Precarious, is how one could describe the Royals predicament of late. With league form alternating at a stroke of a metronome, the season could have a tense finale. Looking through the RFC history books, there’s another potentially worrying trend reoccurring this season: Progression in the Cups hampering our League campaign.
Take our last stint in the Premier League for example. We amassed only six league wins and were promptly relegated; yet in both Capital One and FA Cups Reading FC made the last sixteen. Even at our height under Steve Coppell, the 2006/07 campaign went nearly two months without a win before exiting to Manchester United at the same stage.
But the more obvious and staggering RFC fact is; despite being one of English football’s oldest clubs (at 144 years,) we’ve a gaping hole in major trophy success.
Stocked, the Madejski Stadium trophy cabinet may be with; promotion trophies, record point certificates, runner-up plaques and a Football League Full Members (Simod) Cup. But big-time, headline grabbing, still sought-after silverware remains agonisingly elusive.
Stoke City may be eight years our senior, but as 2011 finalists and a League Cup stashed away, The Potters sit prettier. Similarly Chesterfield may perennially yo-yo the football league’s bottoms tiers. But only major controversy saw them denied from 1997’s FA Cup final. They too have current silverware (The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) among their honours. Dubiously older, Rotherham United were the League Cup’s inaugural Runners-up and to add insult to injury, both Oxford and Swindon (double spits) have won it! Decades ago granted, but still.
So with all the above considered, and RFC somehow managing to put; a World War, three Monarchs and 83 years between Quarter Final appearances. Should Steve Clarke go for broke against Bradford City on Saturday? Vehemently just on paper, 2015 marks the closest The Royals come to matching their 1927 Biscuitmen predecessors since Shane Long’s goals at this stage back in 2010.
Having swept past Chelsea and Sunderland already, the Bantam’s won’t fear a faltering Reading. Sat just ten points above relegation with eleven games to stave it off; you’d also argue The Royals can’t afford the sucker punch in defeat. Could the psychological blow to the Madejski locker room onset league demise? Add our evolving injury list, inability to score and recent frequency of games, what then?
Unlike Steve Coppell’s, Brian McDermott’s Royals reign saw the Cup hampering Championship equation reverse. Faltering league campaigns suddenly catalysed into late promotion pushes on the turns into 2010 and 2011 cometh our entry. Quarter finalists two years running, yet in 2012 out to Stevenage at first asking, but somehow we won the league! Go figure?
So as a discourse, can going too far in the Cup damage League runs long-term? What if you could swap a few Cup round victories for League points?
Turn the clock back to the year 2000, for instance. Had it not been for the staggering thirteen Cup games that season, would Alan Pardew have secured RFC a second tier return two years earlier than he eventually did? Convert 1997/98’s cup runs into their equivalent 20 league points and Reading’s relegation into the third tier could’ve been easily prevented and Elm Park’s swansong season so different.
Now the wrangler to all this: Prior to 2006’s record promotion and maybe the Play-off defeat of 1995; 1988 was considered the year to remember (if you were old enough,) for any Loyal Royal. Even today, that years’ Simod Cup victory at Wembley is still the enviable "I was there story." But despite battering (then top tier "big boys") Luton 4-1, the Royals also dropped out of the second tier by a mere difference of six points.
It may have been Ian Branfoot’s crowning glory as manager, but with 13 cup games that season and the league (as it does today) paying the bills; Elm Park’s boardroom may not have been so enthusiastic about our day at Wembley after all. As it was, moving on two years the club had to be bankrolled and saved by a chap called John Madejski.
Roll forward again to 2015 and the Club’s position isn’t as sanguine in comparison as you might think. With Madejski and co yet again saving the club from administration, (thanks Anton!) its lucky RFC weren’t then deducted ten points, never mind a transfer embargo! Reading’s new Thai owners only serve as a silver lining when compared to the club’s current downward turn and debt. The point here, is that by contrast the Premier League thanks to its new record TV deal, is about to come into more money than it knows what to do with! The difference between Football’s rich and poor will widen like never before, despite protestations to the contrary.
All things considered, returning to English football’s top flight could become near unattainable and the Cups diminished as fancies.
So here it is:
Relegation for Reading currently looks an outside prospect. But should Steve Clarke fire up the Royals for Valley Parade and beyond in a bid to etch a notch on the history pages, even if we do go back to League One?
Or treat Bradford as a chance to get back to winning ways? Blow wind back into the flagging sails of League form and springboard us towards staying in what’s more important, the Championship. We probably won’t win it anyway right?