Result: Reading 2-2 Blackpool (FA Cup 3rd Round)
Venue: Madejski Stadium (Saturday 4th January 2019, 3.01pm)
After a round away from Cup action, I was once again on the “Road to Wembley” – or in my case the 5th or 6th round – for the first Saturday of the new year. Having already trumped last year’s first game with a pulsating clash at St. Andrew’s, I was hoping my luck would continue into a trip down to Reading and the Madejski Stadium. The visitors would be the now Oyston-free Tangerines of Blackpool, who would be looking to secure a….ahem, Royal upset and advance into the 4th Round outright.
I caught the train from Manchester at just before 9.30am, and a trouble-free, direct journey had me arriving into the Berkshire town at a little after half-twelve. Having already done something of a scouting mission with regards to Reading’s pub offerings, I decided to start off with one rather nearby the station, by the name of the Corn Stores. Entering, I found a quite strange set-up, with a reception desk set near a flight of stairs that led up to another couple of floors – floors that I later found out housed members’ areas and the like. Anyway, I headed into the empty bar area and was soon in possession of a pint of Meantime Lager for the sum of £5.60, but in defence of that, the tanks holding the beer and all the equipment that comes with it, were located in the foyer of the building. Not a bad pint by any means and after the £7-odd drink I bought last year down in Exeter, everything else is something of a bargain, nowadays!
From here, I planned out a route that would take me past the town hall and an old church, before arriving at a pub named the Alehouse. This walk also took in the Blagrave – seemingly named after a signee of Charles I’s death warrant – and I thought it would be rude to bypass it. A decent little boozer, the Blagrave was rather empty at this time, although the smashed door window suggests it can get a bit livelier as the amount of hours and drinks climb higher! A pint of Amstel (£4.50) did the job for me here, before I undertook the walk via said ‘places of interest’ (all of which were accompanied by an info board). However, my best-laid plans were interrupted a little as I was struck by the appearance of the George Hotel and – as a rule – anything with this name has to be, of course, paid a visit (usually). A 17th century coaching house, the George had been renovated somewhat here and there, with many a-different door making for a pretty confusing moment, as I tried to see where the bar could be….
Reading is a university and minster town in Berkshire, and lies within the Thames Valley on the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet. Reading may date back to Roman times, possibly as a trading port for nearby Calleva Atrebatum, but there’s no clear evidence of this being so. The first of this type comes from the 8th century, when the town became known as Readingum – likely deriving from the words Readingas an Anglo-Saxon tribe whose name means Reada’s People in Old English. The town was attacked by the Danes, who invaded the Kingdom of Wessex and set up their base at Reading, with this becoming the site of the First Battle of Reading, when King Ethlelred and Alfred the Great attempted to breach the defences, unsuccessfully. The Danes would remain until 871 AD, when they retreated to their winter stronghold in London.
After the 1066 Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror gave land around Reading to Battle Abbey and the town was described as a borough in the Domesday Book, twenty years later. Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I in 1121 and he is now buried in its grounds. The abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1538, with the last abbot hung, drawn and quartered in front of its church, along with the pastor of St. Giles’ Church. By that time, Reading had become the largest town in Berkshire and grew around the cloth trade. It later played a part in the English Civil War, when the Royalist garrison stationed there was defeated by the Parliamentarian forces in 1643, a year after the Royalists had arrived; the cloth trade was subsequently damaged extensively, and didn’t truly recover until as recently as the 20th century. It also saw battle in the 1688 Revolution, though this proved to be the only notable conflict during this campaign. The 1700’s saw the role of Berkshire’s “county town” split between Reading and Abingdon, though the movement of the Summer Assizes in 1867 saw Reading effectively become the sole county town, and this was approved two years later.
