The 2011/12 season will be the 20th anniversary of RFC's return to their traditional blue and white hoops. Club colours are a source of great pride to supporters of any clubs, especially clubs like Reading where we are bereft of trophies and glory and hang onto such trifling matters of livery in order to claim some sort of identity for ourselves. The fact that our gloriously beautiful colours were ripped off by the cockney spivs of QPR in the 1960s matters not to RFC followers, for we know that we can claim to having originated a blue and white kit more than 90 earlier.
RFC have celebrated this anniversary by releasing a home strip which is - literally - half decent. Due to a ludicrous league rule about two-tone strips, the reverse of the home shirt this coming season is all white, allegedly for the benefit of clueless media types (remember - 'I HOPE YOU CAN READ THIS, BRIAN MOORE?
', the very best banner on display during the 1995 play-off final at Wembley). However, the shirt itself retains a retro-70s Bukta-look, resplendent with collar. And best of all - a return to white shorts.
Team group photos of those 1871 pioneers show our forefathers bedecked in caps, blue and white hooped shirts and white
knickerbockers. I am not going to get all Anders Breivik about this, but if it was good enough for Mr Sydenham 140 years ago it should be good enough for us now. There was a time in the 1950s and 1960s where RFC wore all white and then sky blue home shirts but these seemed unpopular with the supporters and the club returned to the hoops, only to ditch them again in 1983 under the brave new world of Roger Smee. One suspects that supporters back then were just happy enough to have a club to support after Maxwell's merger mutterings and were not minded to kick up much fuss about the club colours. But in the fanzine era, Taking The Biscuit fanzine were particularly vocal about a return to traditional hoops and finally in 1992 post-Moynihan and Bassett, the football club seemed to give a damn about the feelings of the supporters and our colours were reinstated. That 1992/93 effort was also accompanied by white shorts, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Negative Jeff.
So what prompted me to realise this significant anniversary? Well, it was the lend of a friend's home videos. No, nothing like that - although in a way what I had borrowed was seedier than porn. I had borrowed a grainy VHS-to-DVD transfer of RFC goals videoed from local ITV news throughout the 1992/93 season; a labour of love of record-stop-eject-record-stop-eject proportions ad nauseum, chronicling Mark McGhee's second season as RFC manager. The summer of 1992 was an angry and confusing time both locally and nationally; the Tories had recently won a barely conceivable 4th consecutive term in office, Graham Taylor's England with Keith Curle at right back had unsurprisingly flopped in Euro '92 (Brolin-Dahlin-Brolin!
) and Reading found themselves 'promoted' to Division 2 having finished only 12th in Division 3 the previous May, thanks to the Behemoth that was the FA Premier League. To have this uncertain period encapsulated in video highlights of the-way-we-were
football-wise way back then really is quite something, and one suspects that should Hugh Scully and Tony Robinson ever come across this sacred, rare DVD footage they would have an almighty tug-of-war over this antique time-capsule of a period where the step haircut and Tab-clear cola were in vogue.
1992/93 was also a transitional period for local broadcasting. I don't know if you're familiar with ITV franchising policy, but in late 1992 it was announced that TVS were losing their franchise to Meridian Broadcasting come January 1st 1993 and the flagship Coast-to-Coast news magazine was to be replaced with a Meridian equivalent. Many of the presenters kept their jobs under the reshuffle, others were to lose theirs and tragically Fred Dineage's glasses were to be found on a rock just off Hayling Island, discovered by a mournful, wailing Fern Britton. Football - as with life - carries on however, and the footage commences.....not at Elm Park but at Selhurst Park, for this is a veritable treasure-trove of footage for the southern football fan due to the vagueries of record-stop-eject and the often fleeting footage provided, our time lord manages to also record the goals and highlights not just for Reading, but also for Southampton (top dog in the south at the time), Pompey, Bournemouth and Brighton.
An indication of perceived south coast bias of TVS is shown by the fact that Alan Shearer's debut for Blackburn at Palace is covered, solely due to him having signed for mega-bucks from Southampton. The action soon moves on to Victoria Park, Hartlepool where Jimmy Quinn lobs Reading in front on his debut, but the Royals are soon struggling. Mark McGhee scores a belting finish in a draw with Orient, but a home defeat to Hull follows and Reading end the game with ten men due to Lea Barkus displaying some petulant retaliation. There is some great violence throughout actually; Jimmy Quinn clouts Exeter's Peter Whiston with a right hook which makes Leigertwoods assault on Craig Bellamy look like a Facebook poke and at the end there is some glorious footage of the infamous Swansea riot.
