has completed his tour of the nation's most prestigious directors' boxes, he claims he will probably be ready to retire from the game and hand over to an "Abramovich-style" successor. However, those who know him well feel he would find it difficult to walk away since the club has given him so much positive publicity. It is thought that by putting up the "For Sale" sign now, he may merely be testing the market while getting his retaliation in first should Reading suffer in the Premier League and the fans resume their periodic complains about his parsimony.

"I don't feel that I want to compete at that level if it means I go broke in the process," he said. "I don't feel at the moment that football is capable of washing its face without people putting vast sums of money in. Chelsea lost £80m last season. Who can afford that? Players are paid far too much and sold for too much. It's a nonsense and I don't want to be part of that nonsense."

No offers have been made yet, though he is prepared for "a lot of flaky people knocking on the door". "I'm not having anyone in here who is not kosher" he said.

There are still too many "parasitical" agents and it is high time the Professional Footballers' Association took over the role for all but the game's superstars. "I don't think that Johnny Kickaball in the Second or Third Division would need an agent. I don't agree that it is necessary in the Championship either."

If Madejski, aged 63, did downgrade his role, it is doubtful whether it would leave much of a gap in his life. "My problem is I've got such a good social life," he complains, tongue in cheek. The previous night he got back at 1am after dinner at nearby Highclere Castle as guest of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and who knows what further demands his "good friend" Cilla Black - she and Michael Parkinson are regular guests at home games - places on his time? Although his printing company earlier this month lost the contract to print the nation's telephone directories, he still owns 18 companies from the Thames Valley to Kuala Lumpur; a Thames-side restaurant and a hotel on the Galapagos Islands.

It, he says, would be out of the question to lend his expertise to another football club - apart from England internationals, he never even watches a game that does not feature Reading. "My heart belongs to Reading. I'm not a serial chairman. If I left here I wouldn't go to another club. I find it strange that people can do that - leave one club and go and join another as chairman or director. I don't get that at all."