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20 Years On The Pain Remains...

It may be 20 years later but Wimb still can't let go of the pain felt on that sunny afternoon at Wembley when Bolton crushed Reading's Premiership dreams in heartbreaking fashion.

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Do you remember the first time you took up something you loved? Remember how exciting it all seemed in the beginning, when every experience was fresh and new? That feeling of invincibility and that it'll only be full of good times. That was how it felt for me in 1995 supporting Reading.

My Dad had kept me away from Elm Park during my very early years, perhaps still mindful of the lingering threat of trouble on the terraces or more likely, not wanting to be lumbered with an eight-year-old at football on a Saturday afternoon. For whatever reason as I approached my ninth birthday Dad decided I was ready and had booked tickets for us to sit in the old Norfolk Road Stand to see us take on Derby (sitting down was something rare at Elm Park back then). However soon wasn't soon enough for me and I managed to nag him to let me come along a week early to stand on the Tilehurst end to witness us lose 3-1 at home to Oldham in the FA Cup.

It didn't matter that we lost, I was absolutely hooked and even Uri Gellar's stupid card experiment at the Derby game a week later couldn't put me off.

The Journey

The rest of the season only seemed to get better. We thrashed Swindon, beat Bolton, breezed past Bristol City at Ashton gate and then took apart Tranmere in the play-offs. This football thing was easy I told myself as we headed down the M4 to take on the same Bolton side that had fallen at Elm Park just weeks before.

The pre-match coverage had all been centred around Bolton. They'd been at Wembley earlier in the season before losing to Liverpool in the Coca-Cola Cup Final and were full of players destined for the Premiership like Alan Thompson, Alan Stubbs and Jason McAteer. Little Reading were a nice story but you could tell the national media were behind Wanderers.

As we got to the ground I wish I'd have been older because maybe then I'd have soaked up some more of the atmosphere but being impatient as I was, I wanted to get into the stadium as early as possible to see what it was like. With my only games before that being at Elm Park, Ashton Gate and Prenton Park, Wembley looked absolutely massive and the scene only got better as it filled with blue and white.


Then it came time for the game, a wall of noise all around us as Reading kicked off towards the Bolton fans and within just four minutes we were in front in spectacular style.

The excitement was just too much, and that coupled with a giant Coke I'd bought on the concourse ensured I swiftly needed the loo. Much to my Dad's dismay I announced I had to go but didn't know the way so he had to lead me down to the concourse where I proceeded to miss Ady Williams second goal.

This couldn't get any better could it? I ran out of the bathroom and celebrated on the concourse with Dad as I begin to dream that Reading could be a Premier League team, that I could buy next year's Panini sticker album and fill them with Royals, while witnessing the likes of Cantona, Shearer and Sheringham grace Elm Park.

The Tide Turns

If I needed any further proof that this was bound to happen, Reading had the chance to make it 3-0 when Michael Gilkes was brought down in the box. Jason McAteer should have seen red but sod it we were going to win anyway so what did it matter? To this point I'd never seen Reading miss a penalty and I remember thinking how could you possibly miss such an easy kick. Stuart Lovell stepped up, the man who'd found the net from the spot in that easy win over Swindon weeks before..... and missed.

There was a bit of a hush from the Reading end as suddenly Bolton fans and their team were given a boost, they'd been dead and buried just a few seconds ago but suddenly it was on.

Half-time soon came and went but at 2-0 up the game was still very much in our hands. Andy Bernal and Lee Nogan went off as Jeff Hopkins and Co player-manager Jimmy Quinn came on to shore things up but they couldn't prevent Bolton getting back into it against a Reading side who were showing the effects of making such a fast start at the end of such a long slog.

With 15 minutes left Owen Coyle struck the first blow, rising at the far post to beat Hopkins far too easily and nod home.

I was taken aback but still not worried, there were only 15 minutes to hang on and Reading had never failed to get the job done before. 13 minutes later, my dreams were utterly shattered.

There was only going to be one winner from that point and by the time de Freitas and Mixu Paateleinen had scored to make it 4-2 to Bolton, I was in floods of tears. I didn't even see Quinn's late third for Reading as I was still sobbing into my programme, dismayed that something I loved could be so cruel.

The Aftermath

We stayed to clap the players up the steps before shuffling out of the ground and back to the car. We listened to BBC Radio Berkshire and the post-match in near silence with neither myself, my Dad nor my uncle able to muster any conversation as we headed back to Reading.

I distinctly remember the BBC deciding that 'Always look on the bright side of life' was the tune to go with and that theme continued over the next few days. The club held an open top bus parade to mark the club's highest ever league finish, although fittingly it rained. That second place would have been good enough for promotion in any other season but not this year thanks to the Premier League's reduction from 22 to 20 teams.

The team itself would be dismantled over the coming years and three seasons on would find itself back in the third tier. The move to the Madejski Stadium provided some joy and slowly but surely we did reach the promised land in that magical 2005/06 campaign. A lot of fans I've spoken to have said that promotion exercised the demons of Wembley but not for me. Maybe it's because I was older, or that I'd missed most of 05/06 but Wembley still hurts dammit. I still don't like Bolton and Fabian de Freitas is still a name I usually utter with another word beginning with F in front of it.

Cardiff in 2001 hurt, Wembley in 2011 was also painful but for me, nothing will quite hurt that way. Just as you never forget your first love you never forget the first time a love hurts you and for me that will always be May 29, 1995.

So what are your memories of that day? Please let us know in the comments below.