Sunday, March 26, 2006

135 YEARS Leicester City 1-1 Reading

Reading Football Club, the oldest in the whole of the South of England, will also be the oldest club in the Premiership next season. Yesterday's draw at the Walkers Stadium and a combination of results elsewhere made the inevitable promotion a mathematical certainty with 6 games spare.

Reading FC being Reading FC of course, clinched the deal in typically incompetent style - we could have been dead and buried by half time were it not for Marcus Hahnemann and the goalpost, yet with Leeds failing to break down Stoke at home and Watford capitulating to a surprise defeat to relegation-bound Millwall we were seemingly bound to celebrate promotion on the back of a loss until Kevin Doyle's late and ultimately deserved equaliser sent a corner of Berkshire in Leicester into heaven. The irony - Millwall's first goal was scored by erstwhile RFC record signing flop Carl Asaba. It was that kind of day.

Floyd on Football will celebrate 20 years since first having been taken to Elm Park to watch Reading next month and there have been few days since which can compare with this for emotion. Division 2 title and promotion clinching games in 1994, play-off final defeat in 1995, relegation in 1998, the epic play-off semi with Wigan which only gave way to defeat again in the final in 2001 and then clinching promotion the following season with 13 minutes left in the final game. Reading never, ever do it easily and yet the supporters always, stupidly, have a habit of celebrating before it goes belly up. In the concourses of the Walkers Stadium yesterday afternoon people were proudly displaying flags, banners and t-shirts proclaiming promotion, there was chanting, singing and dancing, handshakes and backslaps all round. And this was before kick off.

So what better way to celebrate in style by being outplayed by midtable Leicester in the first half and going in at half time a goal behind? Kitson had a chance in front of goal inside the first minute but his touch, unusually, let him down and that was more or less that for Reading in the opening 45 minutes. Leicester played with the attitude of 'if you want promotion on our patch you'll have to damned well earn it'. Full credit to them, and full credit to Leicester City as a club who were hospitable hosts; the stewards were excellent and the home supporters applauded as generously at the beginning at the behest of their tannoy man. The generousity did not extend to the playing pitch however as Hahnemann had to be alert to save from those lively Foxes Hume and Fryatt. Referee Penton was throwing cards around at Reading players as if it were the confetti which festooned the air from the 3,000 travelling Reading fans and then a further blow as HUME turned inside Murty and slalomed past Sonko like a Winter Olympic gold medalist before thumping past Hahnemann. Joey Gudjonsson then spanked the goalpost with a freekick as if it were a naughty child. Uh-oh. The colour and the atmosphere of 3pm turned to frowns and grumbling bewilderment inside the concourses at half time.

But Watford weren't winning, Leeds weren't winning. We might go up with a draw if Millwall and Stoke did us a favour. The half time turnaround and Reading's improved showing in the second half meant that the travelling army got to see most of the action down their end again. We were willing if not particularly able to get back in the game, dominating territorially and having almost all of the possession. Shorey's set pieces were causing trouble every time Penton decided that he should really even out all the decisions which he had given Leicester, Convey's shot was saved by the sprawling Henderson and Oster ricocheted the rebound over the top whilst Sonko put a header wide of the target. Typical of Penton's performance was that when two Leicester players clashed heads he restarted play with.....a Leicester freekick, which Gudjonsson violently smashed towards goal only for Hahnemann to keep the effort out with his legs.

Time was ticking away but the noise levels just grew louder and louder. It was apparent that Watford had fallen behind and if Leeds also failed to score then mathematically the result of our game mattered not one jot - we'd be up there and then. The phone masts of Leicestershire must have been red hot as calls and texts messages were tooing and frowing, WAP was checked - Floyd on Football wonders how the supporters on the final day of the 1925/26 Division 3 (South) promotion season coped without such information technology? Chants were ringing out around the Walkers Stadium, proclaiming that now you're gonna believe us the Royals are going up. Floyd on Football was reserving judgement until it was confirmed and official and the 85th minute equaliser, although effectively meaningless in the calculation side of things, was a pleasant distraction for a few moments. Harper's corner was flicked on by Ingimarsson and DOYLE headed down past Henderson.

