LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Reading FC

Asian backers fund Royals’ hunt to regain top rank

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Founded in 1871, Reading FC needed nearly 50 years to join the Football League and 135 before reaching the top tier. Twice FA Cup semi-finalists, most recently in 2015, The Royals were transformed by the arrival of local millionaire John Madejski in 1990, who built a new stadium and instigated an era of unprecedented success.

First playing matches at local parks and recreation grounds, Reading joined the inaugural Southern League in 1894, turned professional in 1895 and moved to their long-term home of Elm Park in 1896.

Runners-up to local rivals Swindon in 1911, as a prominent Southern League team Reading were welcomed on 1913 tour of Italy by leading clubs Genoa and Milan, even playing (and beating) the Italian national side.

Reading FC mural – Elm Park/Peterjon Cresswell

In 1920, Southern League became the Third Division, regionalised a year later, Reading winning the South title in 1926. In 1926-27, they reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, losing to eventual winners Cardiff – the 33,042 who attended the fifth-round game with Brentford set an attendance record for Elm Park.

Forty unbroken years in Division Three – highlighted by a record number of goals by Ronnie Blackman in the early 1950s – came to an end with relegation in 1971. Promotion was won five years later thanks to the unique skills of Robin Friday, the ultimate of football mavericks in an era blessed with them. For a little over two seasons, Friday had the Elm Park crowd in his thrall, scoring near impossible goals and beating three, four, five men at a time.

Off the pitch, Friday was a drug-taking, drink-all-night kleptomaniac. His ended his own career at 25, and his life in 1990, unwittingly timed with the arrival of a new owner, and new era, at his old club.

Madejski Stadium/Peterjon Cresswell

When millionaire John Madejski, raised in a Reading orphanage, came to Elm Park, the entire 20-man squad had been put up for sale. Almost immediately, Reading registered five straight wins, avoided relegation then, incredibly, soon gained what should have been a passage to the Premier League after a straight promotion from the third flight.

First under Mark McGhee, then Jimmy Quinn, the Royals won the third-tier Division Two title in 1994 and finished runners-up in the second-tier Division One. In any other season, Reading would have joined the elite. In 1994-95, with the Premier League being reduced from 22 clubs to 20, second place only gave access to a play-off.

In an epic Wembley final of missed penalties and late equalisers, Reading lost to Bolton 4-3, two goals coming in the dying minutes of extra-time, the last by player-manager Quinn. Player-of-the-year goalkeeper Shaka Hislop was one of several key men to leave Elm Park that summer.

Undaunted, Madejski went ahead and invested £50 million in a new stadium, Elm Park unsuitable for all-seater modernisation. Opening his self-named, 24,000-capacity arena in 1998, Madejski put his trust in Alan Pardew to produce results on the pitch.

Reading FC match day/Peterjon Cresswell

He wasn’t disappointed. The club’s former reserve-team manager first took Reading to another heartbreaking, 120-minute play-off final, this one lost 3-2 to Walsall. The very next season Pardew achieved automatic promotion then, only a year later, reached another play-off.

A late reversal at Wolves then put paid to Reading’s chances of an elusive elite place. It required the arrival of Steve Coppell, the goals of Dave Kitson, Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita, and a record number of points, for the Royals to reach the top flight in 2006. After losing their first match at home to Plymouth, Reading had remained unbeaten in the league until mid-February.

Tipped for the drop, Reading defied expectations, achieving memorable wins over Tottenham and West Ham, and finishing eighth. A battling 4-3 defeat at Anfield in the League Cup was another highlight. Sadly, Reading’s Stephen Hunt provided the low point, his clash with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech forcing the Czech to wear protective headgear ever since.

Last-day drama saw Reading relegated by a single goal in 2008. The Royals’ 4-0 win at already-relegated Derby would have kept them up – had Fulham not beaten Portsmouth 1-0.

Select Car Leasing Stadium mural/Peterjon Cresswell

Losing play-offs in 2009 and 2011, Reading eventually won the Championship again in 2012 under Brian McDermott. A dismal return to the Premier League led to his dismissal, relegation – and an ominously potentially long-term stay in the Championship.

