Dream 11 

Who are the best footballers we never saw play for our club? Something like this will always be subjective. But how do you come up with a list like this? Ray ‘Bomber’ Reeves, Ronnie Blackman, Steve Death, Kerry Dixon and Neil Webb, all huge characters from the club’s past, but also players I feel no affinity with at all. That was my starting point. It should really be players I wish I had seen, that I could have actually seen. This then gives a mid-eighties to current time frame, so let me begin……….

Goalkeeper

This may be a controversial choice, but I’ve opted for Steve Francis. He was the first goalkeeper I remember in a Reading shirt, and was a good shot stopper, while not always looking the biggest. He was outstanding in the Simod Cup Semi-Final shootout against Coventry (late night Radio 210!!!), I can also remember the excitement when he arrived from a Division One club, at a time when Reading didn’t really sign anyone from that high up the league.

Defenders

I will start here with Steve Richardson and Colin Baillie. Richardson was a long-time servant of the club, and played with pace and tenacity, something you always like to see in your defenders which probably helped him get his two Player of the Season awards. Baillie was quietly effective, the perfect complement to Richardson, although though will be remembered to many as someone who lost his passion for the game at 28, becoming a policeman. Kaspers Gorkss is next up. Potentially a bit of a one season wonder in the promotion team of 2011-12, Gorkss added experience and backbone to the Reading defence when they most needed it. He also developed a bit of an iconic status, with the beard that was not removed until promotion was secured. Finally, the defence is rounded out by Paul McShane, our current captain. If you follow Paul on Twitter, and see his post match tweets, you’ll understand why he’s here.

Midfielders

OK, let’s start with a beast at the beginning. Terry Hurlock. Hurlock was the sort of player you wanted on your side. Mean, physical, with a bite that took chunks in the tackle, just ask the landlord of the pub where Hurlock ripped the door off with his bare hands!!! Next, we’ll go a lot more cultured. Simon Osborn. He was probably the player I wished I’d seen most to a degree, he left the season before I got my ST. A central midfielder who could pick a pass, and had a good shot, he was another one season wonder for the Royals, playing a huge part in Reading getting to THAT play-off final, you know the one. I like wingers, players who use a bit of pace or trickery to provide those crosses goal-scorers thrive on. I would like to have seen Bobby Convey play in the flesh, as he looked a great acquisition for Reading and was extremely promising before a bad knee injury. Finally, we come to god, Gylfi be thy name. If you want to best judge an impact a player makes, see the reaction when they go, and how long their name is spoken after they have left. Gylfi has long since left these pastures, but his name regularly comes up, if not in terms of him as player, then in terms of what Reading is missing, both in terms of tactics and attitude.

Forwards

Who else? Big Trev it has to be. A proven goal-scorer, a man who just knew where the net was. We’ve had a few over recent years, but none of them eclipse the goal machine that Trevor was. The other striker I will go for is Noel Hunt. Not the most prolific, but got his share. His most redeeming aspect was his doggedness and ability to keep on going. It’s always accepted in football that defence starts up front, and Noel worked his socks off for the cause, something a few of our current team could bear in mind.

Honourable Mentions

Shaka. It was a close run thing but I think Steve Francis shaded it on helping us win some silverware at Wembley. Steve Wood, a classy Centre-back, when things here tended to be more agricultural. Paul Canoville. His was a career that was cruelly cut short, but I think he showed enough glimpses to know that we would have had a real crowd pleaser on our hands. Lastly, and perhaps, most sombrely, Dean Horrix. A player who was one of Big Trev’s partners in crime, and sadly taken from this world way too young.

Darryl Griffin
These lists always are a bit subjective, ‘why him?’ or ‘what about…..’ These are my choices, feel free to let us know your thoughts via @ElmParkRoyals or the comments section below.

 

 

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Identity Crisis 

They say that football is a simple game made difficult. The mind leading the feet on a merry dance between consistency, confusion and all constituents in between.The collective minds of the loyal Reading fan will not only wonder where did it all go so horribly, horribly wrong but when it will it ever become right?

When Reading slipped through the trapdoor of the Premier League into the Championship it was a case of when would we return, not if. Fast forward a few short but terrifyingly abject seasons, a common thought is how Reading can stop falling further down the league pyramid rather than spring upwards.

The image you can conjure is that same collective of fans looking down, forlorn, shaking their heads. The feeling now is beyond anger and simple frustration. Those feelings soon numb into a malaise when history repeats itself so often. To pinch a quote from the song sung by Nottingham Forest fans – We’ve lost that loving feeling.

