21 August 2001: Reading 4-0 Luton Town (League Cup)
After winning our first two league games of the season, Alan Pardew decided to rotate his side for this first round tie. 20 year old Nicky Shorey made his debut at left back in place of Matt Robinson, whilst injuries to Martin Butler and Jamie Cureton meant Darius Henderson started up front. There were also places on the bench for Jamie Ashdown, Joe Gamble and Nathan Tyson, in what was possibly the youngest ever matchday squad Reading had named in the Madejski Stadium’s short history.
The game was to be remembered for two goals from the impressive Henderson. They were the first of his career, as well as the first goals scored by a Reading player at the Madejski, who had come through the club’s youth system. Henderson also set up Phil Parkinson and Alex Smith to score, and showed he fully deserved his place as a regular in the matchday squad in this promotion winning season.
28 December 2002: Reading 2-1 Derby County
Whilst Henderson’s injuries would ultimately hold him back in his Reading career, there was no doubt that he was a first team player after the above game. Nathan Tyson though found it more difficult and had to go out on loan to Swansea City and Cheltenham Town.
Whilst he was away the Royals won promotion and John Salako had main the left wing position his own. However, by the end of 2002 Salako had hit a bad run of form so Reading born Tyson was given his first league start.
Just five minutes into the game a clever run by Sammy Igoe led to Tyson having an early chance. With still much to do and from an angle, he drilled the ball firmly into the far corner.
Six weeks later Tyson’s rise went national when he scored twice as England U20s beat Germany in a friendly at the Madejski Stadium. That was to be Tyson’s only international cap and is fellow England players (Andy Lonergan, Michael Chopra, John Welsh, Darren Carter and Brian Howard) similarly never made it big. Still Tyson will always have the memory of one of the best moments in the history of Reading’s academy.
26 August 2008: Reading 5-1 Luton Town (League Cup)
One of the consolations of getting relegated was the possibility that the most exciting generation of academy graduates in 15 years would get a chance. After a mixed start to the season Steve Coppell rotated his squad as he always did for the League Cup.
In came Adam Federici, Julian Kelly, Scott Golbourne, Alex Pearce, James Henry and Jem Karacan, with Mikkel Andersen and Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench. Almost seven years from the last time a youthful Royals side destroyed Luton, we once again witnessed a breakout moment.
Luton were admittedly poor, but Reading were rampant and put in an exciting performance that showed Steve Coppell’s football at its best. The Hunt brothers scored two goals in the first 15 minutes, before three goals from academy players (Pearce, Karacan and Henry) in 20 second half minutes turned this into one of the most enjoyable League Cup nights at the Madejski Stadium before Sigurdsson came off the bench to make his debut.
12 May 2009: Reading 0-2 Burnley (Play-Off Semi Final)
Making your senior debut is a special moment for any young player. Making it in the second leg of a play-off semi final is another level.
That’s what happened on an otherwise sad night for the Royals. With Kevin Doyle ruled out through injury, and Dave Kitson and Glenn Little sadly showing that their careers were in decline, Coppell decided to make an uncharacteristic gamble.
He had always been very cautious about blooding young players, but in a sign that he was possibly at his wits end he started 20 year old Simon Church who had finished the season with a decent loan spell at Leyton Orient. It’s easy to forget now, but back then Church was highly rated and he put in a decent display before Kitson, Little and Stephen Hunt were thrown on in the hope they might have some old magic left.
Sadly they didn’t and this was a sad end to Coppell’s era, but Church was evidence that there was an exciting group of homegrown players waiting to takeover.
11 August 2009: Reading 5-1 Burton Albion (League Cup)
Few things divide Reading fans as much as their thoughts on the Brendan Rodgers’ era. Some, like me, still maintain that he should have been given longer to turn things around (though no one will deny the good job Brian McDermott did).
It all started so promisingly. After a 0-0 draw against Nottingham Forest, which saw five academy players start, Rodgers gave starts to a further four against Burton who had recently been promoted to the Football League.
Nine academy players starting in two games is something to be proud of and may have been something we were too quick to take for granted. Two players stood out against the Brewers and their careers were to take very different paths.
A minute after Dave Mooney had given Reading the lead, a quick break saw Nicholas Bignall's pace take him past him his marker and then, showing remarkable composure, drew the keeper before sliding the ball into the net. A minute later a mix up between the Burton keeper and defence saw Bignall score again. 3-0 after nine minutes!
That was sadly to be the highlight of Bignall’s professional career, but another player scored the goal of the game in the first half to give early warning of his serious potential. Sigurdsson picked up the ball just inside the Albion half, and finding himself in space took the ball forward a couple of paces, looked up, and from well over 30 yards, struck the ball sweetly in off the post.
I can remember turning to my family in disbelief. This was not the sort of goal Reading players score, let alone a 19 year old kid. I wonder whatever happened to him!?
30 August 2010: Reading 4-3 Doncaster Rovers
A game most notable for a stirring Royals comeback. It was to be Simon Church who scored the winner, but it was Jem Karacan’s goal that gave us hope.
Hal Robson-Kanu also started with Alex McCarthy and Alex Pearce on the bench.
29 December 2012: Reading 1-0 West Ham United
Okay not the most obvious choice. Jem Karacan was man of the match in a gritty win.
He was joined on the pitch by Alex Pearce and Hal Robson-Kanu, whilst Alex McCarthy was another rare positive in a disappointing Premier League season. Since then Robson-Kanu is the only player to make any impact in the Premier League, but it was still good to see little old Reading compete at the top with so many homegrown players.
16 August 2014: Reading 1-0 Ipswich Town
It will probably surprise people, but this is one of the games I enjoyed the most at the Madejski Stadium. After a difficult summer off the pitch following one of our most disappointing seasons, we began the season with a threadbare squad.
With injuries galore, Nigel Adkins was forced to blood some of the academy players who had been so impressive at youth level the year before. Michael Hector put in a man of the match display alongside Alex Pearce. Jake Cooper and Jack Stacey were brought onto make their debuts, while Ryan Edwards also came on to make his Mad Stad debut.
In total eight of the players Reading used and 12 in the match squad were homegrown, in what looked like another golden generation of academy graduates. Unfortunately all of them except Jordan Obita have now left and none of them so far have been successful.
The memorable moment from this game was undoubtedly the winner by Jake Taylor. His celebration was a rare moment of seeing a fan score for the club he loves.
Taylor would go onto score three goals that season, and whilst he has ultimately found his level in League Two, it’s hard not to think that players like him are the squad players we should be using, rather than some of the distinctly average players we have seen in recent years.
16 March 2015: Reading 3-0 Bradford City (FA Cup)
Three academy players started this game with four others remaining unused on the bench. A rare game in recent memory of real passion and atmosphere at the Madejski Stadium.
You knew this was going to be a special night when the much maligned Hal Robson-Kanu lept to powerfully head us in front after just six minutes on the clock.
I don’t know why, but these days it feels like the players rarely celebrate in front of Y25/Y26, however on this occasion the players did, as the East Stand celebrated a goal in the fervent style of yesteryear. One of the most iconic goals and celebrations by an academy player.
22 August 2017: Reading 3-1 Millwall (League Cup)
It only seems right to end this article with the first time Reading fielded a player who was born after the first game at the Madejski Stadium. On 95 minutes Danny Loader took that honour in the ultimate sign of how long ago it now is since we moved from Elm Park.
This game also featured three academy graduates starting and it was one of them, Sam Smith, who scored the final goal of the night.