In the cups, though, Reading have caused a few shocks, leading Arsenal 4-0 before losing 7-5 after extra-time in 2012, then taking the same opponents to extra-time again in the FA Cup semi-final of 2015. Two goals from Alexis Sánchez settled the tie in front of 84,000 at Wembley, though Reading had chances to win the match in 90 minutes. Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak was particularly guilty, and would soon be making his retreat to Moscow. 

The Royals suffered further Wembley disappointment two years later at the hands of Huddersfield. Jaap Stam was now in charge, taking the Royals to a Championship play-off place in his first managerial season. Omani international keeper Ali Al-Habsi duly performed heroics to keep out Fulham in the play-off semi-final. 

Within hours of booking their return to Wembley, Reading had been taken over by Hong Kong siblings, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, who made their fortune converting air-raid shelters into underground shopping centres across China. 

Within days, Huddersfield’s Danny Ward was denying Reading’s Jordan Obita in a penalty shoot-out and the Royals had lost yet another play-off final. Soon, they lost Player of the Season Al-Habsi to high-spending Saudi Arabia. It’s been pretty much downhill from there, with Championship status ever more precarious.

In January 2022, non-league Kidderminster dumped Reading out of the cup, stalwart centre-back Liam Moore declared he was leaving and former England international striker Andy Carroll bade farewell to the Madejski Stadium after a (very) short-term contract. A six-point deduction for breaching League rules on profitability hardly bodes well.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Opened in 1998, the Madejski has hardly changed significantly since, apart from its 2021 rebranding to the Select Car Leasing Stadium, after a company run by loyal Reading fans. Perhaps more significantly, plans to expand the 24,000 capacity by half have been put on ice as the prospect of top-tier football becomes ever more remote. Average gates for Reading’s three seasons with the elite were at or close to capacity – for 2018-19 in the second flight, they were barely 15,000.

Perhaps equally notable has been the return of rugby side London Irish to the capital, regular rent money and bar takings Reading could certainly do with. In 2008, a record crowd gathered here for a Premiership match with Wasps.

For the round-ball game, away allocation can be 4,000-plus, though is usually half that, with three sectors open (R30-R32 via Gate 10) in the south end nearest the West Stand. The former visitors’ half of the South Stand, R27-29/Gate 9, is now reserved for members of Reading’s Club 1871. The South Stand is on the opposite side of the ground from the hub of retail outlets. RFC fans also gather in sectors B13-B15 in the north end,  named after former academy manager Eamonn Dolan.

The main West Stand is twin-tiered and backs onto the former Madejski, now voco, Hotel, while the East/Sir John Madejeski Stand is where you find a Fan Zone on match days. Given its location in the far south of town by the M4 motorway, the stadium is hardly set in a buzzing hub of lively pubs.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

From Reading station, match-day shuttle bus F1 leaves at frequent intervals from stop WS, on Station Hill (turn first right as you head up Station Road from the station, at the statue of King Edward VII), from 1pm-2.40pm for a 3pm kick-off and 6pm-7.40pm for 8pm kick-offs. A return ticket is £3, singles £2 (over-65s half-price), exact change only. Reading travelcards are not valid.

Journey time is around 15-20mins but buses run along the same A33 as all the other traffic going to the stadium – early boarding is recommended. The F1 drops off on Northern Way, near the corner with Hoops Way, a 2-3min walk from the stadium.

Coming back, the F1 leaves slightly further up Northern Way, stop MA, from 4.45pm (last bus 5.41pm) on Saturdays and 9.45pm (last bus 10.41pm) after evening games.

There are also P&R shuttle buses handy for the M4, see below. For details on match-day services, see here.

Reading FC transport/Peterjon Cresswell

Greenwave bus 50 also runs from the station (Mon-Fri every 15mins, Sat every 45mins, not Sun) to the ground, leaving from stop SD, beside a Coral bookies where Station Road meets Friar Street on the right-hand side as you walk up towards town. Alight/board at the Costco stop on the south side of the stadium. This service is handy to get you to/from the ground from/to town in 10mins on non-match days.