That may sound trite, perhaps overly sentimental and ‘woe is me’, but this is a game of emotions (as any Leicester fan will tell you) and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you did not ‘love’ Reading FC. For me, I think the overriding feeling I have is that the ‘trust’ I had in all the levels of the club has just eroded away. Do I trust the new owners (can we even call them ‘new’ any longer?) to do the right thing for the football club? And by that, I mean the actual footballing side and not the PLC. Do I trust the board to have the vision and strategy to resist the further slide into a League One abyss? Do I even trust the current manager and remaining players that will be here for the 2016/17 season? Hand on heart and without hesistation, at this moment in time, no, I simply can’t.

Most of us think of the club, any club, as a single ‘organism’ if you like. It sounds delusional, but hear me out. When everything works well, when we’re winning (yes, remember that?), we feel united and unbeatable on every level – there’s a palpable singularity that we all latch onto and resonate with – some may recall this as ‘The Reading Way’. The same applies when the flip-side occurs – everything is tainted and toxic; no bright side. As we have seen countless times this season, the mental and physical energy on and off the field has evaporated away. The bigger picture needs to be understood for the smaller picture to make any sense. No fan ever truly knows all the insider machinations of whatever club they follow, but for us, we don’t appear even to have the remotest clue. If anything, the common consensus would be that the owners are merely after the land that the Madejski resides on. Based on that feeling, it’s difficult to have any empathy with the fledgling owners and their cultural foibles. 

In hindsight, the many loan signings, Clarke’s flirtation and “professionalism” with Fulham, the return of Brian, the PA Guy, that ‘song’…you name it, none of it ever went to plan. We’d all struggle to find anything at all positive from recent history that isn’t tinged with a tang of negativity, but I suppose, that’s football!

As with any relationship that has a wobble, a reset button needs to be pushed, a clearing of the mind. Nicky Hammond probably saw that his own reset needed to occur also. Whatever reset the club needs, we all feel it needs to happen and soon. The board will doubtless be struggling with what the winning formula is, when truly speaking, there is none. It is best endeavours and hoping all the decisions fall in your favour. Often managers say that once the players are over the white line the rest is up to those players. Similar could be said of our owners; once the ink has dried on whatever decisions they make, that’s their domain dealt with. Whether those decisions are sound, over or under adventurous – who knows? Nobody. We all choose which side or sides we fall on; for them, thanking the owners for saving our club from administration or against them, for appearing to have no vision or ideas to push us on. Or those that think the return of Brian is a mistake or that he needs further time to develop his own younger squad. Those feelings intertwined with finances, the wage bill, the investment (lack of, or unwise), Royal Elm Park or the loss of a car park. Each one, if you dig a bit deeper, is a tad emotive and not one of them is 100% positive to all and never will be. Sadly, there’s no one antidote that can be crafted to propel us from the sick bed. Like a patient suffering a psychosomatic ailment that just cannot be diagnosed, the answers can be guessed but are not obvious. Whatever the cure is, we all wish our club to get better soon. 

Neill Rees 

Let us know if you agree or disagree with this article via @ElmParkRoyals or the comments section below. All feedback appreciated. 

Stick or Twist ? 

Brian McDermott’s return last December received one of the most mixed receptions I’ve seen for a ‘new’ Reading manager. Many, quite rightly, remembered his successes. There was much talk of the famous post Christmas runs of his previous Reading teams. They were convinced he was the right man, and swept away any concerns with references to great cup runs and the 2011/12 Title winning team.

 Others weren’t so sure, they focused on the disasterous Premier league season, public displays of friction within the squad, stubbornness with selections and formations which were failing. Whilst most people liked Brian as a person, they found it hard to forget his last game. Villa at home in the Premier League, when the atmosphere was toxic towards him and the team. 

 When Brian took over we were 13th and 7 points off the play off places. We were also in a terrible run of form, we had won 1 game from the last 10 league games. Then being forced to sell your top scorer wouldn’t help most managers. 
What concerns me is he’s making some of the same mistakes he made in his previous spell. His stubbornness with the diamond formation is baffling. We look totally open in midfield and it’s not improved us, it’s made us worse. I think even the most ardent BM fans must be struggling to understand why he’s persisted with this formation.

 Then we move to his selections. The most confusing one is playing Gunter at left back and McCleary at right back. I’m still trying to work out why you would do that when we had a left back on the bench waiting to play. Yes, I know he won’t be here next season, but to completely unbalance the team was a very brave move. With this selection we had 4 losses in 5 games. Coincidence ? Well I doubt it helped. 

 I’ve seen the opinion expressed that a good reason to keep Brian is that he knows this club inside out, but does he really? It’s such a different club to when he left I’m not sure that’s true. We’ve got 3 owners and numerous advisors helping them. That’s a huge change, even from when AZ was at the club. At least SJM and Hammond were still involved then. Now he’s got Howe, and the new appointment Brian Treverden, to deal with on a daily basis. The latter is an interesting appointment with his previous history of working with young players at Ajax. So I’m not convinced McDermott really knows the club like he used to. 

