Royal Republic 

When the editor dropped me a line and asked me to do a bit about Ireland, I got a little bit excited as you do, Guinness, Dublin, Jamesons, Croke Park. Then I realised he actually meant Irish players. I pondered what qualifications do I have for this? My father’s side came from Norfolk, and my mother’s from Kent (with a wee bit of Scotland a few generations back!), so in the eyes of Jack Charlton, that makes me perfect (little 90s Irish squad selection joke there…..).

Last season we had Cox, Quinn and McShane. Delve into the more recent past and you get the Hunt boys, Doyle, Long, Kelly, Pearce, Bennett, Harte, and if you go further back in time you find Houghton and Maybury. So what can we discern from this? What you can gain from our recent history with Irish internationals, is that there is no one way to trace or record how they arrive at our club. Some have arrived in the twilight of their career, while others we developed ourselves, while yet more have arrived mid career. Maybe a couple of comparisons would help??

When you consider the players that arrived in the twilight of their career, the two that stand out are Ray Houghton and Ian Harte. Both had long careers with the Republic’s international squad (73 caps and 63 caps respectively). Houghton arrived as Bullivant took over the club, a season that promised much but only delivered relegation. A sad, but perhaps very Reading way, of saying goodbye to Elm Park. He stayed for the first season at the Madstad, playing over 40 times for the Royals with a solitary goal again Manchester City. Houghton was a busy player, but this was a very poor Reading team. Harte, on other hand, came on an out of the blue transfer from Carlisle. While there was no doubting his pedigree, there was a perception that he was past it, and was too slow to be any good. How wrong were we? He made the PFA Team of the Year two years running in the Championship, and provided a significant contribution to Reading’s second promotion to the Premier League. It’s a bit sad to think that both players left the Madstad off the back of relegation seasons, maybe a thought to ponder if we look at ‘veteran’ Irish free transfers in the summer??!!

Next up you have the players we have go in young and looked to develop. This is a field we have dabbled in a lot over recent years. Getting youth players in for free or a pittance, in the hope you can unearth a gem is something many clubs have do, if not to create millions, then to at least add decent players to your squad. This will always be a bit of a punt, hit or miss. The hit that stands out here, more than any is Shane Long. A Gaelic footballer and Hurler, with not much football pedigree, who arrived as part of the Doyle deal (yes, I know I could say Kevin, but he virtually went straight into the first team didn’t he?). Shane spent a few years developing, before really coming to the forefront when Doyle left. A number of seasons leading the line led to full Irish caps and a big money onwards to West Brom. Compare this with the recently released Pierce Sweeney. A centre back who arrived with a lot of promise in 2012, he was the captain of the U21 team that won the Premier League Cup in 2014, but somehow he never seemed to kick on from being on the fringes of the first team in Nigel Adkins time, to becoming an actual first teamer. He has watched Jake Cooper bypass him and become a first-team regular. It really was probably not a surprise that he was released this summer.

Finally we come to established players we’ve bought in. Two you could look at here are Noel Hunt and Simon Cox. What makes Cox different is that he was a youth player for Reading, before making his career with Swindon, West Brom and Forest before coming back. After a goal spurt in his opening games, Cox went on a barren run of form that continued through a loan spell at Bristol City, and to his return to Reading. Having arrived with the image as something of a goalscorer (to be honest I think this was mainly from his Swindon period!!), we all wished him well as a local boy playing for the team, and alas, it did not work out in the end, with Cox also leaving this summer. Hunt, on the other hand, was a bit of a dark horse to me. I must admit I did wonder, initially, if we were signing him to keep Stephen happy. Glad to say I was proved wrong. Hunt was never prolific, but he was a willing workhorse for whoever he played alongside, and his constant running meant that defences could never be comfortable when he was around. We could probably have done with him still around if we’re honest!!!

Ultimately, there is no rhyme or reason, to whether a player will be a success for your club, whatever stage of their career they may join at.

Darryl Griffin 

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Welsh Wonders 

The Euros are nearly here so here at ElmParkRoyals.com we have decided to do a series of articles focussing on Reading players past and present who earned international caps for teams at this summers Championship.

It’s been 58 years since Wales last qualified for a tournament so I thought I shouldn’t hang around with this article. Any country that includes Simon Church in their squad might not be busy in the summer again any time soon.

So let’s get cracking. Well, how can I put this? We’ve had a mixed bag of Welsh players over the years. Quite frankly some of them have been bang average. Who remembers Nigel Stevenson’s 3 appearances in the 85/86 season? Nope, me neither, and I was at the games. We also wish we could forget Paul Bodin’s illustrious career.

