In January 2012, Jason Roberts dropped down from the Premier League to sign for Reading, with the club eighth in the Championship at the time. But his arrival gave the Royals the boost they needed to go on and win the league to clinch promotion to the top flight, as the striker scored six times in 17 appearances. Injury troubles would limit Roberts' chances in the Premier League, and eventually he was forced to retire in March 2014, having not played for over a year.
We got in contact with Jason and asked if he would be willing to talk about his time in Berkshire, and here are the best bits from the interview. You can listen to the conversation in full on The Tilehurst End podcast in the next few weeks.
On earning promotion to the Premier League:
"I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been promoted on three occasions, but that promotion at Reading in particular was special for a number and variety of reasons. Especially coming down from Blackburn to Reading, I think people had a perception that I was taking the handbrake off and not realising that the only I reason I wasn’t playing at Blackburn was because of the contractual situation that I found myself in through no fault of my own, where Blackburn didn’t feel that they wanted to trigger a clause in my contract. So I wasn’t playing, but I was fit, ready and motivated.
"Coming into that team, it was really a special time in my career because the dressing room was how I remember dressing rooms to be. It was experienced professionals mixed with a good sprinkling of youngsters and a manager who allowed the players to really have a huge influence in the dressing room and around the place. There were some real old school professionals like Kaspars Gorkss and Griff [Andy Griffin] and Ian Harte. Players who I think we understood in an era of football that is maybe gone now. These things do happen, eras change, but it kind of felt like going to a bygone era, so it meant so much to be promoted with that particular squad of people, with a man like Brian McDermott, who is one of the best people you’ll meet in football, at a club like Reading. So it really meant a lot for me, and I felt that I was as fit and as motivated as I’d ever been.
"If you look at the composition of that squad, that wasn’t a squad that you thought ‘yeah, they’re gonna get promotion’. It really wasn’t. I was coming down at 33/34 years old, we had Feds who in my opinion was the best goalkeeper in that league, but if you look at a lot of the guys in that team, not many have gone onto higher levels if you will. A lot of us were in the twilight of our career, the likes of Kaspars and Hartey and Griff. You know, Mikele [Leigertwood] was getting on a little bit as well and Jobi [McAnuff]. An ageing squad isn’t right, but it was a squad of an age. If you look at other clubs that I got promoted with: at West Brom we had a good young side who were ready to get promotion, and at Wigan it was much the same.
"No one backed us to win the league or get promotion when I joined in January, but we achieved it because we had the best team spirit. We were the most organised and we had the most desire. I remember we beat Middlesbrough, and one of their players, we beat them 1-0 with a clean sheet and one of our dogged performances, said to us ‘you are the worst team we have played all season’. Maybe, but we said we’re gonna go on and beat the likes of Southampton, we’re gonna go and beat West Ham, we’re gonna go and beat all these sides that on paper you would say they had better players. But we had something that you can’t put down on paper. We had that team spirit and the belief and the loyalty to each other which I haven’t experienced in football. Pride doesn’t really cover it. It was an absolutely fantastic time in my career."
On his injury problems:
"The injury situation is one of my biggest, I wouldn’t say regret because there was nothing I could do about it, but it was something that sort of lingers over me a little bit because I know towards the end of my time at Reading, the atmosphere was kind of ‘he’s always injured’ kind of thing. I’d never been injured in my career. The biggest injury I’d had was like six weeks for breaking a bone in my toe.
"For Reading, I guess it was all about the communication. When we got promotion to the Premier League, I signed a new contract with the club. Subsequently, I went on to get a calf injury early on in the season and that kept me out for four or five weeks. After that I came back into the side, again feeling good, but the team wasn’t playing especially well, so there weren’t many chances around and I didn’t manage to hit a goal. But then I had that fateful day at St. Mary’s and I went down against Southampton under a challenge from Luke Shaw and I never played football again. Now, within that, you’re talking about someone who at 35 years old, I think I would have played for another three or four years – both of my uncles who played professional football had long careers and went down the leagues and I’ve done that.
"I ended seeing four different specialists, I had three steriled injections into my hip, I had an operation. I left my young family on my own volition and went to Holland and met some specialists there. I spent six weeks myself away from my family and away from the squad. I did all of that because I wanted to come back fit and play for Reading Football Club. The thing that irks me a little bit is this thing that somehow being injured ‘worked for me’ or you know ‘I didn’t want to play’, or it was ‘convenient’ because I had media commitments. I’ve been doing media since 2011, since I was a kid, the media could have waited another three years, or another five years.
"I know if I was still fit, I would have still been able to perform at Championship level and still make the difference that I made when I came to Reading. So that sort of attitude I have wanted to address, sorry if I’m going off on one [Olly: No, it’s fine, carry on!], but this whole thing that somehow I ‘triggered a clause’ when we got relegated which is absolutely not true. I signed my contract when we got promotion to the Premier League. People asked why I considered to stay on, because I thought I’d get fit and I thought I’d be able to help the club.
"For me to sign a new deal after promotion, let me tell you, people spoke about the finances of it. The contract when I got relegated – I hadn’t played for that little since I was 22. So it certainly wasn’t about the money, it was about me wanting to play on until I was 37, 38 or 39. That unfortunately didn’t happen for me so it’s something that irks me I think, that people believe that me being injured was somehow a positive for me. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my career."
On the problems of the Zingarevich era:
"You’d think that being the players of the football club, we’d be sort of in the middle of all the stuff that’s happening and know all the relevant information. I can tell you that it absolutely doesn’t work like that. We get the information probably a day after you guys as fans and watchers of the clubs do. From our perspective, what we did realise was that names, actually that’s unfair, the support we expected to come into the club with all the noise around the club didn’t follow on from what we expected."
Many thanks to Jason for taking the time to speak to us, and remember you can hear the whole interview on an upcoming podcast!