The 18th century saw major building growth and breweries began to prosper around the turnpike roads linking London to Oxford and the West Country. 1723 saw the Kennet navigation opened, allowing boats from as far as Newbury to access it and the later addition of the Kennet and Avon canal allowed barge journeys through to Bristol to be undertaken. The Great Western Railway only added to the transport links and ease of movement, arriving in the town in 1841 and this was followed by the South Eastern Railway and London and South Western Railway by 1856. The town became a county borough in 1888 and became famous for the “Three B’s” (beer, bulbs and biscuits). Its continued expansion through the 20th century saw it annex Caversham – across the Thames in Oxfordshire – and despite largely escaping damage during the World Wars, it did suffer deaths in 1941, when a sole Luftwaffe aircraft strafed the town with machine guns, before bombing it.
Developments have continued through to the millennium and The Oracle shopping centre, built in 1999, is named after the former workhouse, which partly occupied the site. Reading is one of the largest urban areas without city status (despite the town’s non-league club suggesting otherwise!) and has applied for this unsuccessfully on three occasions, most recently in 2012. It remains a borough council and unitary authority and has good rail, road and bus links through to the Capital and further afield, cross-country.
It names alumni such as actors John Altman (EastEnders’ “Nasty Nick”), Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer, director Sam Mendes, presenters Chris Tarrant, Matthew Syed, Jeremy Kyle, Lucy Worsley and Adam Boulton, comedian Ricky Gervais, satirist Charlie Brooker and poet and authors Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen – the latter schooled in the town. Politician Michael Foot, Paddington Bear-creator Michael Bond, former Archbishop, the late Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Sports-wise, swimmer and Commonwealth gold medallist Rebecca Cooke, the late rally driver Richard Burns, cricketers Peter May, Ken Barrington and 1926 Ashes-winning skipper Percy Chapman and footballers Hayden Mullins, Lawrie Sanchez, Deon Burton and Jamie Ashdown. The town has also been home to VC recipient Fred Potts and Earl William Cadogan, commander-in-chief of the British Army during the late 1600-early 1700’s.
I eventually settled on the Dickens brasserie/bar at the rear of the building’s courtyard, which was a strange mix between these two and an Indian snack-bar, whilst being set right next to the Mercure hotel’s reception area, where I watched one group arrive from somewhere out in the far-east in connection with the University, and the welcoming party weren’t too pleased that their rooms weren’t ready, as they had apparently been promised. Anyhow, this wasn’t affecting me and I finished off my pint of San Miguel (£5.70) and initially set my sights on the aforementioned Alehouse across the way, only to see it hit with the curse of NYD’s Birmingham; closed. Not to worry, I supposed, and instead continued on through the pedestrianised area and to the area around Reading’s “Minster”, where there was a few pubs I looked at trying to get in – though I could feel the onset of the legacy of a number of trips upon my intake beginning to take hold. As such, I played safe in the Horn, opting for a bottle of Sol (£4), with the intention of getting another bottle in the Sun Inn, somewhere around the corner.
But, for once, my sensible side took control and I decided to instead opt to head for the Allied Arms just over the road and then return back towards the station for the shuttle buses direct to the stadium. A Heineken (£5.60) went down well and though the sneezing fit I suffered wasn’t exactly ideal, at least I was all-but finished by the time this decided to pop-up. Anyway, it soon wore off as I walked back through the town centre – bypassing numerous sellers, charity workers, preachers and the like as I went – and arrived at the bus stop to find about five or six buses waiting to depart in short-order, with one due to leave every two minutes or so. Brilliant organisation by the club and the other involved companies it has to be said. Said bus duly dropped me outside the ground around ten minutes later, but it was here things began to unravel. After securing a Charlie Adam’s face covered programme (£3, and if that wasn’t meant with the “Old Man” tweets during the week following his goal, then that’s some co-incidence) from one of the kiosks, I made my way around to the away turnstiles and the ticket window situated there. Only, it wouldn’t bloody move. At all. Honestly, if the queue had moved five feet in twenty minutes, it would be a miracle.
