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Slipped Through the Net XI

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Much has been written and spoken about over the summer about the transfer dealings from the club but less attention was given to those lads who were deemed surplus to requirements or not quite up to scratch. Over the years Reading has had a great record of bringing players into the first team and the academy is now ranked as one of the best in the country but inevitably some players slip through. So what about those players we released from the academy that probably shouldn’t have been and worse, how many did we not even spot in the first place?

Here’s an XI of those that came close but never got the chance to wear the hoops.

Victor Woodley - GK

Whenever I do these XIs the trickiest thing is always getting a goalkeeper. The whole concept of an XI fails if there’s nobody between the sticks. To this end it’s been a struggle, after all we’ve got three great keepers now and the most notable youngsters of recent years that have come and gone are Jamies Ashdown and Young and Ben Hamer who all made first team appearances, ruling them out. I’ve trawled the web and the best I can find is Vic Woodley. Not only does he have the name of a local area but he was born just down the road in 1910 and made his name at Windsor & Eton where he was spotted, not by the Royals, but by Chelsea. Whilst with the Blues he made over 250 appearances picking up 19 England caps and was part of the England side that infamously gave the Nazi salute before their friendly in Berlin. His career finished on a real high as his final game of professional football came at Wembley, winning the FA Cup with Derby in 1946.

Adam Gemili – RB

The inspiration for this blog is the remarkable year that 18 year old Adam Gemili has had. He impressed at the Olympics and after running an incredible 10.05 seconds in the 100m trials, making him the second fastest man in Europe this year after Frenchman Christophe Lamaitre but you may be wondering why he’s here. Gemili is also a gifted footballer and was part of Reading’s youth setup when he was 14. He didn’t quite make it at the Madejski but was playing for Thurrock as recently as last November. He’s not ruled out a return to football and the thought of him and Kebe linking up and running at players is a tantalizing one!

Adam Lockwood – CB

I remember at the time being a bit disappointed that Adam Lockwood was never retained by the club and to a degree I think that’s been bared out. He was one of the first inductees into the newly formed academy in 1999 and followed the current model of being loaned out to gain first team experience. He impressed in a brief spell at the then non-league Yeovil Town and when he was released by Reading, they moved quickly to secure his services. He rewarded them by establishing himself as a regular in the side that won the Conference and League Two in consecutive seasons. He lost his place due to injury and in 2006 he was sold to Doncaster. He was equally successful there as he played his part in seeing his new club go up to the Championship. Granted he’d be nowhere near the Reading team now but considering some of the jokers that were playing at the back at the turn of the century, Lockwood can feel a little hard done by that he never got his chance.

Marvin Bartley - CB

Marvin Bartley’s tale is one of real hard work and dedication. He was released by the club in 2002 at the age of 16 after failing to make the grade and was forced to make his way in non-league football, often combining playing with part time work. After playing with his brothers Mark and Michael (both fixtures of the local football scene) at Burnham he rose through the non-league ranks before being spotted by Bournemouth in 2007 who brought him into the Football League. He shone playing for the Cherries and when manager Eddie Howe moved to Burnley, he took the Reading born player with him. Last season was his best yet as he played 39 times with a standout performance at Turf Moor against, you’ve guessed it, Reading. For the record, I know that he’s made his name in midfield but he has played centre back so that’s where he’s going!

Danny Cipriani – LB

Along with Adam Gemili Danny Cipriani makes this team despite not actually being a footballer. Cipriani is a truly gifted sportsman and was not only offered a contract with the Royals but also by Surrey Cricket Club as a batsman. He turned down both of these offers to concentrate on playing rugby union and has so far been capped 7 times for England. A figure that should be much higher considering his ability but remains low due to his decision to play in Australia. As recently as 2010 he was training with Colorado Rapids of the MLS and was rumoured to have been offered a contract with MK Dons. We may never know what kind of footballer he could be and I’ve no idea where he plays but, sticking with his knowledge of rugby, he has to play full back.

Theo Walcott - RW

The ultimate of all the players we’ve missed out on in modern times is the most expensive teenager in English football history. Remarkabley he is still only 23 years old despite seemingly being around for ages but already has 28 England caps to his name as well as being the youngest senior international in England’s history. Theo was brought up in Newbury and played for his local side scoring for fun before being spotted by our M4 rivals Swindon. It didn’t take long for Southampton to tempt him to the coast and the rest is history. That he was playing so well and at such close proximity is agonizing. Just imagine if that 17 year old had burst into the Reading first team in 2006 rather then Southampton’s. Maybe he could have staved of relegation in 2008 and from there who knows!

