Reading FC History
The Grass is Greener
By the end of the 1924-25 season the Elm Park pitch was in a terrible state, and there had been concerns for a few years. The Club decided to call in Sutton & Sons, a renowned local firm that sold seeds and bulbs and were one of Reading's famous '3Bs'. By the Summer the playing surface had been transformed, and it was photographed before the new campaign began. The pitch obviously suited the team, as they went through the entire season unbeaten at home on the way to the Division Three (South) title. I don't do many colourisations as I find them time consuming and often not realistic, but this one didn't turn out bad.
1910 Cigarette Card
I was first aware of this card when I saw reference to it in a book in the late eighties, so I'd been looking for it for over thirty years. Others in the set are quite easy to find, but for some reason the Reading version is about the scarcest of the lot. So I was delighted to finally track it down – though somehow I don't think I'll be following the instructions!
Reading faced Brentford in the final game of the 1925-26 season at Elm Park and were second in Division 3 (South) behind Plymouth by a point, so had to win to stand any chance of promotion (in the days when only the champions went up). This was the 'Reading Standard' report:
"Hat tricks" against Brentford; Season's brilliant close; Rousing scenes at Elm Park
Both Davey and Richardson contributed hat tricks against Brentford, the latter scoring four of the total of seven, while Lane scored the visitors' point. Well over 17,000 were present, but after Reading were five up and the game was safe, all the interest was directed towards the score board, where at fifteen minute intervals the progress of the Gillingham - Plymouth encounter was put up.
It often happens that the final matches are attended with tame football, but it was not so with Reading's on Saturday, for there were many who said not a side in England would have beaten them on that form. The whole team combined brilliantly and after thirty minutes when they were several goals ahead one thought that if the local club were to fail in the championship their last match was to be a memorable one. However, when it was announced that the Argyle were a goal down it appeared that there was a chance that the Kent men might win, and then tumultuous cheering greeted the further advance of Gillingham with only twenty minutes to go. Almost directly after the final whistle had blown the result was known, and the crowd literally went mad; they swarmed on the field, giving the players little chance of reaching the dressing room, so great was the excitement.
Cheers were given for the team, Sir Hugo Hirst, Mr J.K. Phillips, president and chairman of the club respectively, and then prolonged applause greeted the appearance of Jerry Jackson (the trainer). Sir Hugo Hirst thanked the supporters of the club for their unswerving fidelity to the club and in similar words Bert Eggo (the captain) said that their splendid support had played a great part in the fight for promotion. The members of the team were called into the Directors' Box and congratulations were poured on the men who have given of their best, and made real the dreams of all the Reading football fans. As the crowd left the ground the Reading Temperance Band formed up and played the supporters into the town amid stirring scenes.
This fantastic large framed photo was given to me a few years back by the grandson of one of the Reading Directors.
1972 Newspaper Photos
This FA Cup tie against Arsenal was my second ever visit to Elm Park, the first being, naturally enough, the Fourth Division clash with Barrow. Reading put on a great show against the previous season's double winners, losing by two goals to one – even though we scored all three goals! Not strictly true, but the Gunners won courtesy of an own goal and a deflection. This slideshow below gives an idea of the huge crowd that day, well at least by Reading standards.
I don't really collect programmes but this happens to have a fantastic team photo in it. This is for an FA Cup first round second replay between Reading and Norwich, played in Birmingham on a Monday afternoon... makes no sense to me either. The Biscuit boys were unfortunate to lose by three goals to two.
This is one of a number of similar postcards produced by local photographer William Henry Dee in the Edwardian era. Either he or someone at his studio was very creative, as they are real works of art and, despite the condition, this is a lovely item. Reading were runners-up in the Southern League that season with their centre-forward inspiring this chant from the Elm Park faithful: "He's little but he wise, he's a terror for his size, Jimmy Long, Jimmy Long!" He finished 1904 on a high during a home game against Portsmouth as the Biscuit team ran up five goals, Long hitting four with another effort smashing against the crossbar.
