When Reading take the field to face Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon it will be the culmination of a unique community project and a truly special moment for one young fan.The Royals will contest the Sky Bet Championship fixture in a one-off shirt designed by Ryan Duval, a passionate Reading supporter who created the kit as part of a project at his school in Tilehurst.
The 14-year-old has a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which restricts his movement and requires him to use a wheelchair. Teachers at The Avenue School have aimed to create challenges to keep Ryan motivated in class, and that was where the special kit design first began to take shape.
Of course many schoolboys down the years have covered exercise books in football doodles, dreaming up club crests and shirts for their heroes to wear, and Ryan’s design could also have remained on paper were it not for a meeting with some of his own footballing idols.
“Ryan is a young lad a few of us met a couple of months ago on a visit to a local school and, meeting him, his schoolmates and his family, his story really touched our hearts,” club captain Jem Karacan said.
“To learn what Ryan is going through, it was so nice in the first instance to go to his school and put a smile on his and his classmates’ faces.”
Following the visit to the school, Karacan suggested that the club could look into turning Ryan’s design into T-shirts for the first-team squad to wear, but when kit suppliers Puma heard about the project they soon began mocking up professional visuals of how the teenager’s kit could look if they brought it to life for him.
Once it was decided that the Royals would wear Ryan’s shirt in their game against Blackburn, the skipper returned to the school to let Ryan know the news and invite him to be mascot for the day - leading his favourite team out at the Madejski Stadium.
Symon Cook, deputy headteacher at The Avenue School, said: “When we first talked about this project, the aim was to provide one individual with an exciting opportunity that would raise a smile and enrich his life for a short period.
“Just to produce one kit from Ryan's design would have been amazing. This project has now become enormous and has already had a hugely positive impact far beyond Ryan himself.
“Through the incredible work of Reading Football Club, and various other key players, this project has managed to excite, enthuse and energise Ryan, his family and his friends at the school. It has created such a buzz at The Avenue School, creating memories that will live with us all for a very, very long time.”
The shirt Ryan designed is Royal blue and was inspired by the emblem of his school, featuring trees that recall the Elms which were part of the club’s previous crest. Reading plan to auction the match-worn shirts with all proceeds helping to support the work being done by The Avenue School for children in the community.