When asked to list Reading’s most efficient strikers, the names Trevor Senior, Ronnie Blackman and Jimmy Quinn would roll off fans’ tongues. Yet their records pale into insignificance when compared to Berkshire’s leading marksman of the early 1930s: Jack Palethorpe.
The Slough-born centre forward‘s time in Berkshire would last a little under two years but the impact he had as part of Joe Smith’s ‘nearly side’ of the 1930s cannot be understated.
Palethorpe joined the Biscuitmen shortly before their long overdue relegation to the Third Division South was confirmed at the beginning of 1931. The Elm Park faithful feared the worst as they went into the 1931/32 season with an unproven manager having lost many of their former stars including Alf Messer, Bert Eggo and Frank Richardson. But Palethorpe and incoming boss Joe Smith would help steady the ship and bring Reading the closest they would come to the Second Division for the next half a century.
Palethorpe was spotted playing for Maidenhead United in non-league where scoring goals was as easy as shelling peas. He managed 65 in 39 games in what is still a club record for most goals in a single season by a Maidenhead player.
He was snapped up by Reading and would make the step up to the Third Division South with ease, scoring 54 goals in 57 starts - a stunning ratio of 0.95 goals per game. Manager Joe Smith, Bolton’s record goalscorer as a player, helped bring the best out of his forward line as Palethorpe - and his fellow teammates Arthur Bacon and Tommy Tait - would score the majority of Reading’s 97 and 103 goals in the 1931/32 and 1932/33 seasons respectively.
This trio were by far the deadliest in Reading’s illustrious history, with all of whom boasting records of at least 0.61 goals per game and were part of a side that relied on their attacking prowess to get results. Under Smith, Elm Park would witness second, fourth, third and second-placed finishes as they came within touching distance of a rapid return to Second Division football having been relegated in 1930/31.
The reliance on this talented attacking force saw numerous high-scoring victories including home wins of 6-2 against Bournemouth, 7-1 against Swindon Town, 5-2 against Torquay and a 5-2 away win at Clapton Orient - all in the 1932/33 season. This would provide great entertainment for fans as they finally saw Reading fighting at the right end of the table after years spent battling against relegation in the second tier.
Palethorpe was at the centre of the early 1930s resurgence where he scored 23 goals in 28 games and then 29 in 27 in his two full seasons at the club, including a seven-minute hat-trick in an away game against Mansfield Town. This 7-1 away victory remains the Biscuitmen’s biggest away win to date.
Despite his efforts, Reading’s weakness at the back prevented them from being promoted as they had a net goal difference of -14 away from home in 1932/33. This would force Palethorpe to look for a move away from the club and joined Stoke City for £3,000 in March 1933.
He would score eight goals in the Potters’ final 10 league matches to help secure their promotion to the first tier. Palethorpe struggled to impose himself on the top division but he did manage to score a goal in the 1935 FA Cup Final as Sheffield Wednesday cruised to a 4-2 victory against West Bromwich Albion.
If Palethorpe had stayed at Reading it is certain he would be a club legend at the tip of fans’ lips, but the draw of a bigger club meant he left Berkshire. His place as a key member of Joe Smith’s ‘nearly side’ however is assured and, if the club could have kept hold of talented centre-half Alf Messer, Palethorpe would have been a Second Division player long before 1933.