Reading FC History
T H E B I S C U I T M E N
R E A D I N G F C H I S T O R Y
I began supporting Reading nearly fifty years ago and started collecting memorabilia in the 1980s. This site replaces the original 'Biscuitmen' and will feature snippets of club history illustrated with items from my collection. I find the older stuff far more appealing than the modern, so it will mainly focus on the 'Biscuit' era – but there will be plenty from the Royals too!
Elm Park 1925
Reading scored a club record 112 league goals this season, including an incredible 73 at Elm Park. The Biscuit boys hit four or more goals at home on ten occasions, but fell short in the promotion race after finishing runners-up to Plymouth. The home game created a lot of excitement in the town, with one of the biggest home gates in the club's history, over 29,000, packing the ground to witness a 2-0 win. Unfortunately this wasn't enough to secure promotion. Top scorer again was centre-forward Ronnie Blackman, who hit the 40 goal mark for the second consecutive season.
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Top scorer again was centre-forward Ronnie Blackman, who hit the 40 goal mark fo the second consecutive season.
Left: A plain backed supplement, given away with 'Sport' magazine
H A R R Y R E A D ' S M E D A L
When I picked up this medal a couple of 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 Eight 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 load, 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! The amateurs were completely unprepared as they took to a pitch covered by inches of mud in smooth-soled boots, and had absolutely no chance against well drilled professionals who had sneakily attached discs to obtain grip on their footwear. The huge advantage it gave them can be gauged by the fact that a few weeks earlier Preston had lost to Marlow, who in turn had been beaten by Swindon.
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 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!
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E L M P A R K I 9 I 3
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, were at fifteen minute intervals the progress of the Gillingham - Plymouth encounter was put up.
Photograph published in 'The Chronicle, May 1926
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.
Also from 'The Chronicle' (Click photo for more)
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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.
T O N Y M A C P H E E
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 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.
H E R B E R T S M I T H
In August 1966, just a few weeks after England's World Cup win, Fred Bartholomew was interviewed for an 'Evening Post' supplement 'Reading FC Through The Years'. Fred served the club as player, assistant coach and groundsman from 1904 to 1957.
Fred looks back to the real days of football by Geoff Dunlop
"It's all kick and tap these days. I've no time for it. That's not the way I like to see football played." Fred Bartholomew doesn't think the stars of English football are worth the thousands of pounds they earn. "I was paid in threepences and sixpences. I started off on 30 bob a week and never earned more than £4. And that was when we played a star team. Of course that was big money in my day. But we never earned anything like these tip-tappers get now."
Fred Bartholomew talks about football with a perception and knowledge you'd expect from a man who'd spent 65 of his 82 years taking a professional interest in men kicking a ball around a field. He enthuses about tactics, draws field moves on the tablecloth with his finger and sums up the Portuguese and Brazilian teams he watched on television in the World Cup as the greatest he's seen.
More than 60 years ago he kicked his first ball for Reading FC. From six until six he worked for Huntley and Palmers and then went off to star with the Reading team as an amatuer. "I wanted to stay an amateur to get my county medal. That was a real honour."
Cigarette card issued in 1907
But two years later he was a full-timer leaving his 15s a week factory job for the blue and white glitter of professional football. His new 30s a week job made him feel a rich man, whenever he got it. "You see they couldn't always afford to pay us much. There were the big gates of course when we played teams like Spurs and Villa, then we got a lot of money, but the club was always fighting to stay above water."
Fred moved around the field from his original half-back position so that in a few years he'd played in almost every part of it. "They even put me in goal until I let one in. And they decided I was the world's worst goalkeeper." He kept the crowds happy with "hard but fast football" until January 1915, six months after he'd married.
"We played Blackburn Rovers I remember and lost 1-0. After the match about five of us signed up for the Footballers' Battalion". For the next three years Fred was shot at and covered in mud in France. He also managed to spend his whole time there as an undefeated footballer, playing before thousands behind the firing line. Back again he returned to Elm Park, scored several goals for Reading and received the accolade probably equal to a television appearance today - he had his photograph on a cigarette card.
As amateur, professional and player-groundsman Fred Bartholomew was at the Norfolk Road ground for 53 years. "If I had my choice again I'd never be anything else but a footballer. I've enjoyed the life very much. I remember once I was offered the captaincy. They said to me: 'You can stop the others from going up the pole' (his words for being drunk). I had to tell them I was one of the worst offenders. We used to drink hard in those days. But I only saw one bloke really drunk on the field. I think we were tough then but never dirty. We didn't run after a chap and hack him down if he beat us in the tackle. We didn't have to, we had tactics. And our game was to score goals, not to prevent them at all costs. That's what a crowd likes to see".
Appropriately, for the last 50 years Fred has lived in Elm Park Road. And since he retired he has regularly walked the few hundred yards to his own seat in the main stand. Even at 82 he doesn't mind that the seat is hard wood and the ground is open to all the worst weather Berkshire can provide. "I don't believe a crowd should be mollicoddled. The excitement of a good game is enough to keep you warm."
F R E D B A R T H O L O M E W
I T A L I A N T O U R I 9 I 3
Genoa, won 4-2 (Bailey 2 Brown and Lofthouse)
Milan, won 5-0 (Foster 3, Lofthouse and Bailey)
Casale, lost 2-1 (Bailey)
Vercelli, won 6-0 (Hanney 2, Foster 2, Burton and Bailey)
All Italy, won 2-0 (Bailey and Hanney)
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 Biscuitmen won four of the games as expected but fell to a surprising 2-1 loss against Casale. The 'Chronicle' offered some reasons for the shock setback whilst summing up the tour:
Italian Tour of the Reading FC: Some Impressions
Reading have concluded their highly enjoyable tour of Italy and have returned home.