Chatting with a couple of Tangerine fans in the same boat, we lamented the fact that there was a third window Reading hadn’t employed today, though we were later informed by some of the stewards that they had been caught completely off-guard by the number of travelling fans who’d made the journey. I was surprised too, but on the complete other end of the spectrum, as I remember getting into Carlisle a couple of years back after a trip to Gretna, to find a notable amount of ‘Pool fans still populating the pubs in the Cumbrian city. Yes, it’s a fair bit closer, but I don’t think it was anything too out-of-the-question to summise that a fair number would be making the trip. I certainly expected as much. Anyway, the minute of mental health consideration and the relevant video came and went and after missing ten minutes of the match, I finally grabbed a ticket and headed inside, able to bypass a bag check as, to be fair to Reading, they went through these checks whilst I was still queuing for tickets, as to make entry a little quicker, so kudos for that.
I decided to grab some food whilst the concourse was deserted, and after a bit of the “banter” with a lad manning it from the antipodean region (I assume an Aussie), I was soon heading up into the seats with a steak pie in hand and quickly found my seat. Judging by all the sounds we could hear concerning how the game had gone to that point, I figured I’d missed a corner or two and perhaps one decent chance, quite like my similar experiences at Cardiff and Southampton. Anyway, finally in the Madejski, the ground is one of the earlier examples of the now wide-ranging boxed-in stadia, with all stands at a similar size and linked together in each corner, with a big screen located in one of these, just off to my right, as I looked from the away end. The Main Stand looks a fair bit bigger than it really is, with a couple of tiers being split by the usual array of boxes and the like, with the tunnel extending from the centre – between the two dugouts. The remaining stands all consist of one tier and could be interchanged between each other fairly easily, should they become sentient. That’s the Madejski in very short order, and this is the story of this set of Berkshire Royals….
Reading Football Club was founded in 1871 and gained their current nickname for being within the Royal County of Berkshire, though were previously known as the Biscuitmen due to links with former snack makers, Huntley and Palmers. The club turned professional was in 1895 and after having had spells at the Reading Recreation Ground, Cricket Club, Coley Park and Caversham Cricket Ground, the eventual switch to long-term, purpose-built home, Elm Park, was undertaken in 1896. In 1913, Reading toured Italy and were termed by press there as “the finest foreign team to play” in the country, having convincingly defeated Genoa, AC Milan and champions Pro Vercelli, though we’re beaten by Casale. As a result of the tour though, Attillio Fresia joined the club and, in doing so, became the first Italian to play in England.
Reading were elected to the Football League’s Third Division in 1920, as the league took in clubs from the Southern League. Placed in the South division, Reading won this in 1926 to be promoted to the nationwide Division 2, where they remained through to relegation in 1931. During the war, Reading lifted the 1941 edition of the London War Cup, and upon the resumption of league football post-war, Reading finished as Division 3 South runners-up in both 1949 and 1952, though were not promoted. After the nationalisation of both regional divisions into a Division 4, Reading dropped to that level in 1972, before yo-yoing between the bottom two divisions in the latter half of the decade, promotion in 1976 being followed by immediate relegation and another promotion in 1979, as champions, rounded it off.
After another relegation in 1983, the club avoided a strange merger attempt by Oxford United’s chairman to ally the clubs and become the Thames Valley Royals *shudder*. Thankfully, this didn’t come to fruition and the club again won promotion, this time to Division 3, in 1984 and have remained at least at that level since. Winning the Third Division title in 1986, the Royals then lifted the Full Members’ Cup of 1988 – defeating Luton Town at Wembley, but were then relegated come the season’s end. Taken over by John Madejski at the beginning of the new decade, Reading won the “new” Division 2 title in 1994, and went on to immediately finish as runners-up in Division One the next year, only to be denied promotion due to the Premier League being trimmed down by two clubs. As such, they had to make do with a play-off place and having defeated Tranmere Rovers in the semi, lost out to Bolton Wanderers by 4-3 (AET).
