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Madejski Moments: Reading FC 1-3 Manchester City

Matt Williams heads back to 27th March 1999 to recall a match between two teams who have come a long way since...

Mike Hewitt

It's quite funny to see the look on younger fan's faces when you tell them that just 15 years ago, this fixture took place in Division 2 (which used to be called Division 3, but is now League One - it's all very confusing).

And so if you want a case study in "look how much things can change in football", this is it. Nowadays Reading might be yo-yoing between the top tier leagues, and Man City may be Premier League champions (not to mention one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world), but not long ago these teams contested a third tier fixture in which Tony Barras and Andy McLaren battled against Gerard Wiekens and John Pollock in a bid to keep in touch with pacesetters like Gillingham, Preston and Walsall.

Certainly, this whole article could be spent comparing the sides that took to the field on 27 March 1999 to the ones of this season, and no matter how you feel about Adkins and the current squad, it wouldn't get any less incredulous. On the Reading side, for Alex McCarthy read Scott Howie. For Chris Gunter and Jordan Obita you have Alan Maybury and Stuart Gray. For Pavel Pogrebnyak and Adam Le Fondre, I give you Keith Scott and Mark McKeever.

For Man City, replace Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero with Lee Crooks, Ian Bishop, Terry Cooke and Paul Dickov and you start to get the picture.

That's not to say that this game wasn't enticing though, indeed Man City coming to town was a big deal, and with Reading in the first season at their new home, this was the first game for the club and fans to prove they'd built a stadium needed for big crowds.

And so, for the first time since opening, more than 20,000 people crammed into the Madejski Stadium to watch what actually was a damn important match. A Reading win could see them stand a very realistic chance of a play off spot...a City victory would help them all but confirm theirs.

That's if the match would ever kick off. Remember what it was like getting in and out of the Madejski in those first few years? Access roads were still being completed, alternative car parks were rare to non-existent, and it seemed like there was only one single-track road separating the stadium for anywhere else (which is probably because there was).

Yet still this caught the club - and new fans "only there to see the City" - short. The match was delayed by half an hour as traffic jammed, new fans waked around lost and old fans tutted that it was never like this when the club played in the middle of town.

But when the game finally got underway, Reading were at least playing like they deserved a stadium so grand. Even with Tommy Burns at the helm, and even with a team containing the players aforementioned, this was a side playing slick, flowing football. A HobNob Anyone? Report from that day couldn't fault the effort and determination on show, and described Murty and McLaren's partnership on the right wing as one of "pure excitement".

But the quality was just not quite there. City managed to gobble up most of our crosses, and proved more than a match for the tough tackling of Phil Parkinson in the midfield.

They were solid at the back, and weren't bad up front either. City made it 1-0 on the half hour mark, Terry Cooke curling home a free kick in front of the North Stand. And a City legend (and future Reading striker) Shaun Goater doubled the lead just after half time.

Cooke got his second and City's third 10 minutes later, putting to bed a game that had really been hanging in the balance for the most part. That third goal came from another free kick, and the foul preceding it earned Alan Maybury a red card. Having promised much upon signing, the way Maybury had got caught out was sadly an all too common occurrence during his spell at Reading, and he could be added to a growing pile of players around that time who can be categorised under the file "underwhelming."

Reading did get a goal back in the last minute, a consolation from Keith Scott, scoring on his debut. Scott had been classed as 'underwhelming' before he'd even kicked a ball for Reading, classed by fans as a disappointing signing when we really needed a proven centre forward to take us on to the next level. And whilst I'd love to say that Scott's debut goal was the start of a spell that proved all doubters wrong, well, I'd be lying.

Along with Sean Evers, Scott is perhaps the most common name dragged out when Reading fans need to convey just how bad that Tommy Burns period was. And whilst the actual Man City game we're covering here promised much, we were actually on the cusp of a pretty dark spell.

But if nothing else, what this game did signify was a change in attitude to football in Reading. With fans still, at best, 'cautiously optimistic' about the new stadium and direction the club was going, a 20,000 crowd for a Division Two game showed potential. There was an appetite for football in the town, and a plush stadium could accommodate for a new set of supporter.

And whilst many of us like to moan that we miss the "good old days" when you could turn up at 5 to 3, stand where you liked on a terrace and chat football with proper football people, I'd wager that it's only our ability to generate revenue from the new Madejski Stadium set-up that leaves us standing solidly amongst the top half of the 92 league clubs, as opposed to the latter. Just look at the teams you'd consider as Reading's 'peers' in the early 1990s - Tranmere, Bury, Stockport, Stoke, Port Vale, Wigan, Huddersfield, Swansea etc - which ones play in new stadiums, and which ones are stuck in their old, albeit more atmospheric, grounds? And which ones are playing in the Premiership/Championship now, and which ones have been perennially stuck in League One and below?

Indeed, the Man City game was the first time I'd ever attended a Reading game as a family - my mum and sister would have never gone to Elm Park - and not only do they generate extra revenue, but they're now also fans of a club they never thought they'd care for.

Same goes with my other half - she didn't attend this game but there's no chance she'd have started going as regularly as she did if she had to stand on a cold terrace every week. Now she's been a season ticket holder for 12 years, and goes to most away games too. You won't find many more feverent Reading fans.

And sure, I do miss a lot of the grittier elements of football, I do sometimes despair at how the game has become sanitised, and I do want to slap the kid next to me when he counts down the last 20 seconds of the match on the big screen. But moving to the Madejski has at least helped make sure that kid and tons like him will grow up as Reading fans, not Man Utd fans who sometimes go along and watch their local club too. We all have to start somewhere.

Yes, the 1998/99 season was a new era in the history of Reading FC. And the Man City game was the biggest proof of it so far.