Oh Jimmy Kebe, what I would do to have you running down the wing for us again. You had flair, pace, power and unfortunately for Jack Collison, the ability to pull your socks up midway through the game whilst on the ball.
It was December 2011 and we were in recovery after suffering a really poor start to the season. The feel-good factor was coming back to the Madejski just in time for the visit of West Ham’s Sam Allardyce. The away side were favourites for promotion with the squad they had and an experienced head in Allardyce.
Although we showed our quality in the previous season by getting to the playoff final and our recent upturn in form, West Ham were favourites to take all three points that day. After a goalless first half, the game exploded into life in the second half. Substitute Joey O’Brien was sent off for a second-bookable offence and the Royals took full advantage of this shortly after, with Alex Pearce firing home from close-range.
Reading doubled their lead through birthday boy Simon Church, after Adam Le Fondre’s expertly executed cross fell into the path of the Welshman. At 2-0 up, Reading were in cruise control. Although we had that two goal cushion now, it was a great time to build on this lead and grab another. This is when the all-important moment came.
Heading into the final five minutes of the game, a deflected shot from the Royals fell to the feet of Shaun Cummings on the right wing, who played a short pass to Jimmy Kebe. Instead of taking advantage of the vast amount of space that the Malian had, our Jimmy decided to pull up his socks to send a clear message to the West Ham side, effectively saying “you’re giving me too much space!”
Cummings and Kebe managed to exchange a few more more passes until Jack Collison reached the duo. And after the Reading winger managed to pass the ball back until pressure from the Hammers player, Collison lost his head completely and lashed out.
The East Stand, including myself, erupted with rage. Cue a melee right by the linesman on the right hand side. Julian Faubert (who somehow managed to end up at Real Madrid on a loan spell a couple of years earlier), Kevin Nolan and Shaun Cummings were all involved as Neil Swarbrick was left with no choice but to send Collison off.
From the resulting free kick, Church grabbed his second of the game from a brilliant Ian Harte free kick and the points were secure. This was one of the key games I covered in an audio documentary I created about the 2011/12 promotion season – one of the interviewees summed this game up perfectly in terms of the rest of that campaign.
“I think that win in particular stands out as a real highlight of the season. We absolutely battered West Ham that day and there’s no finer sight than seeing the away end empty. I think come ten minutes to go there was just a sea of blue seats.
“I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, you kind of think it’s just a one-off. Great result and you look back and you always remember that game for Kebe pulling up his socks and the antics that followed. So, it was a really, really important win, but at that moment in time, I didn’t really appreciate just how important it would be for the rest of the season.”
There was a major debate about whether Kebe’s antics were just funny, or were they in fact disrespectful? There may be bias from you loyal Royals, but what do you think? I can certainly see why people would think it showed a lack of respect, but he’s Jimmy Kebe, he does what he wants…