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‘I Was Absolutely Integrated’: Uwe Hartenberger’s Warm Memories Of His Time At Reading

Marco Bader talks to Uwe Hartenberger, who spent two years at Reading in the mid 1990s.

TTE: You started your professional career in 1992 with Bayer Uerdingen in Germany’s second tier, where you stayed for two seasons. How do you rate that time?

Uwe Hartenberger: In general, that period was not so easy. Before I signed for Uerdingen in January of that year, I played for the amateur club Edenkoben where I was the top goal scorer. During the winter preparations, I could also impress in the friendlies with Uerdingen. I managed to take the flow I had at Edenkoben with me and played also from the beginning in one of our first league matches.

Unfortunately, soon afterwards I clashed with our goalkeeper Bernd Dreher (former player and goalkeeper coach of Bayern Munich) in a training session and got ruled out for months with a heavy acromioclavicular injury. After that season Uerdingen won promotion to the 1. Bundesliga. Which meant that the step for me into the first team was even bigger. Still, I made six league and cup appearances in the first half of the season and scored the equaliser against Saarbrücken. Then, during the winter break I was loaned out to second division side Darmstadt 98 in order to get more match practise.

TTE: At the beginning of the season 93/94 you signed for Reading. How did that transfer happen?

Uwe Hartenberger: My agent had a good, friendly relation with Reading’s manager Mark McGhee as he was a key figure when McGhee signed for Hamburger SV in 1984. By that time Reading were looking to sign another striker. So, I came over to train with the team. I still remember the long journey by car and hovercraft. Not comparable to the present time. I stayed for one week, informed myself about the facilities, talked to McGhee and signed in the end a two-year-contract.

TTE: New club, new country, new language: How were the first months?

Uwe Hartenberger: The start was a bit difficult as it took some time until I could find an apartment. Until then I was living in the Kirton’s Resort Hotel at Pingewood, as did by that time Dylan Kerr and Dariusz Wdowczyk. Dylan was also the one who helped me a lot, showed me some new places and introduced myself a bit into the English life. Mark McGhee was as well very helpful and organised for me the apartment at Wallingford. So, there were quite a few helping hands who made that time a bit easier, even though it took me some time to settle in. Especially as my English was not the best.

Generally, I have to say that the time at Reading was simply a big life experience, which I enjoyed a lot. Probably the two most formative years of my life. If the club had offered me another contract I would have stayed even longer. Although football wise I had the “bad luck” to play in a very successful team with fantastic strikers. Jimmy Quinn, Stuart Lovell, Lee Nogan. Those were just top players. In that case you have to respect also if you are not playing so often.

TTE: With whom of your teammates did you get along best? And how would you generally rate your time at Elm Park?

Uwe Hartenberger: First of all, I would mention Dylan (Kerr). With him I spend most of my leisure time. Ady Williams, Andy Bernal, Jeff Hopkins, Dariusz Wdowczyk… these were others with whom I got along very well. Phil Parkinson was also very kind and helpful. But in general, I can tell only positive things about all my teammates. Not only on the pitch but also from a human perspective we had a fantastic team with great characters. Everything fit together perfectly.

I have to say also one thing: I know my English was not the best, but none of my team-mates ever complaint or made fun about it. From the first day they made me feel like one of them. The same I can say about the staff and the supporters. They never made me feel that I was a foreigner. I was absolutely integrated. That is definitely something I appreciated a lot. Especially as that is the standard everywhere.

TTE: What was your experience of the legendary play-off-final at Wembley against Bolton?

Uwe Hartenberger: That’s difficult to put in words. You had already one foot inside the Premier League. If Archie had scored the 3-0 I think we would have been through. In the second half, you noticed as well that our season was long and strenuous. When Bolton scored the equaliser, the momentum was clearly on their side. Mentally we didn’t have the strength to pull one back. Many of our players were with cramps on the field. That was probably the most heart-breaking defeat of my career even though I didn’t play. Unfortunately, a big disappointment at the end of a fantastic season.

TTE: If you had to choose, what would be your favourite Reading line-up?

Uwe Hartenberger: Of course, I would put Shaka Hislop in goal. In defence I choose to play with Andy Bernal, Ady Williams, Dariusz Wdowczyk and Dylan Kerr. Then Scott Taylor and Michael Gilkes as wingers and Phil Parkinson together with Simon Osborn in the central. I have to say that I could have taken Mick Gooding and Paul Holsgrove as well. They were also great players.

Paul was more technical and Mick a tireless runner. Unbelievable how much energy he had even with 37, 38 years. And my two strikers would be Jimmy Quinn and Stuart Lovell. They built such a strong partnership. Sometimes you have to be sincere and accept when others are ahead of you. I will come on then as one of their substitutes :-)

TTE: After your career as a player you stayed involved with football as a coach. What are your plans for the future? Any plans to visit Reading again?

Uwe Hartenberger: Until last season which was cancelled due to corona in march, I was the first-team coach at SC Idar-Oberstein in Germany’s sixth highest division. After that, I decided to take a sabbatical. Something I planned to do already two years ago. I don’t know if I will continue as a coach next year.

For now, I’m enjoying my time without football. And when will I visit Reading again? I hope soon! Unfortunately, due to corona I suppose it might take some time. But the fact that I’m not occupied with a coaching role would help also to visit Reading on a weekend. I would love to see a match at the Madejski Stadium and maybe meet some of my old teammates.