When you've been watching Reading since 1976, this is a tricky one, as the number of players you've seen wear the hoops must be approaching a thousand! Narrowing it down to just one is a real nightmare, so if I might take a small liberty with the format and briefly mention a few of my favourites from my first ten years of watching Reading:
There’s been so much hyperbole written about Robin Friday – his skills, his antics and his attitude. And it’s all true – he was just as unbelievable and just as outrageous as all the legends tell. He was one of the reasons that the 14-year-old me fell in love with the game, because it was never, ever boring when he was on the pitch.
Strictly for the LOLs, as they say. An effective enough striker, but one who always carried a whiff of comedy value with him. If anyone was likely to score with a deflection off his backside, or do a comedy fall whilst trying to beat his man or keep the ball in play, it was Ollie. Think of a 1970s version of Bas Savage, but with ginger hair.
Didn't look much like you’d expect a footballer to look, instead he looked like he’d just come out of Windy Miller’s windmill or slid down the mainsail of HMS Victory. But a real influence on the team, pulling strings in midfield, and a persistent memory of those years is him waiting on the edge of the penalty area as a corner came in then slamming it into the net as soon as it broke free to him.
A real no-nonsense centre-half just like they used to be. Tough tackling (and tough-tackling in the 70s and 80s was Tough with a capital T) always ready to put his body on the line, with none of this "pass it from the back" modern nonsense. He and centre-half partner Martin Hicks knew their job was to get rid – so the roof of the stand at Elm Park saw more of the ball from them than the forwards ever did. Both very similar players, but Hetzke gets the nod for me for his role in the 78/79 season which he spent much of playing in attack, with his nine goals making a real contribution to winning the Division Four championship.
Look up "uncompromising midfield enforcer" in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Terry, looking like he’d just been quarried from granite. The sort of player who went in hard all the time, and gave no quarter in any circumstance – today’s "hard men" don’t even come close to the mix of football and barely-controlled brutality Terry used to dish out, and I bet Roy Keane would run a mile if he ever faced him. Wonderfully entertaining to watch – except he seemed to be suspended for half of the season.
As I’m currently researching and writing a book about the 106-point team and what made them so good ("The Sum of the Parts", to be published by Mickle Press on 12th December – you heard it here first, watch this space for more info later this month!) again I’ll go for earlier options. Here it’s a tie between two managers. Firstly Charlie Hurley, who was about the only one able to channel Robin Friday’s wild spirit to deliver on the pitch – you never forget your first "Blue and White Army", and anything other than "Charlie Hurley’s Blue and White Army" still sounds wrong
His successor, Maurice Evans, is summed up perfectly by the plaque outside the Mad Stad ticket office: "Player, manager, gentleman". Quite simply one of the nicest most genuine people ever, and a great manager. It still makes me angry that he was so unceremoniously sacked by the club in January 1984 with the team very much in contention for promotion and having won seven and drawn three of their twelve previous matches. After that, he went up the A4074 and showed his quality, so that there was a little piece of Reading in all the triumphs in the late 80s by the little team previously known as Headington United.
I don’t have to ponder this one for more than a millisecond. Nicky Forster, at home against Ipswich in October 2002. I rate Fozzie as one of my favourite players ever, and just about the best player in the lone-striker role I’ve ever seen at any level of football, and I think this was the best of his many superb goals.
A breakaway down the right, running towards the away end, and from well outside the corner of the area Fozzie curled the ball around Ipswich ‘keeper Andy Marshall and just inside the far post. I was directly in line behind that shot, and that ball swerved so much and so accurately that I still can’t quite believe how it was done – much better than anything any Brazilian banana-kick maestro could ever produce. And the icing on the cake with that goal was that it was Fozzie’s second goal in a hat-trick as Ipswich were well beaten.
The match I think was the most entertaining - in that it had everything – is the 3-2 win over Crystal Palace in 2005, so I won’t delve into that. Instead, I’ll nominate the play-off semi-final away at Cardiff in May 2011. At 0-0 after the first leg, Reading travelled down the M4 facing a selection dilemma with no fit wingers and what was likely to be a very hostile atmosphere after three recent contentious games against the Bluebirds.
Despite all the pre-match trepidation, though, this was a superb performance, as Reading put three past Cardiff with Shaun Cummings playing on the right-wing. One of the best days out and best atmospheres ever – no-one who was there will ever forget "Shoes off if you love Reading." This is what I wrote about it four years ago.
I must admit to a real affection for the orange away kit that was used in the 2001 play-off season, and filled the stand at Wigan, but I’ll plump for the light blue vertical stripes on the 1983-84 season. I really enjoyed that season in so many ways, and there was something quite endearing about the mix of ambition and bumbling incompetence at the football club in that period – the sponsors were Radio 210, but no-one was aware that a Football League regulation prohibited any other numbers than the big one on the back on football shirts. So for much of this season Reading played in shirts with large pieces of sticky-tape covering up the sponsor’s name.
I’ll nominate two grounds here, at different ends of the Football League. Towards the top, Goodison Park, Everton. A proper old ground, which has a not-too-altered Archibald Leitch stand with proper wooden flip-down seats, something I love in a ground.
Maybe the sightlines are rubbish from the front of the paddock, and there are pillars in the way – but this is a real football ground. Add to that a decent bunch of supporters – you can always go into one of the many local pubs and chat about football with them without any grief or hassle – and it’s a ground that’s one I’ll always visit when Reading play there.
At the other end of the league, I’ll nominate Bootham Crescent, home of York City. Quite possibly the least-changed ground in the league – for away supporters at least, and one everyone should visit to see what it genuinely used to be like, especially as its about to start its last season before being demolished and replaced by a ubiquitous, plastic, out-of-town multi-sports arena. But if you want authentic English football-ground character (by which I mean a Gents’ toilet which consists of no roof and two brick walls, one with a culvert running along the bottom of it) this is the place to go.
If you would like to share your favourite moments then please get in touch. All fans are welcome to take part.