But there have been some crackers, Ady Williams being a stand out one. Ady was born in that hotbed of Welsh football, Bracknell. He was a proper player, decent on the ball and wasn’t scared of a tackle. He also loves the club, always a nice bonus. My favourite memory of Ady is from the final league game of the 94/95 season when he scored a powerful header against Charlton.

Now here’s one for the older fans: Linden Jones. Technically Lindon never got a full cap, but he did get a few under-21 appearances, but I’m making the rules for this article, so he’s included. Lindon was a good solid fullback but one day he went a bit crazy. Bearing in mind that he hadn’t scored for 10 months, he scored 2 goals in 5 minutes against Sunderland in the F.A. Cup 4th round in 1990. This was after he’d given away the opening goal with some calamitous defending in the first minute. This game, and his tache are the reasons he’s always been a cult hero.

Lee Nogan started at Oxford United. I was far from convinced that we should be signing a man with this previous conviction, but he helped me understand that a person can change and learn from a previous misjudgement. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his role in the 94/95 season team. He linked up brilliantly with Osborn, who constantly seemed to find him with throughballs. My favourite memory of Lee is from the Tranmere home game in 1995. Friday night game, top of the table clash, 1-1 in injury time. Nogan was through on goal from another Osborn pass and he slotted home the winner. The South Bank went crazy all around me, one of the noisiest nights I ever experienced at Elm Park. A magical moment!

I think it would be remiss of me not to mention a couple of other Welsh players who also represented the club: Jeff Hopkins was an important part of the ’95 squad and John Oster, who played for us during our most successful period.
So those were a few of my favourite Welsh players. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites too, feel free to share them in the comments section below or via @elmparkroyals.
Paul Mann

Friendly fire 

Safety off. Take aim *blam blam blam*. Another Reading fan shot down for being ‘plastic’. Blue on blue, or if you would prefer, blue and white on blue and white. The funny thing about friendly fire is that that is the last thing it ever is. A hierarchy of fandom, ‘I’m a better fan than you’, ‘you’re not a true fan unless…..’ and wait for it ‘you’re just a plastic!’. Whoever would have thought a simple phrase could raise such hackles?
 
In the old days, well as I remember them, plastic had a meaning that does not seem to apply now. Plastic fans were those true turncoats who flim-flammed from team to team as the mode and circumstance took them. More often than not, this would take the form of switching allegiance as different teams reached the top. Liverpool one season, Blackburn the next, Manchester United the season after, before moving on to Chelsea. Never supporting a team long enough to develop any true allegiance, to create a lasting bond. A classic example of this was a cousin of a workmate, declaring himself to be a ‘diehard’ Manchester United fan, albeit with the minor proviso he didn’t know where Manchester was.
 
Somewhere down the line this changed though. Now you are plastic if you don’t go to enough games, although ‘enough’ is an epithet at the discretion of the accuser. Take for instance a fan I saw termed as being ‘plastic’ last week on Twitter. To the accuser he is ‘plastic’ because he dares to comment on the club without going to many home games.That singles him out as not being a ‘true fan.’ Yet those of us privileged to know him know he lives in a foreign country, so he probably shows more dedication to get to games than a large number of our fans.

Younger fans were not around for the Elm Park days, or the early times at the Madstad. Some of these times truly were awful, and fans showed an enormous amount of dedication to go week in and week out (5400 people against Bury at the Madstad in 1999 anyone?) This is not a dig, because if you weren’t alive, you couldn’t go.
 
People’s circumstances change. Fans don’t always drift away from the club because of the football. Most people have a finite amount of income, and as life progresses, different priorities take hold, which means sometimes the football has to take a back seat. As you get older, you have a mortgage/rent to pay, food to buy, children, and this is before you factor in anything like illness. Choices are made and people no longer go. You have to be sure that you make the best use of money you spend, and if the football is not providing the value you expect, you may look to spend your money on something else. To some this is bordering on treasonous, but many of us have seen our incomes reduced, and belts have had to be tightened.
 
To some I would be regarded as plastic. I have had to make choices about what I spend my money on, and I still have to. I haven’t been to the Madejski for more seasons than I care to admit, and I don’t expect that changing any time soon. I follow the club though, on whatever means I can, and sniff around for gossip like the best. Yet someone out there will say I am not a true fan of the club. I don’t go, ergo, I don’t contribute, therefore I should be denied input. It’s a view, but I also remember that I was a season-ticket holder for some dire tripe, and those that went to Elm Park in the seventies and earlier probably saw a lot worse. These were also dedicated true fans, do not forget that. We served our time, we earned our input.
 
I guess the lesson from this is simple: The next time a fellow Reading FC fan enters your crosshair, before your release the safety, take a moment, and to alter a certain chant, ponder, ‘Where WERE you when we were truly shit?’

Darryl Griffin

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