Thanks Brian - Closing the book on the McDermott era

Ben Hoskins

When Nigel Adkins begins his time as Reading manager on Saturday at the Emirates, perhaps spare a little thought for one man who'll probably be hurting more than most. Brian McDermott.

There's been thousands of words written on McDermott's departure and you can find many of them here so I won't go over the hows and whys of his sacking. Instead I thought I'd take just a few paragraphs to thank the man who got us back to the Premier League and gave well over 10 years of fabulous and dedicated service to the football club.

Saturday should have been the crowning glory in McDermott's 20 year journey from journeyman player to Premier League manager, as he took his Reading side to the home of Arsenal, where he'd spent the best part of five-years as a player.

Let's not forget where we were when Brian arrived at this football club. Reading were languishing in the third tier, struggling to emerge from the Burns era of overspending and under-performing, playing in a half-empty stadium and hurtling towards the bottom tier.

Alan Pardew, Martin Allen, Kevin Dillon and Steve Coppell rightly get the credit for helping the first team improve and thrive but behind the scenes there was a coach working hard to ensure players were coming through the right way, or more importantly, the 'Reading Way'.

While Reading's players and staff were celebrating at the Walkers Stadium after clinching promotion to the Premier League in 2006, McDermott was on the road scouting players. He wasn't one to bask in the limelight, just getting on with his job.

Ian Harte?! I thought he retired five years ago! and what business did we have signing Mikele Legsofwood?

The following season he took our reserve side to a national title, winning the Premier League reserve crown by beating Bolton in front of around 5,000 at the Madejski Stadium. That team contained the likes of future captain Alex Pearce and Simon Church, players who within five years would be helping the club back into the Premier League after the Coppell and Rodgers eras fizzled out.

Fast forward a couple of painful years and It's safe to say that most fans were pretty fed up by the time that Brian was named caretaker manager at the end of 2009. The club had slipped from 8th in the Premier League to the Championship's relegation zone in just 2-and-a-half years, Rodgers had promised much and delivered little while the Premier League's influence on our best players had left a bitter taste in the mouth. Add in the fact we'd made tens of millions in player sales with little spending and fans were far from happy. Now we'd given the managers job to a man whose only first team managerial experience came at Slough and many wondered how much lower we'd sink.

Brian's reign started poorly. Draws with Bristol City and Swansea were followed up by a humiliating 4-1 defeat at Plymouth and confidence was at rock bottom as were glumly plodded into 2010.

The respite from our league woes came in the FA Cup but few expected anything other than a defeat against Liverpool. Fans may ridicule Simon Church but had he not scored our opener in that third round tie, then I very much doubt we'd be where we are now. Although Gerrard equalised for Liverpool, it earned us a replay and set the scene for one of our most famous nights as we knocked Liverpool out of the cup with a 2-1 win at Anfield.

Brian got the job on a permanent basis and the rest, is delightful history.

That season we saw the emergence of Shane Long, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jimmy Kebe. We tore teams apart in the run-in, with five against Wednesday, six against the Posh and even four Derby and makeshift 'keeper Robbie Savage.

There was also our best cup run in a generation, with the club 45 minutes from Wembley at 2-0 up against Villa before John Carew dashed our dreams.

The next season began with optimism but the sale of Gylfi left us wondering what magic Brian had left. Ian Harte?! I thought he retired five years ago! and what business did we have signing Mikele Legsofwood?

Slowly but surely we were made to eat our words. Harte was in the PFA team of the year and we went five-months without a league defeat with Ledge in the side.

We also made another storming run in the FA Cup. Premier League West Brom were beaten, Stevenage were slain and then the Toffees were got themselves stuck in their own back yard as Matt Mills gave the middle finger to their FA Cup hopes with a winning goal at Goodison.


Win, followed win, followed win. Shane Long, a player who McDermott had taken into his family home after moving here from Ireland as a teenager, was on fire as we beat Boro 5-2. Jimmy Kebe mesmerised us all at home to Leicester and the Beast bundled us to victory at Barnsley. Best of all was a magical and crazy 4-3 win at Forest and suddenly we were Wembley bound, after smashing Cardiff in their own back yard.

Reading and play-off finals never end well but none had gone as badly as the first 45 minutes in our debut under the Wembley arch. Brendan Rodgers must have had the biggest grin on his face as he took his Swansea side down the tunnel 3-0 up at the break but with nothing to lose, Brian's team came out fighting.

Hunt (or own-goal whatever...) 1-3

Mills 2-3

Karacan! ...... 2-3

Tears at Wembley but pride for a man and a team who'd performed miracles.

Come August we were rebuilding again, with Long, Mills and Khizanishvilli all at pastures new. Surely we couldn't recover from this? What good is signing a man from Rotherham when we've lost a 20 goal Championship striker?!

Reading 0-2 Watford.... rock bottom and suddenly some were thinking the end had come for the man who used to manage Slough, but was a Royal now. A few days later and those ideas were gaining momentum as 2-0 down to a dire Bristol City side, Reading looked a spent force.

However we should have known better than to count out Brian's Reading side and three goals later, we were back in business.

Gritty win followed gritty win but come January, the landscape changed.

TSI arrived and the future was uncertain but Brian chose the hoops over the black and gold, Kebe stayed, Jason Roberts arrived and soon so did promotion.

While promotion in 2005/06 was amazing for how comprehensive it was, it never had the drama of this run in, nor the special cup-tie feel that we got at Upton Park....

Or the amazing euphoria we had pouring out of St Mary's.....

The Premier League was a different animal and things began to change. Team selections and transfers just didn't seem to work, tactics baffled us and former heros turned into booed off villains.

Despite the glum we still had one final hurrah under our bald headed warrior. January's late wins over Newcastle, West Brom and Sunderland were stunning while the two late strikes to silence 2,000 Chelsea fans singing 'We are the Champions, Champions of Europe' ranks up there with the most personally satisfying moments at the Madejski Stadium.

But that's where Brian's luck, or Anton's patience ran out. The painful losses at home to Wigan and Aston Villa sealed his fate and regrettably McDermott's final moments on the touchline as Reading's manager were having to stand there to a chorus of boos as a player who had helped a team to Wembley and a title slowly trudged off to be replaced by a player who hadn't got on the team bus to Sunderland because 'his head wasn't right.'

So there will be no Arsenal reunion for Brian McDermott. They'll be no chance to have a glass of wine with Wenger or chance to take a polite round of applause from the Arsenal faithful. Instead, Brian will have to watch the man whom he got the better of last season, take the applause from the Reading faithful, and have the chance to lead the greatest of great escapes.

Time will tell if Brian's sacking was the right decision but for a few moments, take the time to think about the man who got us to the Emirates and was a part of an era at the club that few 'biscuitmen' fans could have ever dreamed possible.

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