Reading FC History
1966 Newspaper Supplement
I've had a cut-out version of the Reading photo shown here for several years but had no idea where it came from until I found this. It was a long time before the FA Cup was disregarded in the way it is now, and this type of souvenir was often issued before a big match. An Elm Park crowd of over 22,000 saw Third Division Reading beaten 3-2 by top-flight Wednesday, who went on to lose by the same score in the final.
From the mid-1890s, Reading FC were starting to be referred to as 'The Biscuitmen', after the town's chief employer, the world-famous biscuit manufacturer Huntley and Palmers. The team were actually known by a few variations on the biscuit theme, with Ogden's claiming the nickname to be the 'Biscuiteers' – and to be fair, I have seen that used a few times during my research. But the 'Biscuit-Makers'? The producers of the card given by The Rover must have been having a laugh. Anglo-American has it correct with 'Biscuitmen', though I do know many of the Elm Park faithful preferred to use the term 'Biscuit Boys'. The team was re-christened 'The Royals' after the decline of Huntley and Palmers in the 1970s.
1928 Cigarette Card and Trade Card
These cards show Reading goalkeeper Joe Duckworth in the thick of the action during a Second Division clash against West Brom at The Hawthorns, with the Biscuiteers playing in their white shirted away kit. The coloured card was issued by Gallaher, while the far scarcer black and white version came from Teasdale with their packets of sweet cigarettes. This was kindly sent to me by fellow collector Ed Emptage, and he describes the card as 'tatty' – maybe it is, but to me this just adds to its charm!
1896: Ernie Watts' Bravery
Apart from being a brilliant half-back for Reading FC, Ernie Watts was a handy cricketer who represented Berkshire in the Minor Counties Championship. In June 1896, Watts was acting as umpire during a Reading v Basingstoke match at the former's riverside ground when the participants heard a commotion from a group of children. Whilst playing on the river bank, an 8-year-old boy had fallen into the water and was in danger of drowning. Without a moment's hesitation Watts dashed over and leapt in, still wearing his umpire's coat. He reached the lad as he was about to go under for the fourth time but managed to save him. Once out of the water, the boy needed to be revived before regaining consciousness.
Both the teams and spectators were so impressed by Ernie's bravery a collection was organised, and £2 10s was presented to him. Watts was described as 'one of England's true sons' amid great cheering and he was very moved, simply remarking, "I cannot say anything... I thank you very much".
As was usual back then, a 'smoking' concert was arranged prior to the start of the football season at the beginning of September, and during this the Mayor presented Watts with a certificate from the Royal Humane Society marking his gallantry. This photo featuring Ernie was published in the 'Book of Football'.
1949 Newspaper Photo
The home side put on a superb attacking display in beating Ipswich Town 3-1 at Elm Park, and, according to the 'Reading Standard', 'it might have been ten'. A neat passing move ended with winger Bill Amor delivering a perfect cross which Ronnie Blackman met with a trademark header for the first goal. Centre-forward Blackman scored 24 league and cup goals in 1949-50, his first full season in the senior side. This photo is in a scrapbook I have, and it appeared in the 'Standard' on the 16th September, 1949.
1931 Comic Giveaway
Four of these charts showing a total of 128 teams from the English and Scottish leagues were given away with 'The Wizard' in early 1931. Reading's Sid Chandler appeared on number 4, which also featured the club's former centre-half and captain Alf Messer, shown here in Tottenham colours. The Biscuit boys were relegated from Division Two that season, and losing the brilliant Messer to Spurs the previous summer was a significant factor in that. 30 years later in 1961, the publishers D.C. Thomson issued four similar charts with 'Rover and Adventure', this time with Jimmy Wheeler representing Reading.
1991 Press Photo
Mark McGhee became the Royals player/manager before the start of the 1991-92 season, and, whilst it's true he left in acrimonious circumstances, during his time at the club he transformed our fortunes with a brilliant brand of attacking football rarely seen at Elm Park. McGhee was interviewed for the job on the recommendation of his former manager at Aberdeen, the Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson. This original press photo shows the striker pictured on the Elm Park pitch during the pre-season photo call.
Roger from STAR (Supporters Trust At Reading) contacted me the other day and asked if I wanted some surplus photos. I picked up a crate of them yesterday and it contains 100s of photographs, mainly from the late Elm Park era and many of which appeared in local newspapers or club programmes. It's an absolute treasure trove and I'm very grateful for them.
Reading's reward for finishing as the League's top scorers in 1969-70 was qualification for England's first sponsored competition, a pre-season tournament known as the Watney Cup. On the first day of August, Elm Park welcomed a Manchester United team including the great trio of Law, Charlton and Best, who were pushed all the way by their Third Division opponents as United edged it by three goals to two. The game was televised by ITV's 'The Big Match' the following day, and Jimmy Hill likened Reading's performance to that of the great Brazilian team who had just won the World Cup in Mexico – I always said he was a wise man! The opposing number 9s, Bobby Charlton and Dick Habbin, are pictured below.
