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Six Of The Best: Handbags' Favourite Reading FC Moments

In our latest Six of the Best, Handbags Harris gives a history lesson with his Royals memories.

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Player

Being a fan of 26 years, I have seen a relative abundance of players come and go. My time watching Reading all started back in November 1989, and not long afterwards I was that hooked with football that I wanted to play the game, so I joined my local club, Theale Tigers.

Being left footed, it was only natural that I ended up playing firstly at left back, and then left midfield when the coaches found they couldn’t curb my unbridled enthusiasm for getting forward. I suppose it is only natural for a young player to look out for players in the professional game who also play their position and I was no exception. In the early 90’s there were some superb left wingers permeating English football, Lee Sharpe and latterly Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, John Barnes at Liverpool, Chris Waddle at Sheffield Wednesday to name but a few, and I hold these players in great affection having grown up watching them on the TV.

But watching on TV just isn’t the same as watching in the flesh, and looking back to those halcyon days of Elm Park there was no better sight than seeing Michael Gilkes in full flow in that number 11 shirt (or number 7 from 92/93), running at his full back, skinning him with his blistering pace and throwing a cross in for Messr’s Senior, Maskell, Quinn, Lovell etc. to meet with the meat of the forehead and notch yet another strike.

Michael Earl Glenis McDonald Gilkes is unquestionably a Reading legend. He joined the club in 1984 from Leicester City and played well in excess of 400 games, scoring 49 goals before being transferred to Wolves on transfer deadline day in 1987. His time at Reading saw him play a huge role as first choice left winger in two successful promotion campaigns, an unsuccessful play-off heartache, and also score the equaliser in the club’s memorable (and so far only) success at Wembley in the Simod Cup Final.

Gilkesy would return to Wembley for the Rumbelows Cup Final in 1992, not to play of course, but to compete in the Rumbelows Sprint Challenge, a simple flat race the length of the pitch to establish the league’s quickest player. Gilkesy, despite leading the majority of the race, was overtaken at the last and finished third to, I believe, Aston Villa’s Tony Daley and Coventry City’s John Williams.

My own memories of Gilkesy? Well fate was unkind to me watching Reading in the early 90’s. I lived in Germany for a while, and I only ever saw him score once for Reading in a 1-0 win over Burnley (Adrian Heath and all) in March 93, his typical devastating burst of speed getting him beyond the full back before smashing past Marlon Beresford’s near post with about 10 minutes remaining. But it will be the successful combination he forged with Jimmy Quinn that will live long in the memory, the simple matter of beating the full back before standing up a far post cross to the lurking Quinn. Quinny was supreme in the air, and his abilities slotted like hand to glove into Gilkesy’s game, no more successfully than throughout the 93/94 promotion campaign. Quinn scored 39 goals that season, many of which came from this simple combination.

But most of all, my abiding memory of Gilkesy will be on his return with Wolves, just a month after being transferred. At around 2.15, with the South Bank packed to the rafters already, the Wolves players emerged for the pre-match warm-up and started the typical touchline to touchline run. Under normal circumstances the usual opposition baiting would begin, the "whooooo the ******* hell are you" and similar.

Not on this day. Upon reaching the South Bank touchline, it started, the loudest, most passionately sung ovation to a single player on their return I have ever heard from Reading fans. To a man, everybody on the South Bank in that moment was singing Gilkesy’s name in unison, and I was lucky enough to be right at the front of the Bank towards the away end, a matter of feet away from Gilkesy. He was at the point of tears. An emotional moment, and one that I felt privileged to have witnessed. It didn’t seem right that he should turn up in an opposition team’s shirt, and I can only say how glad I am now that he is back at the club coaching our youngsters.

On top of all this, Michael Gilkes is a true gentleman, a quiet unassuming man, very modest, well spoken and articulate, and it’s a shame football doesn’t attract more of these characters. It would only benefit from it.

