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Reading’s 25 Under 25: Part Four

Featuring an FA Cup hero and a current pundit.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Reading v Nottingham Forest - Madejski Stadium Photo by Adam Davy - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

It's time for the next instalment of our look back at a few Reading players whose time at the club was notable despite failing to make more than 25 appearances for the club.


Yakubu

11 appearances, now retired

The 57-cap Nigerian frontman was a legendary striker in English football well before he joined Reading on a free transfer in early 2015. He’s made his name in a spell with Maccabi Haifa from 1998 to 2003 that had included a European Cup goal against Manchester United. From Haifa he moved to England, initially on loan to Portsmouth. The deal was made permanent for £4m and in a two-year Pompey career the Yak scored 36 goals in 78 games.

This led to a £7.5m move to Middlesborough, where he scored 25 goals in 73 games. After this, he signed for Everton for £11.25m, becoming the Toffees’ record signing. He had a mixed time in Liverpool, scoring 15 league goals in his first season, but then faded away and only managed 25 goals in his 82 league games overall.

Having scored over a goal a game during a loan spell at then-Championship side Leicester City, a move to Blackburn Rovers followed. Despite scoring 17 goals in his debut season, Blackburn were relegated. At this point, Yak cemented his journeyman status by moving to China and then Qatar, with Guangzhou R&F and Al-Rayyan respectively.

After his Al-Rayyan contract expired, the Nigerian frontman sealed his all-important move back to England with a free transfer to Reading. In his six months at the Mad Stad Yakubu looked unfit and off the pace, only playing seven league games. The only bright spark was a Valentine’s Day goal against Derby County in the FA Cup. That goal sealed the Royals’ place in the quarter-final against Bradford City and confined fan Jacob South-Klein’s first child to the name Aiyegbeni.

Yakubu faded even further after leaving Reading, failing to impress in Turkey and back in England with Coventry City and non-league Borehamwood. He eventually retired on his 35th birthday in November 2017. It was a quiet end to the career of a player who had been transferred for fees totalling over £20m in his English career.


Martin Keown

5 appearances, now a pundit

Just six months after being part of Arsenal’s famous invincible Premier League win, 43-cap England international Martin Keown joined Steve Coppell’s Reading in January 2005. His time in Berkshire therefore is sandwiched between one of the greatest seasons from a team in English football... and also the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ side.

Keown had made his England debut in 1992 while playing for Everton, but it wasn’t until he returned to Arsenal – the club he had played for as a schoolboy – that he reached iconic status. The no-nonsense defender played over 300 games for the Gunners and was a key figure in one of the most feared defences in English football, winning three Premier League medals and three FA Cups between 1997 and 2004. That final season saw Keown play the minimum 10 league games required to receive a Premier League medal and he subsequently moved to Leicester City.

Six months later, aged 39, Keown turned up in Berkshire. An injury-prone shell of his former self, Keown only managed to feature in five of Reading’s remaining 16 games after he joined as the Royals missed out on a play-off place on the last day of the season. Undoubtedly a star before his time in Berkshire, unfortunately Martin Keown’s biggest contribution to the club seems to have been his son Niall joining the academy. Keown Junior - another potential entry for this series - played twice for the Royals before heading north of the border with Partick Thistle.


Walter Tull

2 appearances, killed in action on the Western Front during World War One

Followers of military history will likely be familiar with Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British Army to command white troops. But he was also a well-known footballer, playing half-back for Clapton, Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town in the years before the First World War.

During the conflict itself he enlisted into the Footballers’ Battalion, a unit initially made up of professional players - including Biscuitmen Joe Bailey and Allen Foster, to name just two. Besides being involved in action on the Western Front in the same way as other units, the Battalion’s recruits also played football matches against other regiments and teams back in England.

However, Tull actually turned out twice for Reading in 1916 shortly after recovering from ‘shell shock’ - a 9-0 loss to Fulham and 5-1 to West Ham United. They would be his final competitive matches in Britain, although standard recuperation time on the frontlines in France and Belgium included football matches and tournaments.

He would never return from the frontline, and was killed in action during the German army’s Spring Offensive on March 25 1918 at Favreuil in the Pas de Calais. His body was never recovered.


Frank Swift

4 appearances, killed in the Munich Air Disaster

Footballers appearing for random clubs during wartime was a practice that didn’t end with the First World War. In fact, it happened again during the Second World War, being known as the ‘guest player’ system, and Reading were certainly beneficiaries of it.

Between 1939 and 1945 Elm Park would see some famous names take to the pitch, including future Manchester United manager Matt Busby - although he apparently played more than 30 times for us. Our ranks also included future Aston Villa, Manchester City and England manager Joe Mercer, and the first player in the Football League to be of Chinese origin: Frank Soo.

In this case though I’ll focus on Frank Swift, an England international goalkeeper. He played several hundred times during the 1930s for Manchester City, helping them to their second FA Cup win in 1933/34 and first ever league title in 1936/37. It was during the FA Cup victory that Swift fainted at full-time due to the nerves from his inexperience, although he was revived in time to receive his medal.

Fun fact - his hands were apparently so big that he could pick the ball up with just one of them, giving him the nickname “Frying Pan Hands”.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Swift combined playing for Manchester City with serving in the army - in his case joining the Army School of Physical Training at Aldershot. During this time he turned out for various professional teams in the area including Reading. As the Imperial War Museum explains, the ‘guest player’ system meant footballers would represent the club nearest to where they were stationed during the war.

He would play for City and England again after the Second World War until retirement in 1949, at which point the Manchester club were in need of a new goalkeeper. They settled on one Bert Trautmann.

Swift’s life ended tragically nine years later. After retirement from football he became a journalist with the News of the World, and accompanied the Manchester United side that was involved in the Munich Air Disaster. Despite surviving the initial crash, he died of his injuries.


Neil Clement

11 appearances, now retired

We’re cheating a little bit with this one, but Neil Clement is notable for who his brother is: former Reading manager Paul Clement. It was in fact Neil who rocked up the Madejski Stadium first though; he arrived on loan from Chelsea (later Paul’s club as a coach) in the Royals’ first season away from Elm Park.

Although he didn’t properly settle at Reading, Chelsea or indeed other loans Preston North End and Brentford, he did do so at West Bromwich Albion. Clement had a brief temporary spell at the Hawthorns in 2000, but made that move permanent before playing over 250 times for the Baggies in a stay that would last until 2010.

Having become a racehorse owner in his post-playing days, Neil Clement was eventually banned from it for 15 years after being “found guilty of conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice, placing a lay bet on a horse which he then owned and failure to provide phone records to the inquiry”.