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The Cup That Chastens

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The FA Cup has never been very kind to RFC. For one thing, no club in the current 92 has had more unsuccessful attempts at winning the damn thing than us. Furthermore, our club record defeat came in an 18-0 loss in this competition, at Preston North End in 1894. How do you even lose 18-0? That is a goal conceded every 300 seconds, an exhausting commitment to incompetence. And Elroy Kromheer wasn't even around in those days. The competition has caused us misery and disappointment at almost every turn, with the occasional dark alley of humiliation too.

Ian Walton

MISERY: The draw itself is too often unkind to us. Terribly inconveniently, we have a habit of being drawn against sides from our own division. Before this season, in the 20 campaigns since 1990/91 we have been drawn to play a team from our own league on 15 occasions. Astonishingly, 13 of those ties have resulted in defeat for Reading as if the team just couldn't raise themselves for something so run of the mill, so moribund. As we toiled in the middle of the third tier in the early and late 90s we couldn't pull a top flight side out of the hat in the cup for love nor money - witness, for example, third round draws against the likes of Bolton in ‘91/92 and Plymouth in ‘99/00 which failed to alleviate midtable boredom. Both ties incidentally were lost, natch. Further back in the 1970s and 1980s, any FA Cup progress was stymied by ties against a series of uninspiring second divisions sides who were just too good for us, witness Notts County in 78/79, Swansea in 79/80, Barnsley in 84/85. Miserable.

And we've had some horribly dull and frustrating matches to contend with in recent memory too. Who can forget that wrist-slitting marathon of 3 matches against Walsall (1 of which a league match) inside 14 tedious days a decade ago? Or more precisely, who can bare to remember? Goalless at a snow-bound Bescot, we only managed an own goal equaliser and a solitary penalty in a frankly embarassing 1-4 shoot-out loss at the Madejski 10 days later. The league game at the same venue on the following Saturday also ended without score. So it was with horror that we drew another fellow Division 1 side Preston in the 3rd round the following year. This time the first tie produced a relative thriller, 3-3 at Deepdale. Back at the Madejski with a tie against a lower league side in prospect in the following round we put in a performance of spectacular ineptitude to lose 2-1. In those days, an FA Cup run was more of a brisk jog for Reading FC.

Further back, the FA Cup campaign of 1988/89 represented a chance of a first last 16 appearance in 54 years as we faced Division 4 no-hopers Grimsby in a 4th round replay at Elm Park. Reading contrived to lose 2-1 thanks to a bad back-pass from Michael Gilkes as the travelling Mariners fans celebrated their place in the 5th round by dancing around the Town End with dozens of inflatable cod, as was the fashion at the time. So long and thanks for all the fish. And three years before that, the seemingly invincible Record Breaking Royals again stumbled at the 4th Round stage. Having beaten all before them in the league that season they fell to defeat at fellow third division outfit Bury, our ultimate bogey team back in the day. Same old finger, same old nostril.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Brits love the underdog. We cheered Frank Bruno in defeat and applauded Henry Cooper's bloodied, futile efforts in the ring. The FA Cup - tin-foiled cardboard Cup cut outs, bedsheet banners and all - really scratches the also-ran itch which gets under the skin of every Englishman and while every year there are a minute handful of unexpected heroes, there are in reality rather more tear-drenched David's ultimately slain by Goliath. Twenty years ago this January it was Reading's turn. Lower reaches of the third tier we were yet we worked past Birmingham and Orient to draw Manchester City in the third round as our lottery numbers finally came out of the bag. Whilst not the Harlem Globetrotting City sponsored by Arab Oil of the modern era, this was a decent, high-flying top-flight outfit and we took our chance for glory.....and like the US Relay team we dropped the baton. We remarkably led at Maine Road until late on, but we got the dream result in many ways.....a replay at Elm Park and a chance to impress the watching nation on SKY television. We conceded in the second minute in the return and were gubbed 0-4. Still, this was an improvement on the Reading side 25 years previously which also gained a draw in Manchester.....before contriving to lose the reply by the odd seven in seven to City.

Villa in 2010 was a sickener. History was made in beating West Brom in a dramatic fifth round replay and a home tie with midtable Premier League Villa seemed a genuine opportunity to reach a first semi final since the war and a first visit to the new Wembley to boot. The magnitude of the occasion and the intensity of the atmosphere seemed to inspire the team, we led 2-0 at half time thanks to two clinical finishes by Shane Long and Villa were lucky to go in at only 2 goals down. Unreal. Que sera sera rang out from the stands as the team strolled off the pitch with their chests puffed out and the atmosphere in the concourses during the break was something akin to a promotion celebration as Reading fans hunted around for eggs to count. But our hearts were broken in less time that it takes to listen to Isaac Hayes version of Walk on By as with the spotlight of glory thrust upon the Reading team they froze, blinded by the light and allowed Villa to Shaft us with 3 quick and easy goals. A late penalty made it 2-4 but the Reading fans had long since broken down and began to cry. Reading FC, why do you have to be a heartbreaker?

