TTE: Before you started as kit man you had already been a lifelong Reading supporter from your early childhood. What was your first-ever match you watched at Elm Park?
Ron Grant: The first ever game I went to was in 1946 against Bristol Rovers. The background story to that is that Reading by this time played in the old Division Three South. It was right after the war. At the beginning of that season, I remember going on a Wednesday evening to a local fish and chips shop. Inside that shop, there were a number of men talking about the game they had just seen. It was Reading’s first home match of the season - the historical 10-2 against Crystal Palace.
When I went home, I said to my dad: “I want to go to football”. And a bit later he took me to that match against Bristol Rovers which we drew 1-1. Honestly, I have to say that I don’t remember so much about the game. I was still very young. What I do remember of course are the blue and white shirts and the great atmosphere at Elm Park.
TTE: What memories or players come to your mind when you think about these years as a supporter?
Ron Grant: Right at the beginning in the late 40s, we had a great squad with players like McPhee, Edelston or some years after, Gordon Brice. When I grew up, I had the problem that I was playing local football myself, so I couldn’t go to that many matches on a Saturday. It was also before Elm Park had floodlights, which meant there weren’t many games during the week.
A player from the 60s I always liked was Dick Spiers, a very classic centre half. There are as well a number of matches I remember, some for good reasons and some for bad. One game I will never forget was a cup tie against Norwich City. That year I had a motorbike and was for work at Bletchley - Milton Keynes as it is now. I left there around 1pm and dashed back in direction to Elm Park in record time to make it just before kick-off.
A funny story is also that I had a false tooth at that time. During the match, I shouted so loud that it came out and landed on the terraces. I had to go on hands searching for it. Another game I will always remember was the cup tie against Manchester City who were a First Division side that 67/68 season. For the first leg we went up with a coach from work around tea time, the match being an evening kick-off. We got a fantastic 0-0 draw. The return leg was played at Elm Park then, again midweek, in front of over 25,000 supporters. A tremendous atmosphere! Unfortunately, we got beaten 7-0.
TTE: In the early 90s you ran the Sunday football side called Abbey Rangers that used to play at Coombe Park. The same facilities were used by Reading’s first team for their training sessions. In some way, this coincidence led to your first job with the Royals…
Ron Grant: That’s right. We played in the Reading District Sunday League. My three sons who have been all into football convinced me to start a football side. We were quite successful. To that time, we went on the record as Abbey Whitchurch Rangers. The reason for that was that we played at Coombe Park at Whitchurch and they had run into problems with their own team. We took them on board and played where they used to play.
At Reading Football Club, Mark McGhee being the manager, it was also a period where some changes were made within the backroom staff. They were searching for somebody who could drive a minibus and look after the YTS-players to take them from Elm Park to Coombe Park. They would clean the boots and make sure the dressing rooms are clean. That was the job Mark McGhee offered after he had watched me before training my Sunday League side.
In the beginning of the 90s, the person who was responsible for the kit being packed for games was actually John Haselden, the physio. But it became clear soon that John had enough work to do as a physio. And that was the moment when I officially started as Reading’s kit man.
TTE: You did the job as kit man for more than 16 years. How did your work change during that period?
Ron Grant: It changed totally! Initially for a match day we only had two skips. One was a big skip and the other one only a half skip. The half one had the boots in and the big one had the shirts, shorts, socks and probably a warm-up top. That was it. We travelled as well on the same day. So, it was very different from my last years as kit man in 2009 where we had three or four skips and a couple of big holdalls.
When we got promoted to the Premiership, I got even an assistant, which made life a lot easier, because the job had become quite complex. You had to make sure that you put in the right shirts with the right name on, you had a warm-up-top, undergarments that had to be in the same colour than the shirt and a lot more. Somehow, I was the wardrobe mistress! And of course, there were special things as well that players liked to have, that were personal to them.
TTE: Was there any player that you would describe as especially “labour intensive”?
Ron Grant: That is hard to say because they had all their moments! Players who needed their full choice of boots, who needed their special undergarments or socks. Marcus Hahnemann for example always cut the sleeves of his shirt. Dave Kitson used to wear black undergarments, which were bit difficult when we played in the white dress. They all had their little habits, but no one was really “labour-intensive”.
TTE: With which players or managers did you have the closest relationships over the years?
Ron Grant: I have to say that I got along well with all our managers. From Mark McGhee over to Micky Gooding and Jimmy Quinn until Steve Coppell in the end. With all of them, I had really close relationships. I would like to mention also Terry Bullivant. I know that he wasn’t really popular among the Reading supporters. But he was a good guy, a good manager.
And I think he was also unlucky while being with us. I still remember that home game against Manchester City which in some way was crucial for the rest of the season in my opinion. We won that match convincingly 3-0. But that night we lost Parky and Lee Hodges through injuries. We lost our midfield. And we had as well injury problems in goal. I think, even though we won, that game cost Terry Bullivant his job.
In relation to the players of that time I have to say that I stayed in touch with most of them due to my function at the Reading Former Player’s Association. Generally I would say, that I was always quite close to Graeme Murty, Dave Kitson, Micky Gooding, Jimmy Quinn to name some.
TTE: Overall, what would be your two or three greatest/proudest moments?
Ron Grant: As a supporter, I would say the Simod Cup Final. This particular day was one of the greatest moments of watching Reading Football Club. At that time my wife worked at the local radio station. She knew Manager Ian Branfoot and managed to get the third coach from the club for us. So, we filled it with friends, family, neighbours and went all together to the final which was just incredible. A very special day. When we returned all together to Reading, we went to a pub and celebrated that historical win. I must admit I did have a beer and I was a very happy man!
As kit man, I would choose two matches. One is the play-off final 95 at Wembley when we got beaten by Bolton. That was a sad occasion, but also a memorable one. And the other match is obviously the promotion to the Premier League at Leicester. It was a fantastic day along with all the celebrations that followed.
TTE: You took part in some funny goal-celebrations. One with James Harper at Newcastle and the other with Leroy Lita against West Brom. Do they still put a smile on your face?
Ron Grant: Definitely! Harps was always saying that when he scores, we would have a dance. So, when he scored at Newcastle he came over and started dancing with me. Our manager Stevie Coppell wasn’t really happy about it. He said that it was a bit disrespectful to the opposition.
And Leroy Lita… what can you say? It was such a brilliant goal. When he ran across, I didn’t expect that he would jump on me. At that match I was wearing also only trainers and one foot was already off the artificial grass. Leroy was not the tallest, but a very strong guy. He had pretty much force when he came towards me with his pace. I just couldn’t hold him and slipped. Great moments that will always put a smile on my face!