1949 Press Photo
Had his Reading career not been interrupted by the war, centre-forward Magnus 'Tony' MacPhee would be far and away the club's all-time record goal scorer. As he worked in a reserved occupation for the local aircraft industry, he was able to play war-time football for the team on a regular basis. During that time he scored 217 times which, added to those he notched in regular pre and post-war football, gave him an impressive total of 321 goals in 377 games. This lovely original press photo shows him before a well deserved benefit game against Aston Villa in May 1949, played in front of an Elm Park crowd of 15,000. Before the match, a 1-1 draw in which MacPhee fittingly scored, the band played 'For he's a Jolly Good Fellow'. There's a faint 'Berkshire Chronicle' stamp on the reverse, and the picture appeared in the paper on the 6th May. Tony retired from playing at the end of that season and sadly died in 1960 at the age of just 46.
In November 1937, Reading's 21-year-od goalkeeper Ron Butcher disappeared from his lodgings in Waverley Road, which is close to where the old ground was located at Elm Park. Illness and injury – as well as barracking from 'supporters' – affected his form and cost him his first team place. He became depressed, and towards the end of the month he jumped on a train to Barnstable. He wasn't heard of for three days, and the story featured in several newspapers including the Sunday Pictorial, who reported the following:
'Nineteen-year-old sweetheart of Ron Butcher, missing Reading FC goalkeeper, Miss Eva Stone, stood on the platform of Reading station as the last train from the West of England steamed in. Anxiously she scanned the faces of the passengers as they arrived. Once or twice she started as she caught sight of a tall figure approaching. But the man she sought was not there. Earlier in the day she was handed a note with a message purporting to have been sent by Butcher from Barnstable. It stated: "I'm reporting to Elm Park this Evening."
"I met every train and can only assume that the message was a hoax. I cannot imagine how anybody could be so cruel," Miss Stone told me.'
The club initially showed their concern for the player by stating he wouldn't be in any trouble, but when he eventually reported back to Elm Park, Ron – the taller of the two keepers pictured in this 'News Chronicle' supplement – was given a two week suspension and never played for the first team again.
Harry Read's Medal
When I picked up this medal a few years ago I was confused as to what 'English Cup Division VIII' meant, but after a bit of research on the British Newspaper Archive website it all became a lot clearer.
The qualifying competition for the FA Cup in 1893-94 was made up of ten 'divisions' of between eight and sixteen teams, split on a regional basis. The 14 in Division VIII included Reading as well as teams such as Swindon, Maidenhead, Newbury and Southampton. The winners of these mini knock-out tournaments qualified for the first round proper (last 32).
Reading were still amateur at the time, and after reaching their final against local rivals Swindon, they were given little chance after being drawn away. On the day itself, several hundred supporters travelled to Swindon by train, with hundreds more gathering outside Messrs Farrer & Sons shop on Broad Street waiting for updates via telegram. When the news came in that Reading had defied expectations with a 2-0 win, the cheering was long and loud, with 'Good Old Reading!' the common cry. At 7pm the team and supporters arrived back at the station to be met by a crowd of several thousand, and the players were carried shoulder high through the streets accompanied by the Town Band. In this context it's easy to see why the players each received medals, and this one was given to inside-forward Harry Read.
After that the players were treated by captain Frank Deane to dinner at the Queen's Hotel, which was followed by a smoking concert, and a 'very pleasant evening' was spent. The Swindon team had indulged in a smoking concert of their own the previous evening – maybe not the best idea the night before a big match? Smoking concerts were, by the way, men only gatherings popular in the Victorian era, where they could talk politics whilst listening to live music.
In the first round proper things didn't go quite as well after Reading were drawn away to one of the great clubs of the day in Preston North End and suffered their record defeat of 18-0! When the team arrived at Deepdale they were shocked by the state of the pitch, which was described as a 'perfect quagmire'. The amateurs were completely unprepared as they literally got stuck in the mud, and had absolutely no chance against well drilled professionals who had sneakily attached leather buttons to obtain grip on the soles of their boots, which they had also black-leaded to prevent them from sticking. Incredibly, newspaper reports claimed the defeat would have been even heavier had goalkeeper Manners not pulled off several good saves!
The huge advantage the conditions gave Preston can be gauged by the fact that a few weeks earlier they had lost to Marlow, who in turn had been beaten by Swindon. The medals were presented to the players by President James Simonds at – naturally enough – an end of season smoking concert.
This scrapbook features some wonderful images from a season which saw high attendances up and down the country in the post-war boom era. Elm Park's record league crowd of 29,092 turned up to witness the 1-0 loss to Notts County, the chief attraction being the visitors' great centre-forward Tommy Lawton (sadly not included here!). In the days when the FA Cup still had an aura of magic, 25,000 saw Reading go down to a 3-2 defeat against Doncaster Rovers. Click photo for gallery.