Manager

Supporting Reading since 1989, I have a fair few managers to my name. Ian Porterfield was incumbent for my first ever match, followed by Mark McGhee and then the Jimmy Quinn/Mick Gooding player/manager partnership. Terry Bullivant’s ill-fated spell was over as quickly as it started, to be followed by the equally unsuccessful Tommy Burns who oversaw the move from Elm Park to the Madejski. Burns’ ignominious sacking paved the way for Alan Pardew to return, whose own acrimonious departure opened the door to Steve Coppell who has thus far lasted the longest in charge during my supporting years.

Coppell’s resignation in May 2009 saw Brendan Rodgers plucked from Watford, only to be the manager who holds the shortest spell in charge during my time supporting Reading. Brian McDermott was plucked from the relative obscurity of his position as Chief Scout, only to be sacked by the hopelessly inadequate owner Anton Zingarevich. Nigel Adkins next, a thoroughly depressing spell in charge that seemed as though it should be on the cusp of taking off at any moment but never doing so, and now Steve Clarke.

So you’d think my favourite manager would reside within that little group of individuals, but in a controversial twist my favourite manager isn't any of those. As open, honest and dear to the hearts of Reading fans the likes of Coppell and McDermott are, my favourite manager is one whose team I never saw play. The man can simply be summed up as Mr Reading, having been born in the town and played for the club for 12 years amassing over 400 appearances, he also managed the club from 1977 to 1984, giving notable players such as Lawrie Sanchez, Neil Webb, Kerry Dixon and Trevor Senior their breaks, but more importantly he guided Reading through their most turbulent period in history, Robert Maxwell’s infamous attempt to merge Oxford United and Reading.

A thoroughly genuine man, upon his too early death in 2000 aged just 63 there were only genuine platitudes to be given by members of the football fraternity, none more so than just up the road in Oxford where he led Oxford United to their only major trophy, the League Cup in 1986. Having served Oxford United well during his 14 years there in a variety of positions, he returned home in 1999.

Given the reluctance of Reading’s board to place memorials to former players and managers, it goes some way to suggest the regard in which Maurice Evans was held at the Madejski Stadium that, along with Roy Tranter, he has a plaque in his honour outside the main entrance. A man of honour, dignity, and regardless of his time at Oxford United, a Reading man through and through.

Goal

It’s fair to say my OCD is Reading FC statistics, or rather Reading FC statistics in matches that I have physically attended. At last count I have amassed a grand total of 1010 goals witnessed in all competitions since 1989, spanning 690 matches to date, so plenty to choose from.

In that time, however, I have missed some very important goals. For example, I did not attend the Brighton home match in 1994 (lived in Germany), the Brentford away match in 2002 (University), or either the Southampton or West Ham games in 2012 (newborn children and finances don’t tend to mix well). Neither did I attend the Tranmere or Wolves play-off games.

But I have also witnessed some truly special moments, for example Butler and Forster’s quick-fire double against Wigan in the play-off semi -final 2001, or almost any goal in the 05/06 and 06/07 seasons. And let’s not forget the three against Liverpool in 07/08, or indeed the FA Cup run in 09/10 (more on that later). Leigertwood’s winner v Forest in 2012 was pretty memorable, likewise many of the winners in 94/95. To make this category a little easier I am only going to consider goals that I have physically witnessed in attendance, either on the terrace or stand, and because I can’t separate any of the following from each other I'm going to break rank here and give a top-3:-

1) Lee Nogan, Bolton Wanderers, April 1995

Attendance 13,223, the biggest crowd at Elm Park for a decade. Reading pushing for the play-offs with an outside chance of automatic promotion, Lee Nogan was the hero. After Reading had taken the lead after a quarter hour Bolton piled on the pressure, equalising just after half time with a bizarre David Lee effort (I can still hear the "waaahay" from the South Bank as he spooned it into the air, and still see Adie Williams’s despairing jump on the line).

From then on Shaka and his defence were all hands to the pump in a half that included the most spectacular non-goalkeeping goal-line clearance I have ever witnessed from Simon Osborn. And then, in the last minute, with Bolton pressing forward Reading countered, Osborn with a delightful ball over the top to Nogan who ran on with just the keeper to beat and slotted past Keith Branagan in the Bolton goal.

