I’ve always had a soft spot for… Barnsley?
After Reading added a 21st match to Brentford’s unbeaten run last week, it’s unsurprising that a few of us were taking a nervous glance at the London team’s fixture list with the 33-game unbeaten run of the 106 team in mind. Now, in the warm afterglow of the swatting of the Bees by the rampant Yorkshire Tykes, it’s far easier to admit that another 12 matches would’ve been a long way further to go, even for a team boasting the Championship’s top scorer.
That unbeaten run, and moreover the 106 team in general, is a singular point of unwavering pride for all Reading fans. It seems to be the ultimate English football trump card. No matter who rocks up to the Madejski, no matter how loud their fans may be, we’ve got the record: 106.
The 2020/21 Brentford side then, are not the 106 team’s peers. That said, are there any other sporting records though, past or present, that might be able to hold a candle to Murty and co’s accomplishment? I’ve dived into sporting history to find five wonderful and wacky records, some of which are entirely unlike Reading’s 106 team, and some that come with some spooky comparisons!
The Lincoln City side of 1975/76 - The other 106 team
Let’s start with English football. Compared to the Reading 106 team, Graham Taylor’s Lincoln City team swapped just three results. In place of three Reading draws, Lincoln recorded two extra losses and one more win. So why did they finish on… 74 points?
Well of course, this was back in the slow-build days of two points for a win! Lincoln City’s 75/76 fourth-division-winning team are the proud holders of the EFL’s highest total number of points scored for a team scoring two points per win. By all accounts, they did so with flying colours, scoring 111 goals, 24 better than the next team! Thanks to 24 wins of their own, Reading also found themselves promoted from the same division this year despite scoring 41 fewer and conceding 12 more goals.
Honestly, this Lincoln team was unlucky. Just five years after they hoisted the trophy, the Football League upped the earnings for a win from two points to the present-day familiarity of three points. Really though, we’re also unlucky. Picture the sights and sounds of a Reading vs Lincoln City game (few and far between though they may be) with a stadium full of fans (OK, now I’m really stretching things). Could there be anything more glorious than beginning a chant of “We’ve got the record, 106”, and having the entirety of the home and away section join in?
I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it.
The 2007 New England Patriots - The price of perfection
Reading’s 106 season started... slowly. An opening-day loss to Plymouth Argyle scuppered early hopes of an unbeaten season. At the time, it’s unlikely anyone could’ve predicted it would take the team six months to record their only other loss of the campaign. That the team we all cherish so much couldn’t go unbeaten over a whole year just shows how difficult that task is.
To go unbeaten is one thing, to maintain a 100% winning record is another entirely. That’s what the New England Patriots were able to achieve in 2007 however, finishing with a 16-0 record in the regular season. Just as the 106 team did after six months of unadulterated success, the 2007 New England Patriots seemed destined to win it all.
The 2007 Patriots can’t be counted alongside the 106 team though, because they didn’t win the big one! After extending their unbeaten run to 18-0 in the postseason and making it to the Superbowl, the Patriots finally ran aground against the New York Giants.
Remember, it’s not over and done until they hand you the trophy!
UCONN women’s basketball - 111 games unbeaten
So Brentford’s unbeaten run was stopped short at 21. Reading’s run was ended by Luton Town in 2005/06 at 33 games. Could you imagine if that run had been more than tripled? That’s a pretty hard thing to do, as it would imply us winning the Premier League the next season, but that’s exactly what the UCONN women’s basketball team managed to do between 2014 and 2017.
For the uninitiated, UCONN in Storrs Connecticut is a powerhouse of basketball. They’ve put countless players into the NBA, but the women’s team is especially dominant, winning 10 NCAA championships so far this century. Their run between 2014 and 2017 was especially notable however, and if you count just regular season games, you can even extend that run to January 2019, when their regular season winning run was ended at 126 games!
While we’re on basketball, a shoutout as well to the men’s University of Kentucky basketball team that went 12 (TWELVE!) consecutive years undefeated in the middle of the 20th century. Eventually you think you’d throw in the towel just to remember what losing felt like again.
Reading 1985/86 - the 20/21 doppelganger
This Reading team is one you probably saw more photos of in 2020 than any previous year since 1986. That’s because this was the team that won 13 consecutive league games to begin the year: an EFL record for most games won to begin a season, and of course an interesting parallel to Reading’s start to the current campaign.
Armed with an even larger head start than in 2020, Reading finished the year on top, going 16-7-10 after the first 13 games, and winning promotion to the second division. That kind of record doesn’t really put them in contention with the 106 team, but they do throw up a few more interesting parallels with the 2020/21 Reading team.
Namely, with goals. Strangely for an era of higher scoring, Reading ended up with an incredibly low goal difference, scoring 21 goals fewer than second-placed Plymouth Argyle. Seventh-placed York City recorded a better goal difference and 10th-placed Brentford were the next team to score fewer goals. That rate of scoring however, 67 goals in 46 games for 1.456 goals per game, lines up almost perfectly with the current goals per game rate of the 20/21 team: 1.466 goals per game. Spooky.
It gets spookier. A large percentage of the 85/86 team’s goals came from one source: Trevor Senior. Senior scored an impressive 27 goals that year - a tidy return of 40% of the team’s 67 total goals. His 20/21 doppelganger meanwhile, Lucas Joao, has scored 17 of Reading’s 44 league goals. Convert that into a percentage and you have 39%...
Now if only Lucas Joao could replicate Trevor Senior’s health, the 20/21 team might be in business. That year, prolific Trevor played 46 of 46 games, starting every one of them. Lucas could only dream of such a streak...
Peterborough - 1960/61 - 134 goals in a season
It irked me for a long time (and continues to irk!) that the 106 team ended the season on 99 goals scored. Would it really have been so hard to tip the total into a nice round 100? A gust of wind could’ve carried a corner kick to an attacker’s head. A goalkeeper’s hand could’ve folded when it should have stayed firm. Anything really could have added just one more to the total.
Still, scoring 100 goals would not have given Reading the best goalscoring record of any Championship/second-division-winning team. That record would be tough to pick up, given 21st-century teams do not score at a rate close to those seen before modern defensive strategies (pressing/more defensive formations) were widely adopted.
It is not unusual then to find the holder of the record for the most goals scored in a Football League season in the 1960s. In the 1960/61 campaign Peterborough United recorded the highest-ever total for league goals in a season: 134 goals in 46 games. They scored seven goals (seven!) twice, six goals four times, and very rarely recorded fewer than three goals in a game. Their top scorer, Terry Bly, scored 52 league goals! Even Lionel Messi has never recorded more than 50 league goals in a year, and I’m not so sure he would’ve fancied a Division 4 pitch in the 60s.
So then, if the Reading of 20/21 can just begin to be more of a combined reflection of a 60s Peterborough United team, a 70s Lincoln City team, themselves in the 80s with a dash of American athleticism, promotion is as good as sealed.