The circumstances surrounding Reading’s 3-0 win over Bradford in the FA Cup quarter-final replay in 2015 certainly sum up televised football this decade. A dire 0-0 draw had been played out on a dreadful Valley Parade pitch in the original fixture, a 12:45pm kick-off that Royals fans had to travel four hours and 200 miles for.
Due to further bizarre broadcasting regulations, the replay couldn’t be played on a Tuesday or Wednesday as it would clash with the Champions League, meaning a Monday night was scheduled for the two sides to do battle again. The whole situation was quite frankly farcical, and meant that Reading essentially forfeited their Championship game with Watford just two days before by fielding a side made up of youngsters and fringe players.
Nonetheless, there was nothing stopping this from becoming one of the great Madejski Stadium nights of the decade. The packed home crowd. The pyrotechnics before kick-off. The magic of the FA Cup.
The Royals started the game in a way they could only have dreamt of beforehand. Just six minutes were on the clock when Hal Robson-Kanu headed home from a corner, and Garath McCleary doubled the lead three minutes later when his deflected strike looped over Ben Williams in the Bradford goal. No one could quite believe it, and the celebrations reflected that fact.
Reading may have been in a higher division, but Bradford were that season’s cup giant-killers, and the BBC cameras were in town to see them pull off another shock. Yet Phil Parkinson’s side were the ones that were stunned by the Royals’ emphatic start, and they never recovered.
It’s rare that you can enjoy a game of such magnitude, but the two early goals seemed to kill the pressure and tension, and Reading seemed very much in control for the rest of the game. The home crowd felt much more relaxed, and there was a real party atmosphere throughout the second half as our semi-final place became increasingly more secure. Filipe Morais’s straight red card for Bradford just after the hour mark made the visitors’ task even harder, and Jamie Mackie fired home the third goal a few minutes later to cap off a magical evening. Even a solo pitch invader was taken with relatively good spirits - circus music was played over the PA system as ‘Pudding’ performed cartwheels and somersaults on the pitch.
Bradford’s status as fearless underdogs effectively made Reading the villains of the piece, but the Royals had created their own piece of history. A first FA Cup semi-final since 1927 was confirmed, and who knows when that may happen again.
I don’t quite know how to describe how I felt that night, because it’s not a feeling I’ve had at any other time as a fan. It was euphoric, emotional and spine-tingling, but not in the same way as when we won promotion or reached play-off finals. That night was unique, and it really felt as if Reading had achieved something significant. The whole occasion was so special, and it’s not a game I’ll ever forget.