We may have lost our last three games at Wembley but Reading do have a win at the national stadium. Here, Tony Wimbush, or Wimb Snr as you may have heard him on our TTE Podcast, reflects on Reading's win in the 1988 Simod Cup final.
For someone who grew up watching the Biscuitmen week after week, stood on a lump of Tilehurst End concrete, often with weeds growing between the cracks, the dream of seeing my team play at the footballing temple known as Wembley was comparable only to Dorothy finally reaching the Emerald City.
With English clubs banned from European competitions the ‘filler’ Simod Cup provided a third opportunity for clubs to reach the hallowed turf in a season.
The Simod Cup journey was exciting in itself. Disposing of top tier sides Nottingham Forest, Bradford City, the mighty Oxford United and a pulsating marathon semi-final victory over Coventry City
Could it get any better you may well say?
I woke up really early on March 27th 1988. Wimb Jr was less than 2 years old and was probably needing my attention! Here I was, 24 years into watching my beloved Reading FC I was off to see them play at Wembley Stadium.
Four of us set off from Thatcham around 10. My mate Vaughnie's Datsun was adorned with sky blue silk scarves, a 2 foot long flag wedged in a window and some kind of nodding dog painted blue on the back parcel shelf.
The first pit stop was Heston Services for a mid-morning feed as we indulged in the culinary delights of steak and kidney pies, burgers and, compulsory dining for me, fried chicken.
Next, the designated pub of the day The Green Man. As we approached this appointed hostelry I had my first indication of just how big an occasion this was.
The garden and the pub was literally awash with Reading fans. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years ‘soaking’ up the atmosphere each stating how ‘unbelievable’ that this day was really happening.
I can clearly recall how nobody really gave Reading a chance playing against a then top six Division 1 side.
For virtually everyone, just watching Reading at Wembley was enough.
We decided to leave the pub around 1pm to maximise the experience. Wembley was a 20 odd minute walk away. Somehow we found ourselves searching for Wembley Way and had to make a detour to actually walk up this famous route. Wembley Way wasn’t packed at this time and I did actually wonder what all the fuss was about at the time. I was an avid programme collector then and I bought three programmes. I bought them with the firm belief it would be the only time the Royals would be here.
The four of us decided to make several circuits of the Twin Towers before entering the stadium around 2.15. What I saw then I will never, ever forget.
It was a sight that I can most definitely say rendered me speechless and actually made me shed a tear with pride.
Our seats were located almost on the half way line. I distinctly remember hearing the Police marching band play ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ as I walked down the steps. As I turned to get to my seat, there to my left were thousands and thousands and thousands of Reading fans!
What the…! Where the hell did they all come from? How could a club that not so long ago barely sold 3,000 tickets for a home match suddenly accumulate all these fans? The end was completely covered in sky blue from top to bottom. I was totally stunned!
The match itself of course was the icing on the cake.
We were not too down when Mick Harford’s controversial ‘handball assisted’ goal put the Hatters one up early on but, what was to follow was just the stuff of dreams.
Reading played out of their skins. One down they had nothing to lose and tore into their opponents. The Bedfordshire club didn’t know what hit them.
Gilksys deserved equaliser was met with the loudest noise I had ever heard from Royals fans and when Stuart Beavon put away the penalty for a half time lead….well.
The second half the boys pushed on. Not content on holding on to what they had, they continued to literally kick on. Wave after wave of Reading attack with Gilksy and Neil Smillie destroying them on the flanks. Ian Branfoot’s brand of hoof it forward and run, run , run was the perfect masterplan and had the Luton defence in all sorts of trouble.
Tait and Smillie made it 4-1. Yes Reading had scored FOUR goals at Wembley!
At the start of the day all I really wanted was for Reading not to be embarrassed and if we could maybe manage to score a goal brilliant. To reach Wembley, see Martin Hicks lift a trophy and to score four goals in the process…move over Mickey Mouse.
The drive home was just as memorable. Cars hooting, a sea of sky blue all the way down the M4. Motorway bridges adorned with Reading scarves. Simply amazing.
I was lucky. Lucky to be there as the Royals won at Wembley. Lucky to enjoy such an historical occasion. It is a feeling I want Wimb Jr and all modern day fans to experience at least once in their lifetime.
Finals at Wembley and Reading FC have a connection to the number 4.
Won 4-1, Lost 4-3, Lost 4-2. Let’s hope the number is smiling on us on May 29th and it’s a win in the Royals 4th Wembley final.