Having started supporting Reading about 13 years ago, I've luckily been able to see what's arguably been the best spell in the club's existence. As such, I've watched some terrific footballers at the Mad Stad. To be honest, no single player leaps out as my absolute favourite - indeed, a couple have significance for a variety of reasons. As far as quality goes, I loved the goal threat of Shane Long and the ingenuity of Gylfi Sigurdsson. On the other hand, the terrier-like tenacity of Jay Tabb and the admirable charity work of Noel Hunt endeared me to those players.
However, the one man that stands out for me as being both a joy to watch play football, and being equally entertaining off the pitch is... Jimmy Kebe. The mercurial Malian took a while to settle in at the club but, under the tutelage of Brian McDermott, became one of the best wingers in the club's recent history. His sheer blistering pace set many a game alight, and the fact that he could accelerate away from even the quickest defenders whilst running with the ball must have been terrifying for the opposition. Add in the assists and goals and you get a thoroughly enjoyable, effective player.
It's a real shame that Kebe didn't go on to bigger and better things when he left Reading. His move to Crystal Palace didn't quite work out, and he was eventually faced with the horrific prospect of a move to Leeds United. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Thirteen years doesn't leave me with many options here, so really it's a predictably obvious toss-up between Steve Coppell and Brian McDermott. I'm going to sit on the fence here and give two different answers (awkward, I know). As for the best manager, it has to be Steve Coppell. What he did for the club in creating the best team outside of the top division, and then leading it to an 8th place finish in the Premier League, was phenomenal. When the Football League named their best XI and manager of the last decade, Coppell was very unlucky to be pipped to the manager award by Eddie Howe.
As for favourite manager, it's Brian McDermott. His warm, bubbly nature came across as a terrific advert for the football club. Granted, he wasn't quite as accomplished as Coppell, but his man-managing ability was second to none. Even getting into the Playoffs with the 2011/12 team would have been a big achievement - Brian managed to win the league by squeezing every ounce of quality out of the likes of Jobi McAnuff, Mikele Leigertwood and others.
Here's a controversial bit - this'll annoy a lot of people, but it's what I honestly feel, so hey. Obviously, he was nowhere near as good as the previous two, but I've got a lot of time for Nigel Adkins. Sure, we didn't have any success under him, but I loved his sheer enthusiasm for the game. Most got wound up pretty easily by his optimism, but to me it clearly showed that he loved doing his job. Have a look at the video below for a taste of what I mean.
How many managers in this day and age would take time out to not only watch the u14 team, but to then give them praise in person after the game? It's the kind of thing that's easy to forget, but to me it showed the measure of a very enthusiastic man.
Easy pick for me, the 4-2 win at West Ham back in 2012. Reading's terrific run of form - eight wins on the bounce in fact - had thrown them into serious contention for promotion. However, it wasn't really until after this game that we looked like true title contenders. Having arguably been second best for the opening 40 minutes, we responded terrifically to turn the match on its head, go 2-1 up in front of the away fans, and then boss proceedings in the second half.
Having not been at the Southampton game - the other really big away fixture at the end of the season - this one has that bit more special significance. Not only was it a great performance, an exciting game, a vital three points, and a fun away day at a rocking ground, but I also happened to meet one of the players afterwards. On the tube back from the game, I bumped in to the one and only Jay Tabb (District Line to Wimbledon if you're interested). The following was taken, ironically, by a West Ham fan.
It's all about the beautiful 2010/11 home shirt. Despite, if I remember correctly, it being described on BBC's 606 site as looking like it had been filled in by a five year old, I loved its cartoonish simplicity. It was a playful new take on the classic blue and white hoops, without being anything too revolutionary. In later seasons, the designers got it all wrong - 2011/12 looked dangerously like a cross between a QPR shirt and a Leeds United one, whereas 2012/13 was big blocks of blue and white, rather than actual hoops.
There's a few contenders here, with Reading getting to a good range of grounds in recent years. I haven't been fortunate enough to go to the really good stadiums yet though - the likes of Anfield, Old Trafford, the Emirates etc. That said, last season's cup run threw up some zingers. In the fifth round,
The iPro Pride Park was a joy to go to. A big, packed out ground with a terrific atmosphere from the home fans. On the whole, it's a modern enough ground to have good facilities, but old enough to retain some character.
However, my absolute favourite has to be Valley Parade. By most accounts, it's terrible. It's cramped, with average facilities and an awful pitch - but it the atmosphere was second to none. By League One standards it's a big ground, and on the day it was packed to the rafters. Out of all the stadiums I've been to, that was probably the most intimidating - but certainly not in a bad way - the locals being very friendly. Add in the pre-match walk from the station to the ground (via an old pub of course), and the whole experience was wonderful (the only down note was being randomly kettled by the police prior to the game).
Jobi McAnuff vs Cardiff City in the Playoffs. Reading were already 2-0 up at that stage, but the Jamaican's goal was the definition of icing on the cake. A terrific jinky run through the home defence before slotting home. Cue Royal celebrations, and the realisation that we were going to Wembley.
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