The sat nav code for the Select Car Leasing Stadium is RG3 0FL. Two P&R shuttle services, the F2 and F3 from Shinfield Park (RG2 9FW) and Mereoak (RG7 1PB), each a short ride from the stadium, operate on match days. Singles are £3, returns £5, parking is free. After the match, buses leave from the roundabout on Hurst Way, south-east of the stadium, near the away end.

Parking options at the ground are limited and expensive. Permits (£10) for Car Park 3 Red Zone behind the West Stand are sold online and over the phone (0118 968 1313) up to three working days before each match, then posted out. In the rare instance that there are still slots, £15 is charged on match days, card payments only.

The alternatives are the old greyhound stadium (RG2 6GP) near the retail hub and warehouses at the Bennet Road roundabout, £10 (card only), a 5min walk to the ground, and the 60 slots at ISS Facility Services (units 1-3, 14 Commercial Road, RG2 0QJ). This is further away, about 10-15mins, with a charge of £8. This facility opens a good 3hrs before kick-off. In between these two official off-site car parks, some warehouses on Acre Road (RG2 0SA) offer slots for £5 on match days, but only use ones with signs up. Random parking may result in a fine.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are usually sold for up to three home matches in advance but only online and over the phone (0118 968 1313). In-person sales are available up to 4hrs before kick-off on match days, and not before. Availability for home fans and neutrals is rarely an issue. 

The main ticket office is between Gate 5 and the Fanstore, the one in the East Stand opens 1.5hrs before kick-off. Away fans have their own outlet in the South Stand between Gates 9 and 10, availability depending on whether the visiting club has sold its allocation of tickets.

The club encourages people to buy a Member Card for a one-off fee £5 (discounts £3), the same difference in price if you buy on the day as a non-member. Postal delivery and collecting on the day add a £1.50 levy to the price, print-at-home services and uploading your ticket onto your Member Card are free. For all enquiries, contact sales@readingfc.co.uk.

A seat in the home Eamonn Dolan Stand/away South Stand is £25 on the day, £20 to members. In the Lower West and East Stands, it’s £27/£22 and £29/£24 in the Upper West. Over-65s pay £16/£13 for either end, £18/£15 and £20/£17, 18-24s £13/£10, £13/£10 and £16/£13, 12-17s £8/£5, £10/£7 and £13/£10, under-12s £7/£4, £8/£5 and £10/£7.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Behind the main stand, the Reading Fanstore (from 9am match days inc eve) sells replica kits of blue-and-white hoops, and second-choice yellow with dark-blue trim and light-blue bands running down from the shoulders as if players were carrying rucksacks.

The club badge features on dart flights, slippers, T-shirts, beach towels and pin badges, among many other items. As the 2021-22 season is the club’s 150th, a special anniversary magazine has been produced detailing its history, along with biscuit tins containing shortbread and oatcakes.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The only bars at the stadium are within the voco Reading, the  former Madejski. Le Café and Atrium Bar, accessed through the lobby.

Home fans and sensible away supporters (no colours whatsoever) gather in numbers in the Atrium Bar before and after the game to sup on Meantime Pale Ale, Amstel, Strongbow and John Smith’s and watch the results come in. Le Café is more for snacks but also serves drinks.

Reading fans are welcomed at the Jazz Café, between Gates 8-9 at the stadium, with hot food on match days, as well as a standard drinks from a plentiful bar. Most weekends see a tribute, jazz or soul/funk play here, though the place is also popular for private parties.

The only other venues in the vicinity are fast-food outlets near the Northern Way bus stops. On match days, a Fan Zone behind the East Stand is surrounded by beer stalls (Heineken, Good Old Boy from the West Berkshire Brewery) welcomes home and visiting supporters.

Away fans are also advised to use the Three Guineas pub, built into the train station. Nearer the stadium, some fill the busy bar at the Holiday Inn Reading South, about 10mins walk from the stadium – cut through a complex of car showrooms to reach the away end. Slightly further up the Basingstoke Road, 15mins away from the ground, The World Turned Upside Down is a pub/carvery serving bottled Peroni and BrewDog Punk IPA to sensible supporters.

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