Three sides of Elm Park went absolutely berserk, the South Bank erupted into a crescendo of joyous flailing arms and crowd surges, these were scenes this 12 year old boy had never witnessed, and didn’t think he would ever see again. This goal brought true belief, belief that the big time was not a pipe dream. Nogan’s goal settled a huge game in the context of the Endsleigh League Division 1 in 1994/95. Now, if only we could turn back that clock a month later…

2) Shane Long, Aston Villa, March 2010

A dismal first half of the season under Brendan Rodgers, his sacking in December 09 allied to the prospect of a Third Round tie with Liverpool, and the appointment in caretaker charge of Chief Scout Brian McDermott, many gave Reading little hope of anything other than a bit of exposure on ITV. As it was, that famous 2-1 win at Anfield was the beginning of the most exciting cup run for years.

With Reading getting progressively better under McDermott, Burnley were despatched next at home, followed by a 3-2 replay win at West Bromwich Albion to set up an eminently winnable home tie against Aston Villa. Reading’s form going into the game was terrific, starting to play some of the most exciting and enjoyable football ever seen in these parts based around the considerable talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson, and confidence was high. And with that confidence comes hope, and nerves.

As it was, Reading dominated the first half, Long opening the scoring after 25 minutes, but one goal is easily overcome. Two however, left this particular 27 year old with the most hope ever experienced at a football match. Having seen promotion to the top flight, the other side of the coin was to see Reading play at Wembley in a cup.

And the goal that put us two up was a joy. A snappy challenge in midfield, a nice layoff to Sigurdsson whose turn and through ball to Jimmy Kebe was truly Premier League quality. Kebe, with the whole of the Villa half to exploit, outpaced every defender and laid the ball to Shane Long in the middle.

I have never heard a noise like it at the Madejski Stadium, with pandemonium in the stands. Even on the online videos the level of joy to be seen in the East Stand when the goal goes in is a joyous sight, it is rare a true crowd bounce occurs in Reading but this was one such. And I was privileged to be a part of it. Now…about that clock…

3) Stuart Lovell, Wolverhampton Wanderers, April 1997

Never have I witnessed such a barnstorming finish, or a football ground encapsulated in such brash, unadulterated, pandemonium as that witnessed on 12 April 1997. Mark McGhee was making just his second return to Reading after his acrimonious departure in December 1994, and Wolves were in the midst of a promotion battle.

The atmosphere was tense throughout and Reading, it seemed, were down and out going into the 90th minute, having had the better of the match but falling behind in the 80th minute to a controversial goal, but relief and sheer jubilation when Lovell equalised in the 92nd minute to rescue a point...or so we thought.

Little did we know what was to come (isn’t that the beauty of football, or indeed all sports?). Michael Gilkes had earlier been stretchered off injured after a cynical trip by Micky Gooding, but back then referees rarely played anything like the amount of stoppage time they should have done. This match was different though, and it worked in Reading’s favour for a mere three minutes after the equaliser, Paul Bodin swung in a cross from the left to Lovell, whose first touch was to instantly control on the volley and then instantly swivel and volley home low to Mike Stowell’s right.

If pandemonium ensued with the equaliser, this was something else. Chaotic bedlam, bear hugs while jumping around on the terraces with people you didn’t know and hadn’t seen before or since, lung bursting screams of vitriolic pleasure directed towards everything and anything in gold. And it won us the match.

Stuart Lovell will forever go down as a hero in my book for this goal. It really was something else, and beats the previous season’s 3-0, Quinn goal and all that, hands down. This had more riding on it, denial of Wolves promotion, safety from relegation for Reading, a larger crowd (11k compared to 14.8k), and a method of winning that had Wolves fans scratching at the doors of victory that slammed so mercilessly in their faces. Beautiful. I’d give a lot of money to be able to experience it again. For now though, the YouTube highlights will do nicely!!

