How long ago was Reading's last FA Cup semi final? So long ago that the name of the country we live in was still the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The acknowledgement that the Irish Free State was no longer part of the Kingdom was only to take place a month after our defeat to Cardiff. In January that year the BBC as we know it came into existence. Amazingly it was November 1927 when traffic lights first appeared on our streets.
If you were looking for excitement in the 1920s then there was only one place you would head: Berlin. The German capital was enjoying its decedent vibrant heyday whilst Germany as a whole looked to be slowly rebuilding itself as a democracy having joined the League of Nations a year before.
However, things were never calm for long in the interwar era. The only general strike to ever be held in Britain took place in 1926, which led to the country being under martial law for eight months. Back in Germany, a minor politician called Adolf Hitler made his first public speech, 15 days before Reading's FA Cup semi final, after the Bavarian government lifted a two-year ban against his participation in political events. His minor political party, which had no MPs, was also to hold its first rally that year in Nuremberg.
In another significant event, Leon Trotsky (an acquaintance of my great grandmother for anyone who might be impressed), was expelled from the Soviet Communist Party, leaving Joseph Stalin in undisputed control of the Soviet Union. The Roaring Twenties was a time of excitement and hope, but this was all to change with the Wall Street Crash in 1929.
This was a time before World Cups and Champions Leagues meaning the British felt they could confidently declare themselves the best in the world. So confident in fact that they ignored the first World Cup which took place three years later.
The big powerhouse in English football by some way was Huddersfield Town who had been crowned champions of England on three consecutive occasions (something that has never been bettered) and would only miss out on a fourth league title in a row by five points to Newcastle United. The Terriers would again finish second in 1928 but that was to be the end of their glory years.
On the continent the first ever Central European International Cup, the forerunner to today's European Championships, and Mitropa Cup, the forerunner to the Champions League, tournaments were held. That it was the Central Europeans who were the great innovators of international football was no surprise. The Austrian, Czechoslovak and Hungarian national teams and leagues were possibly the strongest on the continent.
Despite that it was Italy who won the Central European International Cup. It was quite a turnaround for the Italians who fourteen years earlier had seen their national team lose to Reading (yes you did read that correctly).
To the modern Reading fan, the 1926/1927 league season looks as miserable as the current season. That couldn't be further from the truth though. Not only was this the club's first ever season in the second tier of English football, it would also remain the club's highest ever league finish until 1995! This was our second best league season in the 20th century.
The first thing that strikes you looking at the table is the number of goals scored. The league champions, Middlesbrough, managed an incredible 122. Perhaps more amazing is that Darlington who were relegated scored 79 goals - 10 more than the Royals managed in four more league games when they won the Championship in 2012. Football in the interwar era clearly wasn't boring.
The highlights of Reading's league season were a 2-1 home win over the champions, a 7-1 victory over Notts County and a 6-1 victory over Barnsley.
|6||Preston North End||42||20||9||13||74||72||1.03||49|
|22||Bradford City (-)||42||7||9||26||50||88||0.57||23|
Manager: Angus Wylie *
Without a playing career of any note, Angus Wylie had 14 years of managerial experience when he joined Reading. He managed the club throughout its five year spell in the Second Division (or Championship as it's known today), although team selection was still made by the directors (and you thought Reading managers today had it hard!).
Although he guided the club to its highest position in Reading's first 65 years of League football, and to their only FA Cup semi final appearance before this year, both in his first season, he suffered criticism for the number of Scottish players he brought to the club (something which will sound familiar to fans who suffered the Tommy Burns era).
He was however in charge for two of Reading's greatest FA Cup victories, over Manchester United in 1926-27 and against League champions, Sheffield Wednesday three years later. A strict teetotaller and member of the Sons of Temperance, Wylie survived two no confidence votes before choosing to resign, after Reading were relegated in 1931.
Reading League Record: P 210; W 66; D 47; L 97; For 306; Against 396
Star Player: Alf Messer *
In his day, Alf Messer was widely regarded as the best uncapped player in the League and he is undoubtedly one of Reading's all time greats. From his League debut in December 1923 to his transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in July 1930, Alf missed just six games, being ever-present at centre half in Reading's Third Division South championship win and during two other seasons.
He was club captain from 1928 and despite his tough, uncompromising play, he was described as 'a gentleman both on and off the pitch'. Messer was a very powerful header of the ball and only a poor team display in Reading's FA Cup semi-final against Cardiff, when he was watched by the England team selectors, denied him the England cap he deserved.
His sale to Spurs earned Reading a big fee but it was the final nail in the club's hopes of staying in the Second Division, especially as his Spurs debut saw them beat Reading 7-0.
Reading Record: League 271 apps / 18 goals; FA Cup 24/1; Total 295/19
The Cup Run
As one of two newly promoted Second Division sides, Reading had to enter the FA Cup at the first round stage. Their first match in this celebrated cup campaign did not hint at the glory that was to follow. Despite home advantage the Biscuitmen could only manage an exciting 4-4 draw with non-league Weymouth. For some reason the replay was not held in Weymouth and this time Reading easily defeated the Southern League side at Elm Park.
Reading's reward was a home tie against Division Three South side Southend United. The Shrimpers put up a good fight but it was the Biscuitmen who advanced to an exciting third round tie against Manchester United. Reading held the Reds to draws at both Elm Park and Old Trafford meaning a second replay at Villa Park. This time it was third time lucky for Reading as they overcame United in what remains the club's only victory over the Old Trafford side.
By this time Reading were on a roll in the cup. Portsmouth may have won promotion to the top flight but they were no match for the Biscuitmen at Elm Park. Third Division South Brentford were then dispatched in front of the club's record attendance of 33,042 (how they fit that many into Elm Park actually scares me).
In the quarter finals Reading were drawn away for the first time but that did not stop them progressing against the then named Swansea Town. Excitement levels were growing in our small Berkshire town and local biscuit makers Huntley & Palmers even made plans for a special edition FA Cup biscuit tin, which you can see today in Reading Museum, if Reading could do the unthinkable and reach Wembley.
27.11.1926 - R1: Weymouth (H) 4-4
01.12.1926 - R1 Replay: Weymouth (H) 5-0
11.12.1926 - R2: Southend United (H) 3-2
08.01.1927 - R3: Manchester United (H) 1-1
12.01.1927 - R3 Replay: Manchester United (A) 2-2 AET
17.01.1927 - R3 Replay: Manchester United (N) 2-1
29.01.1927 - R4: Portsmouth (H) 3-1
19.02.1927 - R5: Brentford (H) 1-0
05.03.1927 - R6: Swansea Town (A) 3-1
The forms of both teams coming into this match could not have been more contrasting. First Division Cardiff City were unbeaten in seven matches and had won their last three. Reading by contrast had lost their three matches since they had beaten Swansea in the Sixth Round.
The match took place at Molineux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers. 39,476 fans packed the stadium and going by the footage below they were all wearing flat caps and had handkerchiefs ready to wave. Back then Reading wore navy and white stripes, players did not have numbers on their shirts and referees wore suits.
The footage below is wonderfully quaint and includes a failed Reading cross, a nice nod to the modern day team. Unfortunately the semi final was to be a game too far for the Biscuitmen and Cardiff were comfortable winners by 3-0. City would go on to win the Cup against Arsenal. Today few Reading fans could name a single player from that team while Cardiff have a statue outside their ground of their captain Fred Keenor. We can but dream that we too may be able to have a statue of our captain lifting "old big ears".
* - The information on Angus Wylie and Alf Messer has been taken from Royals Remembered, Alan Sedunary, (Yore Publications, 2001). This excellent book is available on Amazon.