If you didn’t know, Reading FC offer a tour of our beloved SCL Stadium. It’s priced at just £9 for a couple of hours when you and the other select few are shown the areas that most never get to see.
Firstly you’ll meet David Downs, the club historian, and he’ll be your tour guide. David has been involved with the club for an absolute age in some capacity or other. He’s even written books on Reading FC. He’s probably forgotten more than I’ve ever known about the club (which isn’t difficult, in honesty).
As you enter the stadium main entrance, you’ll be shown the pictures of the players over the years celebrating their successes from winning in the mud at Port Value winning a league title, when Graeme Murty lifted the cup in 2006 and so on. Once inside the doors, more images from yesteryear that were also in the Reading Museum last year. It’s at this point I felt the history of so many players, managers and moments that are far older than the years that I’ve been a fan.
As we walk up the stairs, more images from the days of black and white photography, harking back to a time when Reading played at a lower level than even now. Thankfully, David has plenty of knowledge from this era, even though it’s even older than he. Images of Elm Park in the snow, our first FA Cup semi-final against Cardiff City, pitches that barely had a blade of grass on them; a far cry from the carpet of today.
Next stop, the trophy cabinet. Yes, we do have one! The Championship trophy from 2006 is there, the Simod Cup, a replica (or is it?) of another trophy in the 1980s. Commemorative awards for not conceding a goal in 12 consecutive games, too. Plus plenty of other gongs for manager of the month and so on. It’s not a huge offering, but it’s uniquely ours.
Then onto the Directors Suite, which sits directly opposite the halfway line. A nice touch here is a painting of Elm Park in a resplendent gold frame, a touching reminder of our history and what this club means to so many people. Hopefully, one would think that the current owner has seen this image and felt some sort of connection from it. This club is so much more than just the stadium and a swanky training ground after all.
On the tables within the suite are the menus for the game ahead against Ipswich Town. It looks absolutely mouth-watering.
For the first time we venture out into the fresh air and take our seats in the Directors Box, if it is even called that. While there’s no bad view in the stadium, the vantage point here is unmatched. The seats are a joy to plant one’s backside on, very comfortable indeed.
We take in the view of the entire stadium that has nobody within it apart from us lucky few. It’s almost eerily quiet. There are no ground staff, nobody painting lines, not a squeak from the outside to permeate the stadium, nothing. So quiet and serene.
The stadium somehow feels bigger with no people within or around it.
We then move onto the inner sanctum of the stadium. First up, the Players Lounge. It’s quite a large, open area which has its own bar. There are plenty of seats and sofas for the players to relax in after a game. Again, another nice touch is a picture of Elm Park to bring home the message that we’re more than just what you see now. The journey of this club has been long and it continues.
Other images adorn the walls: our previous club crests and badges; some great, some dreadful in their design. Images of Kitson, Karacan, Leigertwood, Williams and Gorkss; fans swarming the pitch after our last promotion. All are inspiring reminders of what we are, who we are and what we have achieved. Hopefully the current players feel what us fans feel and think about what they could possibly replicate in their time here.
Soon after, we head to the dressing rooms. On the way there, we see inspirational images and quotes from our heroes; Coppell, McAnuff, Cureton and Forster among many others. Firstly, the away dressing room, which is empty and has the bare minimum of fixtures and fittings - just a cold, large, open space with benches surrounding the perimeter. Probably the dullest room in the stadium, but of course, that is by design.
The home dressing room is bright and modern, starkly different with individual bucket seating, featuring names above for each of the players selected. Here there’s a whiteboard with motivational messages of what is demanded of the players. (This would appear to be from the under-21s win over Newcastle United). The bottom line reads: “WHO WANTS TO PLAY NEXT TUESDAY?” as an inspirational message intended for those who could be in line to play against Ipswich Town in the Carabao Cup.
Reading this board certainly brings home the message of what Noel Hunt and Ruben Selles wish to instil into their players. The words are full of energy, aggression and passion. There’s no doubt of what the intention is within. It is the final set of messages before entering the field of play. Powerful stuff indeed.
Fun fact: The teams swap sides when going onto the pitch from their respective dressing rooms! As you look at the players coming out of the tunnel, the home dressing room is on the LEFT, not the right!
The highlight, of course, was to walk up the steps and onto the pitch… well, almost. We can walk on the astroturf that surrounds the pitch, but it’s close enough nonetheless. Again, without any other fans around, the stadium feels even bigger. In a small way, I feel what it must be like for a new signing to experience the stadium for the first time. It’s pretty daunting and obviously impressive.
As the final part of the tour, we are allowed to walk around the perimeter of the pitch, which feels massive - much bigger than it feels from above in the stands. I try to imagine what it’s like when this place is ROCKING with over 20,000 fans roaring the players on to victory. It’s got to feel absolutely incredible to be that one person in control of everything that happens in that one moment.
It takes me back to some fantastic moments that I have witnessed over the years. This club is such an important part of my life, it brings home the feeling that I am very much a part of its past, present and future, whatever that may be.
For just such a small price, it’s well worth it for that feeling alone. Proud to be Royal.