Tom Soares - CM

This is the spot that would have been Hayden Mullins’ had he not spoilt it all by helping Reading to the title last year! Instead it goes to the brother of fellow Tilehurst End XI inductee Louis Soares. Tom Soares was one of many talented Reading born youngsters who got nabbed by Crystal Palace. His time at Selhurst Park was a happy one for him as he made 150+ appearances over five years in the senior team. His form earned him 4 caps for England’s under 21 team and a lucrative move to Premier League Stoke City. Since then his career has really stalled and the energetic midfielder has found himself on the perifery and last year even suffered the ignomy of being loan in Scotland! Anyone that saw him play in his Palace days knows that he is a gifted player and at 26 he still has time to come back. He is currently out of contract and you feel that his next move will be an important one.

Peter Osgood - CM

Before anyone says a word, I know full well that Peter Osgood was a striker and very, very good one at that but I’m struggling for a midfield and apparently he played for a year in the centre at Chelsea. He’s a player that probably deserves an entire article of his own but suffice to say the 4 England caps he received don’t do his abilities justice. ‘Ossie’ was born in Windsor and instead of making the trip west to Elm Park he headed east and became a legend at Stamford Bridge scoring over 100 goals and winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971, beating the mighty Real Madrid. He passed away in 2006 after a heart attack aged only 59. As a mark of respect from Chelsea his ashes were buried under the penalty spot in front of the famous Shed End and in 2010 they unveiled a statue to him

Stephen Hughes – LM

When I was growing up Stephen Hughes was always touted as the one that could have been. I don’t really know why because as far as I know his only claim was being a Wokingham boy. For the purposes of this team though that’s enough to get the Arsenal graduate in. Hughes’ career is one that never really got going. Being an English player at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger is often a thankless task and Hughes’ career has parallels with many others (David Bentley, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Upson, etc) as he flitted in and out of the first team, never really able to establish himself. As the ‘Invincibles’ side of the late 90s/early 00s took shape he wasn’t quite up to the standard and left for Everton. It was then that injuries began to blight the midfielder and his career rather petered out save for a good year at Coventry in 2005 when he was voted player of the season.

Connor Wickham - CF

The big Sunderland striker definitely falls under the ‘one that got away’ category and there really wasn’t anything we could do about it. Wickham joined Reading’s academy at the age of 9 and stayed until the age of 13 when his parents move to Colchester. Clearly with a distance that great it was never feasible for the big lad to stay at the club and so he was enrolled in Ipswich’s academy instead. He didn’t wait long for his first team debut when he came on as a sub less the a fortnight after his 16th birthday to become their youngest ever player. He was soon scoring goals for the first team and last year made a £12m move to Weirside where he’s struggled a little but aged only 19 his best years are still ahead of him. He’s got all the attributes to be a very good player and who knows, maybe one day he’ll come back to where it all began.

Charlie Austin - CF

Narrowly beating Sunderland’s South Korean Ji Dong-Won (who was forced to leave the academy due to work permit issues) to the final spot in this team is Burnley striker Charlie Austin. Austin was part of the Reading set up as a youngster until he was released at the age of 15. From there Austin has taken a similar career trajectory to his Burnley and Tilehurst End XI teammate Marvin Bartley. He juggled football with working as a bricklayer to rise through the ranks of non-league football before really making his mark at Swindon. In his first season as a professional he scored a fantastic 20 goals, leading the The Robins to a creditable finish in the League One playoffs. The following year was less proflific but earned him a move to Turf Moor in the Championship notching a decent 16 goals last season. At 23 it will be interesting which direction his career goes in now but what is certain is that Reading may have been a little hasty in ditching him all those years ago.

Sir Matt Busby – Manager

Sir Matt becomes the first man to manage two Tilehurst End XIs, an acheivement that I’m sure sits up there with the European Cup. Busby’s link to Reading is a little tenuous I know but it can’t be argued that he did play for the club. Granted it was a handful of games when he was stationed nearby during World War Two and never in official competition but it still happened! If only we’d made that little bit of effort to make one of Britain’s greatest ever managers decide to stay and perhaps he’d have unearthed a Tilehurst Duncan Edwards to play alongside a Woodley Bobby Charlton and a Caversham George Best, we’ll never know. What I do know though is that he’d get the best out of this lot!

So there we have a Reading XI that never was and never will be. Its reassuring that there’s nobody there that the club really dropped the ball with and released who’s become a superstar but perhaps some of them could have made the grade here rather than elsewhere.

What are your thoughts? Have I missed someone blazingly obvious? Please let me know in the comments section below