Wednesday, November 30, 2005


At a loose end on a day off having completed some errands around town, Floyd on Football took a trip on the Number 17 bus down the Oxford Road to visit the site of what, up until 7 and a half years ago, was the centre of the known universe.

Having visited that grand old palace Highbury only the night before, Floyd on Football got to thinking about old times. Highbury, packed in amongst roads of housing, was similar to Elm Park. A football ground rather than a stadium; entrenched in it's local community, hemmed in with little room for redevelopment and brimming with history and identity. Arsenal supporters, in the same way as we Reading supportes did in 1998, will lose much of that when they move to their new gaff at Ashburton Grove next year. The Emirates Stadium - if ever sponsorship by some faceless corporation highlighted the gulf between football's glorious past and it's penny-pinching present.

As someone who last resided in West Reading well over twenty years ago, there is very little to attract Floyd on Football over to that generally rather shabby part of town any more. The rare journey taken down the Oxford Road today stirred memories of people, matches, chip shops and times past. Passing by the many varied food and retail outlets on the Oxford Road, disembarking the bus at the foot of Kensington Road for the walk up towards Elm Park, past rows of scruffy terraced housing - Berkshire's answer to Coronation Street. Up past the Kensington Road recreation ground on the right hand side where the towering beacons of the Elm Park floodlights no longer loom large on the landscape. Those candles, the glow which used to be visible on a midweek match night from the Streete residence way across town at Shepherd's Hill, acting almost as a beam to guide the hoardes towards that evening's feast of football - as if to say "Reading Football Club, here". Floodlight pylons - something else which the modern and comfortable 21st century football stadia lack. Remember those drunken Swansea hooligans climbing up those floodlights? Some people would have you believe that binge-drinking was a modern phenomenon.

Strolling by the Kensington Road rec car park now, where Floyd on Football was once almost run-over by a hurried David Pleat trying to find a space for his car, and then right into Norfolk Road. More memories, a slate falling off one of those houses narrowly missing our heads and a Policewoman coming ask one of our number to put his handfull of change back into his pocket. The first thing Floyd on Football noticed on a first visit to Norfolk Road since the old ground was pulled down was the red brick of the houses; you don't get a much more obvious example of local identity than that. Once upon a time, the red of the houses must have contrasted starkly with the royal blue frontage of the entrance to the club offices and the (Main) Stand opposite. Alas, no longer; whereas an old fashioned football ground looked almost at home shoe-horned in between Norfolk Road and Tilehurst Road the other end side, the new-ish housing Elm Park development sticks out like a sore thumb against it's neighbouring red-brick.

Whereas in the past Floyd on Football would normally bear left at this point into Suffolk Road en route to the wonderful Soyth Bank, today it was the inention to continue along Norfolk Road and into the Spread Eagle. Part of RFC folklore, the pub was always packed with supporters before and after a game, so much so that Floyd on Football only actually visited this establishment in person once or twice before today. Two pints of IPA and a couple of quid, money for a programme if you will, poured into a Quiz Machine. The pub was nearly deserted, the landlady's young son trampling around the place provided the only background noise other than SKY Sports 1's coverage of England's cricket tour to Pakistan. How different it must have sounded on a match day as the flat-capped and the tatooed met up to moan and murmur about the latest happenings over the road.

A modest amount of RFC memoribilia on the walls of the pub was a trifle disappointing, prompting the decision to leave to embark on the next leg of the tour. Turn right on leaving the pub and left into Wantage Road, walking past where the entrance to the Tilehurst End would have been. Onwards to Tilehurst Road, via Waverley Road and amused at the boarded up Coffee/Juice shop, formerly a proper old fashioned corner shop, at the Wantage/Waverley Road junction. Amused because this wouldn't really seem the best location for such an establishment, no wonder it was now deserted!

Along the Tilehurst Road now and walking towards where once upon a time the Royals Rendezvous and the South Bank would have stood proud. Again, thoughts turned to days gone by - the different routes to Elm Park. The 17 bus route from Wokingham Road via the town centre and chips on the way home? Parking at the Meadway and walking down the Tilehurst Road, trampling through leaves? Parking in Prospect Park and wrapped up against prevailing wind and rain down Liebenrood Road? Or perhaps even the car left on Southcote Road and a stroll up Parkside Road with the scent of spring and promotion in the nostrils? It all seemed so close in the mind yet so very far, far away in reality when suddenly a road sign stared starkly without any sense of guilt or ceremony: Elm Park.

A housing development. No Rendezvous, no South Bank. Of course, Floyd on Football has driven along the Tilehurst Road on ocassion since 1998 staring wistfully out of the window over what once was. But this was different, this was walking through the South Bank as someone's front room. The slope, closed after many a powederkeg game, was no longer a puddle-ridden gravel path, more a thoroughfare into another part of the Elm Park estate. Walking across the hallowed turf, long since asphalted, peering into people's living rooms and wisely quickening the step somewhat - not wanting to alarm the residents and appear menacing with, in reality, the most wistful of intentions. A fenced off area of turf, the centre-spot perhaps?

After a short lived pitch invasion, back on the Norfolk Road now, bearing right this time back towards Kensington Road. The next thing to catch Floyd on Football's eye was P.E time in the cramped confines of the Battle Primary School, an Adie Williams clearance from what was until 7 and a half years ago a football league ground. The noise of the kids tearing around enthusiastically sounded at least a little more like a football crowd than an otherwise cold and quiet West Reading Wednesday, albeit a school-boy international crowd. A child in a familiar blue and white hooped football shirt - was he even born when Elm Park was torn and RFC moved away? Possibly not, but it was pleasing to see a young lad proudly donning the colours in what was once Reading Football Club heartland, now of course relocated to next to Junction 11 of the M4.


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