Is Brian the right manager to bring through the youngsters we look set to play next season? I think he could be a good choice for this role. Gylfi, Long & Pearce all improved under BM. Pearce even got player of the season when we got promoted !  

The argument I find the most compelling for keeping Brian is stability for the club. This is something we desperately need after the last few years of constant changes. 3 different owners in 4 years has unsettled the club and we are still struggling to find our feet. I do feel though that almost any manager would struggle under our current owners. But that’s another story.  

On the other hand it’s hard to back a manager who only got 9 points from the last 13 games, and as already mentioned, made poor selections and was stubborn with formations. I know plenty of you will say ‘Look at his past record,’ but we aren’t in 2012. Time moves on and you get judged on your most recent record. 
So reluctantly I don’t think Brian is the correct man to take us forward. But I won’t be too disappointed if he’s in charge next season as I know he’s got the club at heart. I will also be delighted if I’m proven to be totally wrong in my assessment. Good luck Brian

Paul Mann  
Let me know if you agree or disagree with me via @ElmParkRoyals All feedback appreciated. 

My first memories of Reading FC

I had been a football fan for as long as I could remember, and I was a bit of a plastic at that stage it has to be said (being as this was the late 70s perhaps Nylon would be more appropriate?). Following Liverpool because they wore red, and Manchester City (no I’ve no idea either, they weren’t doing much in the late 70s). There were two real turning points for me after that, mistakenly allowing myself to be conned into taking a bet that West Ham would win the 1980 FA Cup final by an Arsenal fan (it’s a good job no one had mobile phones to take full kit w*nk*r photos in the 1980s!!!), and being converted from a plastic West Ham & Reading fan, to an actual Reading fan. Like many people, I listened to the old 210 broadcasts during the week and weekends, and even got to meet Ian Branfoot’s squad when they came to my school so it was no surprise that I was ripe for converting.I don’t remember my first game, although I actually do. Well, nearly everything except the game itself. I went with my Brother-In-Law. Boxing Day 1994, Reading v Luton. The game itself was dire and awful, nothing happened for 88 minutes then each side had a chance (Stuart Lovell perhaps?) but it finished goalless. We parked in Prospect Park, then joined the throng as we made our way to the Tilehurst End terrace. I am pretty certain this is the only time I actually stood there. It was freezing, boring and pointless (ok I accept we did get a point for the draw!) but I loved it. Then joining the herd to leave and walk back to the car, and the queue to get out of the car park. Some things don’t change even as time passes I guess.

As that season progressed, I thought about going again but some strange (stupid??) thing stopped me. Wouldn’t I be a little bit plastic if I turned up just as it looked like Reading would get promoted to the Premier League? My friend was a ST holder and he tried to persuade me to go, but I agreed I would buy a ST for next season whatever happened (shhhh, Darryl, don’t mention the play-off!). I was a ST holder for the next ten years, and what a rollercoaster that turned out to be. I was there when Lovell scored twice against Mark McGhee’s Wolves, with the winner coming in injury time accrued from Mick Gooding trying to launch Michael Gilkes into the Norfolk Road stand. Then there for the 6-1 home pummelling by Palace which led to a pitch invasion and Uri Gellar entertaining (I’ll let you decide that!) the protesters. Terry Bullivant arrived with the extremely positive note that he could return to taxi driving if things didn’t work out. The huge anti-climax of relegation the season before we moved to the Madstad, the last home game at Elm Park ending in a 2-0 defeat to Norwich if memory served. The miserable, sparse, first years at the Madejski with not a lot to show for the time and money. Pants for pants day a turning point perhaps? Chanting ‘what a waste of petrol’ at Oldham fans who’d driven down during the petrol strikes, only to see a tonking. The excitement of the Butler and Cureton partnership, and feeling the Madstad bounce as we celebrated the win against Wigan before the heartbreak of another play-off defeat. Promotion would not be denied, and came the next season, albeit with a huge stutter at the end, ten draws out of the last thirteen games made things a lot harder than they really should have been. A thought that also applied to trying to put ketchup on your Rollover hot dog, what was the technique??

The first seasons in the Championship were good to watch, wins against Crystal Palace always took centre stage, as my in-laws always came to this game and invariably we would win them, Leroy’s fabulous overhead kick, Steve Brown’s thumping free kick and James Harper’s last minute winner (both goals scored right in front of our little party!!!). This is where the club I had come to love and I would part ways. Days were good and we were looking good but as with everything else things change. Different considerations now came to the fore, and the ST was reluctantly relinquished and I haven’t been that often since.

This was meant to be a little piece about my first game, but then I remembered my first game was ****! However, in writing a few lines I realised how many memories I do have from being there, and how many didn’t make it into this piece. Regrets? I have a few to misquote Frank, but allowing myself to be swayed into following Reading FC has never been one of them.

Darryl Griffin 

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