Without doubt one of my favourite items in the collection, this beautiful little album was lovingly put together by a Reading supporter 90 years ago, and is a step-up from your average scrapbook.
1913 Italian Tour
With the regular season at an end, Reading took part in a five match tour of Italy at the instigation of former player Willy Garbutt, who had by then moved to Italy and was coaching Genoa. Even though Reading had finished in a modest eighth place in the Southern League, the English professional game was far in advance of the amateur Italian teams, so they were expected to comfortably defeat their opponents. The Biscuit boys won four of the games easily, but fell to a surprising 2-1 loss against Casale. By way of explanation, Reading were tired from the constant travelling and feasting, while the players complained that the pitch was far too narrow. Another factor must have been that star players Ted Hanney and Allen Foster were rested, along with skipper Jack Smith. These photos were published in the Italian paper 'Lo Sport Illustrato', which I managed to get hold of a couple of years back. Click on photo to open slideshow.
1976: Reading 5-0 Tranmere
One of the most memorable games I saw at Elm Park was when Reading thrashed their promotion rivals. Although John Murray hit a hat-trick, it was Robin Friday who grabbed the headlines when he scored a spectacular over the shoulder volley which has gained legendary status as Elm Park's greatest goal. I was stood behind the goal on the Tilehurst End as a 13-year-old watching on in awe, and was inspired to make this poster. After the game, World Cup referee Clive Thomas told Friday it was the best goal he'd ever seen, to which Robin replied: "You should come down here more often, I do it every week!"
1935-36 Newspaper Supplement
A lovely plain backed team photo, which is slightly bigger than A4 size, issued by London evening newspaper 'The Star'. After being relegated in 1931, Reading were incredibly consistent for the rest of the decade, finishing in the top six in each of the eight seasons in Division Three (South) before the war. During that time the Biscuit boys won an impressive 127 league games at Elm Park, losing just 13. By today's standards they did enough to win automatic promotion four times, but sadly for the club only the champions went up then.
1901 Newspaper Photo
Tottenham famously won the FA Cup this year as a non-league club, but by rights they should have been out after the quarter-final clash at Elm Park. Reading were robbed of a deserved win late on when Spurs full-back Tait stopped a certain goal with his hand. The Biscuit boys had spent a few days undergoing 'special training' in the village of Nettlebed whilst staying at the Bull Hotel, something they did fairly often then in preparation for big games. The photo below appeared in the 'Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News', and shows the team, in formation, in the days leading up to the match. The camera is pointed towards the Town End at Elm Park.
1927: FA Cup Semi-Final
Reading's first appearance at this stage of the competition ended in disappointment after they were well beaten by Cardiff at Molyneux by three goals to nil. The publishers of the 'Berkshire Chronicle' produced their own souvenir programme, which included this superb composite photo showing the team in standard formation of the time: two full-backs, three half-backs and five forwards. On the day itself, Braithwaite was replaced by Davey.
Reading's great left-back and captain of the Edwardian era was capped at full international level by England on four occasions in the middle of the decade and appeared on the winning side each time. He remained an amateur player throughout, and was a 'sportsman of the highest type' who was dead against using the 'subterfuge' of the offside game to catch opponents out. He was often not around when the photographer called to take the official team shot at Elm Park as he worked full-time at his father's blanket factory in his home town of Witney. In 1908 Herbert was part of the England amateur team – representing Great Britain – that won the Olympic Football Tournament in London.
This lovely team photo was given away with a Chronicle 'Soccer Spectacular' as the Club started its fourth season in the Fourth Division, in which they missed out on promotion after finishing seventh. They did cause a shock – of sorts – by knocking Third Division Brighton out of the League Cup after a tie that took four matches and seven hours to settle, the longest in the Club's history. Royals fan Paul Tanner kindly sent this to me.
Back in 1908-09 Reading were struggling financially (sounds familiar) and were forced to sell their best player Fred Wilkes to Spurs for a fee of £350. Fred appeared in a cartoon, sketched by artist Fred Ford, which was published by the Reading Observer in March 1909, and a few years back Wilkes' grandaughter kindly sent me the original pen and ink drawing. He returned to Reading after the Great War as trainer in the Club's early Football League days, before leaving to take over the stewardship of the town's Curzon Club.