Another good opportunity to reach the later stages of the competition was passed up in 2004/05. Having edged past Swansea, then of the basement division, with a typically nervy and undistinguished performance, Reading drew fellow Championship side, struggling Leicester in round 4. A fantastic opportunity to progress was passed up with another 2-1 loss at the Madejski in a game best remembered by the worst miss of all time from Les Ferdinand. Veteran ‘Sir' Les signed in at the RG2 retirement palace in the winter of 04/05 and ably demonstrated the clinical abilities which clinched legendary status in London and in Newcastle by notching a whopping 1 goal in his spell at Reading. In this game, with Reading leading, a pass across the box was begging to be tapped into an empty net at the far post, 6 inches from the goalline. The Reading supporters jumped up and had already began to celebrate. Les, suffering some form of footballing alzheimers, made Steve Stone look like Gerd Muller by contriving to almost trip over the ball sending it wide of the post and the Reading players spent the rest of the game peering through their fingers as Leicester notched 2 late goals.

HUMILIATION: Last season's third round defeat to Stevenage was - to be fair - our first taste of FA Cup humble pie served up by the underdog in quite some time. Around the turn of the millennium, elimination to a lower division side became the norm as we were knocked out three seasons in a row by sides we were expected to beat. The most painful of which was the 2000 exit at the hands of York. This was a quickly improving Reading side under Pardew in the days where Madejski's wallet was somewhat more likely to be opened than usual. A 2 goal lead at Bootham Crescent was summarily stacked and so we assembled for a replay and the chance to secure an attractive-looking third round tie at Leicester (yes, really). Reading led the replay and wound up losing an extraordinary game.

Chances came and went either side of Caskey giving us the lead before Steve Agnew scored an absolute belter out of the blue. Extra time approached until with two minutes a rare York attack looked clearly offside but play was inconceivably waved on. With Reading stood appealing, the York man scampered forward like a giggling schoolboy escaping the scene of a scrumping incident before squaring it to the spare man in the middle of the area who was in an even more ludicrous offside position and much ape-shittery ensued. Amidst the madness and the protests York had the temerity to score an even more outrageous third, the ball played forward to Iwelumo who was surely offside. Whitehead legged it from his goal and reached the ball at the same time as the leggy York man whose touch was the more telling. The ball trickled 40 yards and into the empty net. Iwelumo became better as the hapless idiot who performed a Ferdinandesque miss for Scotland against Norway, having presumably used up a career-full of fortune on that goal. The Grand Old Fluke of York, Nick Ive dubbed it in the Evening Post and Reading had the opportunity to right the wrong when fancy the same third division opposition the following season. Motivated by revenge, Reading proved their mettle.....by tamely losing 2-0.

All of this pales into insignificance when a particularly embarrassing 2-1 loss to then non-league Colchester ensured your correspondent a miserable Monday at school in November 1990, but how the schoolboys of Reading must have hid from their peers 8 years prior to that when by a similar score Reading were eliminated by Bishop's Stortford in their first and so far only defeat in Berkshire against part-timers. That said, the year following that Colchester humiliation, a second defeat to non-leaguers inside the boundaries of the Royal County was only just averted, the venue this time being Slough Town's Wexham Park. McGhee's side trailed at the break, opened up a 3-1 lead only to blow the advantage with two goals conceded in injury time as fights broke out left, right and centre under the fading floodlights. This game represented a first ever away trip for yours truly, a harrowing experience for a 12 year old and one which probably gives you a good understanding of my own deep-rooted fear of clear and present impending FA Cup doom for RFC subsequently.

So to the present and Reading face a 4th round tie which on the face of it represents a good chance to progress yet somehow you always expect an Iwelumo bearing a banana-skin to appear from around the corner. And even if we do somehow sneak through, Oxford fan Jim Rosenthal will be on hand to oversee some sort of graveyard draw for us in the fifth round. Bradford City from League 2 have this week made history in becoming the first side from the fourth tier to reach a major final in 50 years. Yet you just kind of accept that this kind of fun tends to happen elsewhere and never to Reading. Don't get me wrong, I love the FA Cup. Ronnie Radford, Alan Sunderland, Lawrie Sanchez et al, I don't tire of seeing the re-runs of this Dad's Army of cup competition. I think I'd just enjoy it more if Jim took our ball out of the bag for good and spared us the misery, disappointment and humiliation.

Thanks to Hob Nob regular Floyd Streete for the above, for more from him you can follow him on twitter @moaningmaskell If you'd like to contribute your own thoughts to the website, just drop us an email to thetilehurstend@gmail.com