In an in-depth interview with Irish website The42, former Reading striker Noel Hunt has given a fascinating insight on his 17-year career to date. The current Waterford frontman discusses his breakthrough in Ireland, dealing with Twitter trolls and playing for the national team, whilst his time at the Madejski Stadium naturally features heavily too. In a quote that will bring a smile to any Royals fan’s face, Hunt gives a glowing review of his spell in the blue and white hoops:
“I’ve been very lucky to play for some great clubs and Reading by far is my favourite. I loved it there. I was five years there and I would have stayed forever. It was a great club, great people involved there, great memories. I’ve still got the best of friends there and it was fantastic.”
Reading signed Hunt from Dundee United following relegation in 2008, meaning the striker linked up with older brother Stephen, who was of course part of the Royals’ Championship record-breaking team of 2005/06.
“It came out of the blue,” Noel said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was just surreal, because I was playing with Stephen — and all my career, I tried to get to his level. He came down a level [after Premier League relegation] and I went up a level, but we scored goals together, he set me up loads and I set him up for a couple. It was amazing, I really enjoyed it.
“I had a couple of offers for other clubs, but I wasn’t interested. I spoke to Stephen and Stephen had said he was staying for another year, because the manager was staying, and that was good enough for me.
“It wasn’t about money or any of that. Memories are worth more than any money, in football and in family. You don’t have to have loads of money to be very wealthy. In my head, I’ve had plenty of memories and feelings to keep me happy. It was about making memories, and that’s what we did, from the first goal, the first training session, it was just all surreal and one of the best times in my life.”
Arguably the most significant of those memories was winning the Championship in 2012 and earning promotion to the Premier League for only the second time in Reading’s history. But things certainly didn’t go to plan for either the Royals or Hunt in the promised land.
“I’d worked so hard to get in the team, because we’d made a couple of signings that season. They were big-money signings and I worked harder than I ever worked before to get in the team, and when I got my chance, I felt I took it.
“I played at QPR in a cup game in midweek and did really well. I played against Newcastle on Saturday and scored — took a bad knock in that game. I played in the Swansea game the week after, scored again, but I just got a few bad injuries that kept me out for four or five weeks in that time.”
The much derided Anton Zingarevich was Reading’s owner for Hunt’s final few years at the club, and the 35-year-old certainly doesn’t hold back with his opinion on the Russian.
“Then we had a change of manager over that period. I was gutted, because I felt the owner at the time was ruining the club. He had knocked everything we had done and built, because it was his club. That was his prerogative.
“But I was one of the longest serving there, along with Adam Federici, I felt I’ll go say something to him. It was a conversation we had over a year’s contract that was on the table, but I don’t think the conversation went well, I felt the players he brought in had changed the ethos of the club.
“He had given these players mega money for not doing anything really, not being proven in the Premier League. I felt that it was wrong, because we had a very hard-working ethos. If you disrupt that, it’ll change very quickly. You feel the disruption — your team and your flow and your chemistry. You start to carry too many players then and there are other players over-working in other areas, trying to cover the ground of these other players, and you don’t do any real job of your own.
“We got relegated and we saw we weren’t good enough to stay in the league, because I felt that four or five players that came in that had to play under the owner didn’t really suit where we as a team had got to. We worked damn hard for that and that was my biggest regret, that we didn’t get a proper chance, a proper go at [the Premier League].”
You can read the full interview with Noel Hunt here.