Reading’s final season at Elm Park ended in relegation to Division 2, the club beginning life at the new-build Madejski Stadium soon after. They were defeated in the 2001 play-off final by Walsall, but they went up automatically as runners-up two years later. They finished their return season in Division 1 in 4th, but again suffered play-off disappointment, being bested by eventual winners Wolves. However, they again saw success by missing out the play-offs, taking the 2006 Championship title and being promoted to the Premier League for the first time in the process. They finished their first season in 8th place, though (unforgivably) turned down the chance to play in everyone’s favourite competition, the Intertoto Cup. They did compete in the 2007 Peace Cup – played in South Korea – in the build up to their second campaign, but this would end in eventual relegation, with the Royals unable to repeat their first season heroics.
Losing in the play-offs in both 2008 and 2011, to Burnley (semi-finals) and Swansea City (final) respectively, 2012 saw them achieve a return back to the Premier League automatically, although this would only last a sole season. Back in the Championship ranks, Reading ended up missing out on the play-offs to Brighton, who netted a last minute winner against the Royals to snatch the spot, but worse was to follow, as the threat of administration loomed over the club and a poor eventual year in the league saw Reading stave off the drop to secure 17th place. However, their FA Cup run allayed this disappointment somewhat, a semi-final appearance at Wembley ending in narrow defeat to Arsenal. Quick managerial changes continued, and after the likes of (in no particular order) Brian McDermott (twice), Nigel Adkins, Steve Coppell, Brendan Rodgers and Steve Clarke had all come and gone with the span of eight years, Jaap Stam did lead the side to the 2017 play-off final, but again defeat would be suffered, this time at the hands of Huddersfield Town, after a penalty shoot-out.
However, the Dutchman was out by the end of the next season, with Paul Clement installed. He saw off the threat of the drop, but was himself soon out of the job last season and was replaced by José Gomes, who repeated Clement’s feat in finishing 20th and just above the drop zone. But he too wouldn’t occupy the hot-seat for long, the something of a poisoned chalice being handed down within the club this time – to Mark Bowen – in October. Since then, Bowen has overseen a fair upturn in form, with Reading climbing from the relegation places to sit in mid-table and beginning to optimistically glance upwards.
The game was already going as previously stated earlier, and soon after I’d headed up into my seat, Reading went close on a couple of occasions; firstly, Sam Baldock drove an effort straight at Blackpool ‘keeper Mark Howard, before Matt Miazga (who I remember being introduced at Stamford Bridge upon his Chelsea signing, alongside Alexandre Pato before an FA Cup win over Manchester City) headed over the bar. On 23 minutes, Baldock struck the upright from close range, whilst Lucas Boyé fired narrowly off-target as Reading continued to largely dominate the game chance-wise, but not in the overall play. There the visitors had a clear advantage, and they duly shocked the home support just before the half-hour, when Nathan Delfouneso smartly headed in Armand Gnanduillet’s delivery to send the Tangerine fans down the far end from him crazy.
With more belief in their ranks, getting the opener actually inspired Blackpool onwards and forwards, in opposition to what is the norm in many of these situations. Callum Guy went closest to adding a second, being denied by a decent Sam Walker stop, whilst, down the other end, Andy Rinomhota forced Howard into action moments before the half-time whistle, as his header was saved down low. The whistle duly followed in short order and it looked as though the upset may just be on the cards.
An uneventful break came and went and it was soon time to get the second period on the go. Again, it was Blackpool who initially started off the brighter and Delfouneso nearly grabbed his and ‘Pool’s second just after the resumption, but he wastefully hit the ball straight at Walker between the home sticks. But the Royals would draw level just prior to the hour mark, as Baldock clinically fired across goal and into the far corner. Parity would last just four minutes though, as the Tangerines broke out of their disappointment in quick-time and Gnanduillet fired in as he and Delfouneso reversed roles from the opener. Queue a “rush” from the away fans to goad the home support across the segregation line, but no nastiness was around from either, it has to be said.