The action is chiefly described by David Bobin, who looks rather like Alan Partridge of The Day Today vintage - you almost expect him to describe yet another Jimmy Quinn imperious header as being 'liquid football'. Bobin gets bumped off in the new year to be replaced by the side-parted Chris Maughan who seems almost unashamedly proud to more than hint at his support for Reading. Good man. Bobin and Maughan introduce us to familiar names throughout; Adrian 'Andy' Cole scores early on for Bristol City against Pompey, Steve Foster's iconic headband is on display for Brighton and Steve Cotterill - Pompey manager of late - cannot stop scoring for the Seagulls, although not as prolifically as Guy Whittingham for Pompey. Nicky Hammond is shown conceding a soft goal for Swindon at Fratton Park, Peter Shilton similarly for Plymouth at Elm Park and Robert Codner is sent off for two violent bookings for Brighton.....the second of which decapitates one Chris Makin. Adie Williams is later shown red for a soft looking elbow on.....Eamon Dolan.
The grounds themselves are cause for nostalgia too. The Taylor Report is a few years old by now, but the suggested improvements haven't really kicked in. As well as lovely old EP, Fratton Park retains an unusual air of charm with two open ends and Brighton's Goldstone Ground is epic, all mesh fences and pens with an open terrace along the side. Fantastic. At the Goldstone, as Reading begin to find their feet, for some reason the home side are wearing their away kit as a Lovell goal gives us the win but Reading themselves are forced to wear firstly Huddersfield's awful away shirt - as Shaka saves a pen in his breakthrough season - and then later on Wigan's red number on their travels. At Watford in the Coca-Cola a 2-2 draw is earned with the defending on both sides part OFSTED-failing schoolboy standard.
It's not all football though, no sir - the remote control presumably went missing as the sports desk rambles cheerfully on about yachting, Poole Pirates, Havant rugby and best of all dirt-track biking from Sussex where only a smiling Peter Purves is missing. There are heroes and villains on display throughout; Adie Williams takes a long ball on his chest, turns the defence and crashes home a consolation goal at the Vetch Field with aplomb not usually seen from a centre-half whilst Stockport's Andy Preece is sent off for GBH on Bournemouth's keeper. Pompey's game at Oxford ends in 'An American Tail' - Fieval, having blown a 5-2 lead.
The plot thickens with a Reading cup run. Royals dismiss Birmingham frm the FA Cup despite a centre-half playing in goal saving a Quinn penalty. The league form dips as James Lambert rises to stardom in the cup, a 2-3 Elm Park loss to Exeter with Grecians right-back Scott Hiley scoring a hatrick is rather disconcertingly slack and that is followed up by a 2-4 loss at home again against Stockport with Kevin Francis - the black Matthieu Manset - running riot. It all starts to go to pot with Lambert on trial at Monaco (he was last seen working for Westcoast by the way, Jordan Obita take note) and Tom Jones finding It's Not Unusual to be on the receiving end of a fierce Parky tackle.....this one breaking his leg in training.
However, Meridian take the baton from TVS in the new year and the new broom at ITV sweeps Reading on to a long unbeaten run, we even get a cup draw at Premier League Manchester City. John Madejski launches into an emotional diatribe about vandals setting fire to an electricity box at Elm Park but the only home fire burning is on the pitch where McGhee's men notch up seven successive home wins and we're on the periphery of the play-offs. Michael Gilkes is in sparkling form, leaving defenders for dead and scoring a series of important winners by outpacing his fullback and shooting across the keeper; it is stirring stuff which frankly makes Jimmy Kebe look like Michael Meaker. One of those home wins in secured after a thrilling win in the 'southern derby' with Bournemouth, who peg us back to 3-2 from being 3 goals down. Bournemouth's second goal is celebrated enthusiastically on the Town End terrace by a Cherries fan in flat cap and driving gloves.
Ultimately we just miss out on the top 6 and the season ends with Swansea fans having a good old riot at Elm Park with some Meridian footage which would give Danny Dyer an erection. Chief Inspector Keep of TVP was expecting a carnival atmosphere but bemoans down the camera lens that "that wasn't carnival, that was out-right.....damage!" Let us hope that our play-off conquerors return to top flight football doesn't also descend into mindless, bloody violence
as David Bobin, sorry Alan Partridge might put it. The footage ends on a happy note though; Mark McGhee signs a 3 years contract 'til 1996 and he talks of european football at Elm Park in years to come. We'll have to see how that pans out, but firstly over to Carl Tyler with the weather.....
[This post is dedicated to South Downs Royal, a huge fan of the bLOLog