Alan Pardew told a Fans Forum at the start of the 2003/04 season that he intended to be at Reading a long time, or words to the effect. I remember it well because I was sat next to him, chairing the event. Within days he was off to West Ham, who were one of our main rivals for promotion from the Championship that season. So I had a bit of a go at him and West Ham in the pages of When Saturday Comes.
At the time we all looked at Pardew's defection as though it were ‘McGhee II'. The 'FSB' was always in our minds on account of his frequent, and often disastrous, re-appearances in Reading following his on-off, love-tug move to Leicester in 1994. And also because the Reading crowd, the "few hundred lads under a tin roof" as he complained, had got to him. We tried the same tactics with Pards but I don't think he ever bit.
Being chairman of the Supporters' Club or Supporters' Trust doesn't have that many advantages but one of them is a chance to get a sense of the manager as a person. In my experience they fall into two main camps: those who think you should be grateful they have come to manage Reading and those who are grateful for the chance to manage Reading. Coppell was neither and Pardew fell into the latter, smaller, camp. Pardew succeeded Tommy Burns in 1999. Burns was all big club brashness and left a ruin in his wake. Pardew, with few creds, had to pitch to John Madejski for the job, proper presentation and all.
If there was a word to define Pardew at Reading it was determination. No stone unturned. He was in my ear a lot about atmosphere and getting the crowd on board. He sent Martin Allen to meetings with fans. He allowed us to do our own pre-season team photo, with the players arranged to spell out the letters URZ! high up in the stand. They were wearing studs and I was terrified they'd slip down the steps and get injured. He even collected cash off the players to fund some of things we did - like the first, not-so-good, giant flag. You were always conscious this was a man trying, learning, noting, in quite pragmatic, almost ruthless way. He was at Reading three-and-a-half seasons, won almost half his games and we went from the bottom of the third tier to play-offs in the second tier.
Some years later when he was at Charlton I bumped into him in a hotel lounge and we had a good chat about his times at Reading - no bitterness or moaning on his part and he remembered a lot of the detail. I'm not sure but I think he and Sir John made up later - he certainly prompted one of the best lines in the chairman's song, the one about making him cut the grass (on gardening leave).
Looking back at that Fans Forum, what else was Pardew going to say in answer to that question? Steve Clarke recently took a rather different tack in regard to his job search and look where that got him! Lying is an essential part of the brutal world of football management. Pardew's years at Reading (1999-2003) have since been over-shadowed by the successful Coppell years (2003-2009) but I still remember them as an exciting and fun time - and as the platform for what came afterwards. In the long run I think we owe Pards a cheer rather than a boo when he comes back for the FA Cup Quarter Final.