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View From Yesteryear: A Legendary Afternoon

Ben headed east from his usual Dolan spot for a cracking nostalgia trip on Saturday afternoon.

…I woke up today with this feelin’

That better things are comin’ my way

And if the sunshine has a meaning

Tellin’ me not to let things get in my way

…When the rainy days are dyin’

Gotta keep on, keep on tryin’

All the bees and birds are flyin’ (ah)

Never let go, gotta hold on and

Non-stop ‘til the break of dawn and

Keep movin’, don’t stop rockin’ (ah)

That’s a song from popular music band Five. Interestingly, they wrote in this in 1999, a good six years before I felt these exact lyrics in my very soul before every pretty much every game of the 2005/06 season watching Steve Coppell’s mega team sweep the division.

Having both teams back at The South Reading Arena was a slow burner, I’ll give it that. Announced earlier in the season, right in the middle of one the worst parts of a football year that won’t be easy to erase from the memory, the game pitted two of our greatest sides together for one last hurrah in front of a small but vociferous bunch of fans.

The days and weeks leading up to the game definitely built the excitement levels among Loyal Royals, and securing Championship safety a few weeks earlier meant the joy of this occasion slowly crept in and only intensified as the game approached. Chuck in the fact that off-pitch decisions hinted that (whisper it) the club might be getting their brains back together, and it meant the whole event itself could only be met with sheer joy.

If, like me, your only major decision was to decide which “classic” Reading shirt to wear, then I like you and we can be friends. I settled on the garish pink GK number I got in the early 2010s with Alex McCarthy’s name on the back. Making that sort of decision was a real joy if I’m honest and sorting through the shirts gave me some fond memories I have to say. The joy was dispelled almost instantly however once I realised my chosen shirt was a bit, erm, snug…

Perusing the list of players attending the game pre-match was also lovely. I can honestly say that there wasn’t one player I wasn’t looking forward to seeing. The game itself is such a simple idea but one that allows the fans to dive head first into a massive swimming pool of nostalgia.

For me, seeing Bobby Convey back in a Reading shirt, scorer of one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen at the Mad Stad (Millwall at home, August 2005) or Jason Roberts, the man who I attribute a large chunk of our promotion in 2012 too, or Jamie Cureton - not part of either team but a man synonymous with RFC folklore: just a brilliant selection of players and some fantastic organisation from both the club and the former players association.

The sun was shining and there were smiling faces everywhere. The queue to the megashop stretched right round to the hotel and as I arrived to pick up my passes (don’t go on about it!) a lot of the players were entering main reception and basically getting mobbed. It was heartwarming to see such mutual affection between both players and fans and set the tone for the day really well.

Of course, I was technically homeless for the day as the Dolan was shut so I made my way round to the SJM Stand and took up residence in Y19. I’m not sure how many times I heard stewards and supporters say “it’s unreserved seating - sit where you want” but it was enough to begin to irk me. Asking to sit in your actual seat that you actually paid for is up there with people saying “I beg this happens…” or “to a man” or when people still grumble about putting a single pound coin into a trolley at a large supermarket or discount family shop in terms of irritants for me.

As the sun beamed down on The South Reading Stadium and the players entered the fray to rapturous applause from the home faithful (well obviously home as there was technically no away team…), it was clear some of these chaps could still play. I realised very quickly it was pointless to try to keep score and just enjoyed the football buffet on show.

Lita looked lively, Karacan and Henry still physically fit and Kebe free-flowing with Murts and Little entertaining the crowd in other ways. At one point, the guy next to me mistook Glen for, what he called, “one of the competition winners”. The crowd were into it, the players were into it - it was a cracking first half.

I had the pleasure of being pitchside for half time and seeing very worthy people recognised for their contributions at the club. I was also a hair’s breadth from Sir Steve Coppell, at which point I did think about ambushing him, politely, but decided against it as the wheels began to turn on the half-time game, which incidentally was won by everyone’s favourite Ding-le creator: Dave Stevens.

Back in the seat for the second half and the Brian Howard show was in full swing. What a player he still is! I might have lost track but he found the net on three separate occasions, the highlight being a free kick which chef-kissed its way off the post and into the onion bag. Delicious tekkers.

The game ended 11-15 or something, but the score wasn’t important. No one cared. It’s odd to cheer every goal that goes in in one game but also incredibly wholesome and carefree. And I guess, at its core, that’s what the game was: an event showcasing two of the greatest teams we’ve ever had and revelling in past glories without it being a pantomime. No one tried too hard, no one mistook the occasion for an audition, everyone just seemed happy to be there for what it was: a celebration of excellence at the end of a torrid season. Ultimately, this was my highlight of the whole year and I was grateful to be there, I really was.

Sometimes you have to be reminded of where you’ve come from to know where you’re going. Of course, we are unlikely to get promoted next season, but it is plausible to believe the club will continue to make strides to reconnect with its fanbase off the pitch and get in fresh faces on the pitch who could become tomorrow’s favourites. Put it this way: in my opinion, they’ve made the right strides so far and the pre-season is only three weeks old. And maybe, just maybe, I might be able to sing that Five song on a few more morning matchdays moving forward.

Have a great summer and see you in July.