Having developed a strange and unshakeable liking for Simon Church during my first year as a season ticket holder, (which shows just how bad that 6 months of Brendan Rodgers really was), I shamelessly converted to a rather more potent striker: ALF. He seemed to be always in the right place at the right time, and his knack of scoring absolutely vital goals at the end of the season (Leeds, Southampton etc), cemented him as my personal favourite. The next season, I elevated him to God-like status after a spectacular January when he scored a vital equaliser against West Brom and then that magical double against Chelsea in the last minutes. Simply put, I liked him because he scored important goals, and lots of them.
Honourable mentions go to Church (for a few months), Alex Pearce (the stepover v Doncaster and the fist pump at the end of a victorious away day endear him to me), and Jimmy Kebe, mostly for THAT infamous moment against West Ham.
Not a particularly difficult one, this. Brian McDermott's feat in leading a good-but-not-great Reading side to the Premier League in 11/12 after that brilliant run in the spring was a brilliant achievement, bearing in mind the side was not really full of Premier League quality, except from two or three exceptions. As well as this, the occasional victories next year showed that despite that absence of talent, the squad would run through a brick wall and beyond for McDermott, as seen in a succession of late goals. In my opinion we've never really recovered from his sacking, and the other terrible decisions that Anton made that year. Not exactly the most charismatic of individuals, he was clearly loved and respected by the squad.
Trying not to be too obvious here, but obviously most of the contenders do come from the 11/12 or 12/13 seasons. While Southampton and West Ham away at the end of the promotion campaign will rightly live long in my memory as special days, I'm choosing the home encounter against West Brom in January '13, a glorious 3-2 comeback after being 2-0 down and looking like we were already relegated. A Romelu Lukaku double looked like condemning us to yet another painful home defeat, before that famous never-say-die attitude came to the fore. Jimmy Kebe got the first with a diving header, before being upended on the edge of the box to give Le Fondre a chance to level from 12 yards. He made no mistake, scoring and sending the whole stadium into ecstasy. We had barely recovered from that (I'm pretty sure I hugged my whole row), when we got a freekick on the half way line and McDermott waved practically the whole team forward. I remember thinking that we were leaving ourselves a bit exposed to the counter attack, and that a WBA winner would be too horrible to contemplate. And then Pogrebnyak scooped the winner past the keeper, and after that I'm not sure I remember much until I got home again.
I'll be choosing the goal I've celebrated the most here, not necessarily the best team move (which is good, because there haven't been that many), or thunderous strike. In the latter category, Leigertwood v Leicester or Fulham springs to mind, as does Mathieu Manset v Millwall at home. But for the biggest moment of sheer jubilation, I'll probably have to go for McCleary at Wembley this year. Both for the context of the match, the fact the ref was giving us close to nothing, the whole day surrounding the game and the fantastic atmosphere in the stadium, and the fact that everyone said we'd be thumped by Arsenal, the moment when we all knew it had crossed the line and 30,000+ Royals leaped to their feet and screamed will live with me for a long, long time.
Purely for the memories that are brought back whenever I see clips from that season, it's hard to beat the 11/12 version. While fashionista's could probably take issue with some aspects of it and might suggest other years, for me it brings back some brilliant memories and was a good, simple design. Having said that, I did like the red on the next years kit, as well as last years away kit.
Another tricky one. While, like most people I think the Emirates wins in terms of pretty much every architectural and facilities standard that could be named, the lack of any spectacular results there means it's not the ground that I have fantastic memories of. That honour goes to Pride Park instead. Having seen us victorious there on all of my visits there, last seasons games cemented its reputation as a personal happy hunting ground. The League win was spectacular enough, a thoroughly unexpected 3-0 success at the end of the season which meant Derby missed out on the playoffs (much the travelling fans delight), but it was the FA Cup win which really stands out. Everything combined to make it a fantastic game; a huge travelling following, being pegged back after initially taking the lead, a 90 minute delay to my journey which left me running from the train station to get there for kickoff, the best burger at an away ground I've ever had, and Yakubu's coolly-taken late winner, to make it a very special day indeed.