1905 Illustrated Paper
Though hard to believe now, back in 1905 Reading's cup fighting reputation was such that when they played away to Fulham in the FA Cup first round, 'the West Londoners had a rare drawing at their riverside home'. So much so that a record crowd turned up, and at one stage the crush outside the ground was such that two gates gave way, resulting in many people being trampled upon. Mounted police were called in to restore order and luckily no one was seriously hurt, but two or three thousand got in without paying. Of the match itself, these photos appeared in the 'Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News', with similar pictures shown here of the replay at Elm Park.
1981-82 Club Photo
In the first season that three points were awarded for a win, the Royals made a fast start and topped the Division Three table after gaining 15 points from their first six games. 18-year-old midfielder Neil Webb, fourth from right in the middle row, had already established himself in the first team and was called up for the England youth squad to take part in the 'little world cup' in Australia. After scoring a hat-trick against Egypt in the quarter-final he was clearly destined to go far, and he went on to become the 1,000th player capped by England when he was at Nottingham Forest.
1974 Team Sheets
Playing League football on a Sunday is normal today, though fifty years it was unheard of. But the energy crisis that started near the end of 1973 and the resulting three-day-week led to many clubs, including Reading, playing on Sundays. As it was technically illegal to charge for admission, fans were required to buy a team sheet on the way in. The examples here feature two of Robin Friday's earliest Elm Park appearances.
The great Robin Friday would have turned 70 today (27th July) and he is shown back left here during his first full season at Reading. He finished as top scorer and won the Player of the Season award, both of which he managed again in 1975-76. I'm trying to get hold of individual photos of Robin, and if anyone can help, please contact me.
2007-08 Club Photos
Strange how things work out sometimes. I bought the Shane Long photo recently, but it didn't arrive until ten days later on the 13th July – the same day the club announced the player was returning to Reading after an eleven year gap. Still a few of these left to find, but I'm slowly getting there!
1905 Magazine Article
When this was published, Reading's captain had gained a top reputation, and the article describes him in glowing terms: 'It really is a treat to watch Mr Herbert Smith of Reading. Smith has played for Stoke, Oxford City and Clapton, and is one of the finest backs in England. There is a lot to be learned by studying his methods. If you have a chance of seeing him, watch him for all you are worth, and by doing so you will, without a doubt, effect an improvement in your play. If Smith were engaged in First League football, he would have won for himself a greater name than he has done already. A most difficult man to out-manoeuvre, he is invariably 'all there'. In his methods he is exceedingly scientific, and he is also a hustler. There is a great deal of resource in his operations, and he can extricate himself from a tight corner as well any man in Britain. He has an enviable reputatioin the neighbourhood of Reading, which is not surprising, seeing that had it not been for his efforts the local club, which is a powerful one by the way and equal to at least one First League organisation, would not enjoy the reputation it does now.'
1973-74 Team Photo
This small photograph features defender Andy Alleyne, bottom left, who almost fifty years ago became the first black player to make the Reading first team. Having been released by the club as a youth team player two years earlier, Andy was recalled by caretaker-manager Jimmy Wallbanks in December 1971. After impressing for the reserves in the Football Combination, he was given his League debut by Charlie Hurley in October the following year. Alleyne was still an amateur who worked full-time for the GPO, but he marked the occasion by scoring a freak goal, with the visiting Southport 'keeper dropping his long cross into the net. He went on to make over 50 appearances for Reading before leaving the club in 1976.
1984-85 marked Ian Branfoot's first full season as manager, having somewhat controversially replaced Maurice Evans halfway through the previous campaign – despite the fact the team was already heading for promotion. They looked to be mounting another challenge after a brilliant run saw them take 23 points from a possible 27, with fan favourites Trevor Senior and Dean Horrix contributing an incredible 21 goals between them in those nine games. The Royals eventually settled for eighth place in the Division Three table, but the foundations had been laid for the following season's title win. Many thanks to Royals fan Bob Burrows for letting me have this.
1909: Newbigging v Lion
One of the strangest stories I've discovered while researching the club made the pages of the 'Reading Observer' in February 1909. Goalkeeper Alex 'Sandy' Newbigging had wagered that he would enter a den of lions, a feat he accomplished before a full house at 'Messrs. Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie'. After stroking the lion and walking under its legs, 'Sandy' finished off by twisting the animal's tail – then legging it as quickly as he could! After collecting his wager, the Biscuit stopper declared he'd be happy to do the job every day for a similar amount. Newbigging is shown here on a cigarette card from 1908 plus a photo taken from this illustrated paper published in 1906.
1966 Press Photo
A terrific shot of the old ground at Elm Park featuring an advert from the firm that gave this site its name and the club its nickname. The main stand that ran alongside Norfolk Road had been constructed in 1926, while the three sections of the South Bank's roof were built over several years either side of the war. The original floodlights, put in place in the early fifties, can just about be seen around the outside of the pitch, with these being replaced by four huge pylons in 1969.
The March 26th issue of 'All Sports' magazine featured Reading's Bill Johnstone and Joe Duckworth ahead of the FA Cup semi-final clash with Cardiff. Scottish centre-forward Johnstone scored nine times in the competition that season, including two as the Biscuit boys pulled off a brilliant 3-1 win at Swansea in the quarter-final.