Just like a team who's gonna win the Championship, we shall not be moved. But moved we were, to tears in some cases - your correspondant watched the last 5 minutes through teary eyes and even HNA resident hard man Super Kevin Bremner! was noticably red-eyed in the next block along. The whistle went, the cheers were muted as we waited for confirmation, the team applauded us politely before sloping off.....before the tannoy man did us proud again, the roar could have been heard back in the Royal County one suspects and the players, staff and the chairman came sprinting over to us and there followed a good half an hour of serious celebrating and a mutual love-in. The players celebrated with champagne and banners, throwing shirts, shorts, socks into the crowd. Floyd on Football was fortunate enough to climb highest to catch a scarf lobbed into the crowd by Super Steven Sidwell. 135 years. We were going to celebrate properly. Even the normally dour Steve Coppell smiled, he even threw his bench coat into the crowd who fought like a pack of hyenas for the souvenir.

When the happy 3,000 finally made their way out of the ground more than half an hour after that final whistle the scenes outside were just incredible. The Leicester fans had largely dispersed after applauding us at full time, and again there was just Reading everywhere; t-shirts were being snapped up again, there were hugs, handshakes and dancing as people began to catch up with friends, and in Floyd on Football's case, family who they hadn't got to celebrate with in the ground - an Uncle who shall remain nameless was leaping around like a smacked-up Gibbon. The traffic getting out of Leicester was horrendous and we were re-routed via Coventry and onto the M40 due to the roadworks on the M1. Did we care as we sat in stationery traffic? Did we fuck - the sounds of car horns hooting triumphantly were from cars with Reading FC stickers and scarves in the back.

Back home in the country's newest top flight footballing town by 8:30pm after some speed driving by Laurie '130 mph' Figzal there were a couple of poignant moments either side of getting ready to go out on the tiles to celebrate. In Sainsbury's Local, Whitley, picking up some coke and lemonade as mixers for the impending pre-boozing booze the 3 wise men in the car were pointing dementedly to the bloke next to me in the queue. Fuck my hat if it wasn't a ghost of failures past, the likeable but jinxed Trinidadian Tony Rougier, the man who scored that own goal in the 2001 play-off final loss. Handshake, delighted for us etc. Then, being driven into town to commence the binge drinking, a particular song came on the radio - These Sounds Run Into My Mind by The Bucketheads. This tune was by ITV during their coverage of the 1995 play-off final (another loss, natch). Omens and figures from the past - as was said earlier, it was that kind of day.

And what a night in town - everyone in every pub visited was noisy and in top form, isn't it funny how everyone seems to support RFC these days? Floyd on Football can well remember the days when supporting Reading Football Club was about as fashionable as wearing a kipper tie. Bumping into Uncle-who-shall-remain-nameless again was amusing, particularly as he was enjoying a night out in town with wife and friends whilst wearing his RFC shirt. Singing and dancing with many other likeminded souls in the Coopers Arms, Floyd on Football held court with the Evening Post editor discussing snappy front-page headlines for Monday before moving on to the Hobgoblin where they had teletext page 325 (page 1 of 4) on 'hold' all evening. Grown men were pointing up at the telly, and RFC the only team in green on that page, chanting that's why we're top the league. A chance meeting with the editor of The Whiff fanzine Jeff Kirkpatrick was a nice bonus, especially as Jeff has an uncanny resemblance to Steve Coppell which was pointed out repeatedly. Could the evening get any better? Yes it could, winding up in the Purple Turtle where serving behind the bar was..... one John Madejski, who was pouring pints as his name was being sung. He later made an appearance in the beer garden where he was mobbed and he conducted as his name was chanted over and over and over.

Floyd on Football finally got home at 11am this morning, just in time to miss the highlights of our game on The Championship on ITV having forgotten that the clocks went forward last night. Where the interim hours between the final drink and the hour long walk home in uncomfortable shoes were spent is, frankly dear reader, none of your business but ambling down the Wokingham Road tired but contented and carrying 5 pounds worth of Sunday newspapers (Reading FC on the front pages of some of them as well as the back!), Floyd on Football passed Cemetery Junction which, thanks to sterling research work done by RFC-historian extraordinaire Ray 'The Cube' Curry, is the final resting place of J.E Sydenham who is the man generally credited with the foundation of RFC in 1871. One couldn't help but think he'd have been very satisfied by the events of March 25th 2006, the day on which Reading Football Club finally clinched a place in the top flight of english football.

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Oster (Long, 61), Gunnarsson (Sidwell, 61), Harper, Convey (Hunt, 80), Doyle, Kitson. Subs not used: Stack, Makin.

Floyd's Favourite: Hahnemann. But for Buddy's faultless glovesmanship we would have celebrated promotion with a defeat.


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