I have tried a different approach this time. Ran a hot bath. Last four times I watched the FA Cup draw I ended up shouting at the television. Away ties against Championship peers picked out at random. But as CJ from Reginald Perrin might have said, we didn't get where we are today without drawing Championship teams away from home.
Three straight FA Cup wins this season. We've only managed that twice since the war. One win away from a rare trip to Wembley. It has to be Arsenal, surely. A team guaranteed to stop us dead in our tracks. No, Blackburn away. Bound to be them. 14 times in our last 23 FA Cup seasons we've ended up being knocked out by a team from our own division. In that time, Reading have had cup runs which haven't lasted as long as this soak in the tub. Prepare for disappointment.
And rather than suffer that disappointment via the agonising prospect of watching Mark Chapman string out the most straight-forward of processes I have reached for the Radox and allowed it to soak over me. Mobile phone in hand, I refresh social media feeds. I read a number of anxious communications from friends and strangers imploring Mark Chapman to refrain from stringing out the most straight-forward of processes. Then it begins. Liverpool vs Blackburn. More than happy to avoid those two. Bradford vs Reading. My clenched left fist triumphantly slams downs and slops bath foam over my bathroom floor. Luckily my phone is in my right hand.
The sense of glee doesn't last long, mind. Chelsea, Sunderland. In previous years Aston Villa. And the unconquerable Arsenal! If Bradford can turn these teams over on a bog of a pitch then they can do it to us. Seems inevitable that Reading will be just another FA Cup foot-note in a famous run for a third-tier team to the semi final of the FA Cup. Chesterfield, Sheffield United last season, even Wycombe bloody Wanderers have reached that stage of the competition having started their run back in November in First Round territory.
It won't just be Bradford City we have to contend with but a wall of noise at emotional Valley Parade and a pitch which makes The Somme look like Chelsea Flower Show as well as the will of the rest of the nation who will be willing Bradford to waltz past inconsequential Reading. And given our record in big one-off matches, who would back against them doing it? In the words of John Cleese in Clockwise, it's not the despair. I can handle the despair. It's the hope that I can't stand.
The Hope That Cuts The Deepest
January 1996. The first cut is the deepest. Showing a level of enterprise I have only fitfully displayed since, I spend the Christmas school holidays stuffing envelopes in order that I can buy coach travel and a match ticket to Elland Road for Reading's first major post war cup quarter final, this time in the Coca-Cola Cup. Apparently too ill to go to school on the day itself, I am certainly well enough to flash a thumbs up over Chris Maughan's shoulder as he reports for Meridian Tonight on the convoy of Horseman coaches taking 3,000 Royals up to West Yorkshire.
My main memory of the night is of hundreds of Reading fans humming the Hovis theme as we pass through an underpass, police escorted from coach to ground. Our cup runneth over when Jimmy Quinn fires us into an early lead. Unfortunately, in the season of seven goalkeepers we have Eric Nixon - the least reliable Nixon since Richard - making his only appearance in a Reading shirt and displaying the form he showed for Tranmere in that play off match he flaps at a cross, allows Gary Speed a free header and Reading are eliminated 2-1. Leeds are lucky to keep 10 men on the field let alone progress, some chap called Phil Parkinson is downright assaulted by Gary McAllister.
Leeds, for their part, reach then draw a very beatable Birmingham from our own division who they eliminate over two legs before turning in a wretched performance against Villa at Wembley.
January 1998. A season where we win half as many matches in the cups and we do in the league is never going to end well. The last season at Elm Park and the gloom of impending relegation is only lifted by two cup runs. Again we reach the Quarters of the Coca-Cola and a favourable draw against a side from our own division, Middlesbrough at Elm Park. Boro have an expensively assembled and experienced side with latter day reviled pundits Andy Townsend and Paul Merson on their books. Reading compete well enough throughout and there is a moment of comedy when Gianluca Festa has a goal ruled out and play is allowed to recommence as he endeavours to clothe himself again having removed his shirt in vain in celebration.
Boro have the last laugh. Referee George Cain, the Butcher of Bootle, settles the game in the visitors favour and sinks a metaphorical meat cleaver into our hearts. Having apparently given a freekick to the oft sinned against St Trevor of Morley, Cain clearly points towards the Tilehurst goal we are attacking as Reading players move forward. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the dead ball kick is actually taken by Neil Maddison of Boro and the South Bank's protestations turn into howls of downright derision as a pinball move sees Merson touch the ball onto Craig Hignett to apply the finish. Goal given, in injury time.
No way back. Words, unusually, failed your correspondent at the time and even 17 years on I cannot begin to express my displeasure. Boro go on to dispatch Liverpool over two legs before losing to Chelsea in the final at Wembley.
Moving on many years and to a season in which we struggle under an unpopular boss who seems more adept at motivational speaking than being a football manager, which only comes to life are his services are dispensed with and we embark on an unusually elongated cup run under a more plain-speaking and pragmatic stewardship. League form also picks up.
This is 2010, not 2015. Brian McDermott has taken us through an FA Cup quarter final against an uninspiring Aston Villa. Shane Long scores twice in the first half and the collective East Stand fit spills out behind the stand at half time as folk discuss Wembley travel arrangements. Within 15 minutes of the second half starting we are 3-2 down and a hat trick goal for John Carew not long before the end acts like an ineffective anaesthetic. For me, this defeat genuinely hurt much more than the Wembley play-off final loss a little over 12 months later. Villa have their day at Wembley and are swept aside by Chelsea.
2011 and we're at it again. Three straight wins, as alluded to earlier the first time we have managed that in the FA Cup since 1979/80. The bubble inevitably bursts as we draw Manchester City away. Without a major trophy since Woolly Mammoths roamed the Earth, City are lobbing money around at anyone who can kick a football straight in order to end their drought.
The weeks leading up to the match are dominated by supporters bickering over the internet about tickets as the club declines to take up a full allocation but there are still plenty of wigs and rumblestix on display as we take our seats at the magnificent Etihad Stadium. Outside this modern arena, television screens show videos of previous City vs Reading ties. The 7-0 City win at Elm Park in 1968 is strangely neglected but for long periods of this 2011 tie the City Globetrotters such as Silva, Tevez and Toure set about trying to recreate that scoreline. In the end it is a late header from Micah Richards when we're already beginning to think about a replay which renders Alex McCarthy's heroics futile.
City enjoy a Manchester derby win at Wembley and follow that up with a further victory in North West London over Stoke in the final.
Best Chance To Advance
So, post war it is four major cup quarter finals played and four lost. Natch. Let us be in no doubt about it, with all due respect to Bradford City this represents by Reading's best chance by far in three generations of replicating that 1927 semi-final run. Doesn't mean we'll do it though, of course. Bradford's players will be relishing the tie more than ours will. But if we're looking for an omen, we have actually won a cup quarter final within living memory. Simod Cup. 1988. 2-1 win. Versus Bradford City.
All in all, it's enough to keep you wondering and hoping over the next few days. The scramble for tickets is all but over. Run a hot bath and relax.