Match

Having witnessed close to 700 Reading matches in my 26 years following Reading, there are precious few that actually had something tangible riding on them in the form of a promotion, or cup progression. And to be honest it is nigh on impossible to look past the cream of the crop, the 1-1 draw at Leicester on 25 March 2006. Even though promotion was all but in the bag, en route to the match the nerves were such that I resorted to ripping up my batch of newspapers to create confetti just to keep my mind on something other than the match (something I had never done or had the inclination to do before).

Barely able to drink beforehand to calm the nerves, in we trudged, the concourse was a buoyant scene of blue and white bedecked Royals all in confident mood. And why wouldn’t they be? Simply winning would see us promoted, and given we had won 27 of our 39 matches that season so far…and then the match started, Reading lacklustre, a shadow of the side that had ripped the division apart. 1-0 down at half time thanks to an Iain Hume effort, the side rallied for the second half and had the majority of the play. But still 1-0 down.

And then a thing of beauty, news of a goal at Vicarage Road, behold the former Royals legend Carl Asaba, who had put Millwall ahead, and with Leeds also dropping points we wouldn’t even need to win. Regardless, the team weren’t to know, and finally after much huff, puff and bluster, a James Harper corner was flicked on and Kevin Doyle, four yards out, nodded home.

Bedlam in the away end, 3000 fans giving the Leicester fans a rendition of a bounce the like of which had never before been seen in a Reading away end. Even then, the Watford and Leeds results should have been rendered meaningless as Stephen Hunt had a glorious opportunity to snatch three ultimately undeserved points, but we all had to settle for a draw, and the nerve-shredding minutes afterwards listening for confirmation from Road’s Vicarage and Elland.

And that was it – Watford 0-2 Millwall, Leeds Utd 0-0 Stoke City. Reading were up, cue the most joyous scenes I have ever witnessed, close friends at the front of the stand, other friends crying tears of joy, players celebrating, Coppell throwing his coat in the crowd, renditions of every song known to Reading fans, John Madejski in the Purple Turtle, town abuzz throughout the night. An unbelievable day, emotional in the extreme. There is very little in footballing terms that comes close to this day, and I honestly don’t believe it will ever be surpassed. After all, there’s nothing quite like the first time is there?!

Kit

This is easy. A Reading kit to me should be thus – a simple blue and white hooped shirt with no side panels or back panel to break the hoop (sleeves can be any design so long as the body of the shirt is a hooped design), predominantly white shorts and predominantly white socks. Reading, in my history watching them at least, win Championship with a collar, so a collar is a must.

Put these two key aspects together and we arrive at a single season’s kit – the effort originally manufactured by Brooks and subsumed to Pelada from the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons. A perfect example of a Reading kit, I wish manufacturers could look at the kit manufacturing perfection achieved in those days and just recreate this kit for ever more. And if we recreated that third kit from 1993/94 as a new away strip…

Away Ground

Easy one this for me. A stadium in a city steeped in industrial and sporting history, and we have a fairly decent recent record there too. A historic club, a historic stadium, Hillsborough oozes history. Whenever I arrive in Sheffield by train the smell of the place hits you like no other, the smell of football, of the working class roots that modern day football has left behind, the brilliant pubs at Kelham Island en route to the ground, the "it’s them or us and never the twain shall meet" mentality between Owls and Blades.

Go to Hillsborough, you get an atmosphere every time from a 100% club where supporters demand fight and heart and back their side. You get a huge arena sadly vacant in places at the moment, but having witnessed a match both with a 30,000 crowd (1000 Royals present) and 27000 (4500 Royals present) one can only imagine what the place is like with a truly packed house of 40000.

You get the infamy too, this stadium being the location where football changed forever, but that day is simply woven into the fabric of its history. Sheffield Wednesday as a club moved on from that day while never forgetting to remember, erecting their own memorial to those that perished. A classy club, a true sleeping giant, a superb venue steeped in history, charm and atmosphere, a venue I look upon with huge doses of jealousy. I only wish we had something of our own to rival it.

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If you would like to share your favourite moments then please get in touch. All fans are welcome to take part.