The quick fire goal action continued, as Reading again equalised just six minutes later. This time it was Danny Loader – who’d only been introduced to the game in the moments before Blackpool’s second- who would find the onion bag, shooting low, beyond Howard from around the penalty spot. 2-2, but again Blackpool came straight back out of the blocks and immediately won a penalty for a foul on Gnanduillet – a decision that couldn’t have really created any complaints. The excited Tangerine fans began celebrating already, but I tempered expectation somewhat, stating to a few of them to “Let him score it first!”. Alas, no-one could have predicted what was to follow.
The France-born Ivorian dusted himself down and stepped up to take the spot-kick. He sent Walker the wrong way and it looked like that was that; 3-2! But….no. His chipped penalty had too much loop placed upon it and it agonisingly drifted against the crossbar and was eventually scrambled clear by the Royals defence. Gnanduillet was left red faced and Blackpool had spurned what was likely their best chance to give Reading a red card from this season’s competition. Goalscorers Loader and Delfouneso traded chances between them, the former hitting wide and the latter straight at Walker, whilst some late Reading pressure saw Howard pressed into action to deny both Omar Richards and Soné Aluko. But that would be that, and an entertaining, pulsating contest came to an end with nothing decided, and after all had been said and done, they would have to do it all over again on the Lancastrian coast in around ten days time.
Post-match, the fine layout and planning of the buses saw me back on one within ten minutes of the final whistle, and stepping back off of it back outside Reading station within the half-hour. Not bad at all, and for just the £2 return too. I had two or three watering holes I still wanted to pay a visit to, the first of these being the Bugle, which seemed to be one of the older pubs in the town. On my way there, I had to turn rescuer, as a woman tumbled over in front of me and, along with a couple of other lads, I helped her up to her feet and back onto the couple of crutches she had with her. I wondered if it was a mobility issue but being outside a ‘Spoons and the info of one of the lads there “she’s pissed” gave a different outlook! Anyhow, she was soon on a bus back to wherever and I was in the miniscule Bugle over a Dark Fruits (£4.10), before returning back to the ‘Spoons for a swift Hooch (£2.39), in hope I could manage to squeeze in either of the Gateway or Greyfriar of Reading near to the station, or indeed the Three Guineas which stands at the entrance to the station itself.
Unfortunately, the pre-match warnings came around again and I decided it really wasn’t worth the hassle and instead took my good time before getting back to the station in good time for the train back. Getting on, I found an empty window seat and just so happened to have snuck in past a Blackpool fan – though I hadn’t recognised this at the time. Anyhow, I got talking to Phil for the rest of the trip back up to Manchester about all things football, Blackpool, the crazy Oyston-era (and Owen’s choice of hats) and many other things therein, including his walking jaunts around the historical Lancastrian boundaries. The trip went through quickly as a result, so cheers to Phil for that and I returned the favour somewhat by pointing out a train back up Preston-way that saved him a good half-hour, so hopefully it all went smoothly?!
Anyway, my connection was made nice and easily and that was that for another day, another weekend and another round of the FA Cup. The 4th round draw also threw up a number of interesting-looking ties too, so that should mean another game is on the cards in this competition. As for the day at hand, Reading as a town had been far more interesting than I’d expected/been led to believe, its few historic churches and other buildings were worth seeking out and the pubs too were decent in both this respect and in how they were overall. The ground and game were both decent, though the stadium does lack a sense of character, despite being over two decades old at this point. Its out of town location doesn’t aid this feeling either, although the bus services do remedy the usual issues with places like this (I’m looking at you, Ricoh). Also, a word for the stewards who did the best with what they were given overall, especially with regards to the ticketing queues. So that’s about that for this blog, next up….well, who knows. It could be rich, breight (this is meant), or perhaps another royal name….
Value For Money: 8