To general surprise, Reading were beaten at Casale 2-1. As some explanation of this must be set the constant travelling and feasting, while the team was shuffled about considerably (star players Ted Hanney and Allen Foster were rested, along with skipper Jack Smith) Another drawback was that the ground was very small, being only two yards wider than the penalty area. The refereeing was also far from satisfactory.
However, against Vercelli, the champions of Italy, Reading made no mistake, scoring no fewer than six goals to nil.
The concluding match was at Turin against All Italy, when Reading won by 2-0. Nine of the players had represented Reading's opponents at Vercelli, the team being completed by the Genoa left-back and inside-right.
The Reading directors (Messrs. Blandford, Maker, Clacy and Knowland) who participated in the trip, and the players, speak highly of the hospitality extended to them and of the excellence of the arrangements for their convenience and enjoyment.
A 'Chronicle' man, who has interviewed several of the participants in the trip, was informed that football in Italy at the present time is about equal to the South-Eastern League. The Italian players have not yet fallen into the idea of the game as it is played in England, but they undoubtedly possess material which only needs developing to make them first class players. What they want is to be taught the finer points of the game. The referee does not understand the game as the English referee does and allows rough play to go on when it should be checked. The rough play was, perhaps, the only drawback to the tour, for the Italian player has a firm idea of the necessity of going for the man, but doubtless with experience this will tone down. Had the referees been strict, Reading would have had a considerable number of penalty kicks. The Italian players could not understand Reading's quick passing; they said it seemed as if the ball was tied to the players' feet with string, so great was their control of it.
The attendances were not so big as anticipated, but in Italy they do not cater for the working classes. Two francs (1s. 8d.) was the lowest price for admission in most places, though in one or two places the minimum was less. Generally the prices ranged from 1s. 8d. to 4s. The stadium at Turin, where the international was played, is a splendid place, covering the area of three football fields. There were 15,000 spectators present, but the stadium was so large it looked as if there were only 300 present.
Reading's victory over Vercelli by 6-0 gave general satisfaction to the other Italian clubs, because Vercelli had been unbeaten for a considerable period. There was great desire that Reading should win by half a dozen goals, and they succeeded in doing so. The Reading men were naturally keen following their defeat at Casale, and playing with a good deal of determination, they were the better side throughout. Reading led by 3-0 at half-time and scored three more in the second half. 'Billy' Garbutt motored 100 miles to see the game, and left again immediately it was over.
Before the matches with All Italy and Vercelli were played, the British flag with the Reading borough arms was presented by the Reading team, who were presented with the Italian flag with the arms of the town of which they played. Everywhere large crowds assembled at the stations and received the Reading players with the greatest enthusiasm, and the hospitality of the Italians was unbounded. At Genoa the team met many English friends. In the Genoa team four English players figured, and it is interesting to note that against three of these Bailey had played in England when he represented Oxford City.
The general form of the Reading men was very good, though, of course, the holiday spirit was not lacking, Jack Smith, Stevens and Hanney being stalwarts of the defence. The forwards were able to do some fancy work, Bailey and Foster proved successful marksmen, while general pleasure was afforded by Lofthouse, who, though somewhat on the small side, was energetic and consistently clever all through the series.
The best show of football during the tour was during the first half against All Italy. Some beautiful play was seen in that period, but in the second half the terrific heat was too much for the players. The lady spectators were all provided with fans.
The banquet at Genoa was of a sumptuous character and was greatly enjoyed. Another pleasant function was the repeat at the station restaurant at Turin. Much gratification is expressed to Mr. Goodley, who spent his week's holiday with the party and was invaluable in facilitating the arrangements and pointing out the sights.
A Milan paper, giving an account of Reading's match with the Milan club, whom they defeated by 5 goals to 0, says the English team created a great impression. Without doubt, says the 'Corriere della Sera,' Reading are the finest foreign team seen in Italy. Milan, especially in the first half, were obliged to be on the defensive at all times. The Englishmen played such an intense game and showed such marvelous passing that they soon had the Milanese at their mercy. After two minutes' play Reading scored their first goal and were 4-0 up by 35 minutes. In the second half the Reading men were feeling the effects of the heat, but they managed to score a fifth goal a few minutes after the restart. The Milanese then made desperate attempts to score but Reading had proved themselves to be the masters.
The party reached Reading about 5.45 on Tuesday afternoon, after travelling practically from 1.45 on the previous day, a journey of 28 hours. They were tired but very delighted with the experience.
Third Division Reading faced top-flight Sheffield Wednesday at Elm Park in the third-round of the cup, having previously seen off Bristol Rovers and Brentford, also at home. The Owls were the better side but their 3-2 win came only after a last-minute winner denied Reading a replay at Hillsborough, which would go on to host four World Cup matches later in the year. This photo, complete with printed autographs, was given away by the Reading Evening Post.
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Having been promoted the previous season, Reading's first home game in Division Two saw a resounding 4-0 win against Nottingham Forest, with the visitors, according to to the 'Athletic News', being outplayed in every department. The home side's left-wing combination of Richardson and Robson each scored twice, but Reading's principal strength lay with the half-backs. Alf Messer played a 'wonder game' and dominated proceedings throughout in both defence and attack. The 'Athletic News' reporter said he really liked the Reading team, but complained about the players' 'useless chattering', reckoning it would be better if they concentrated on playing football rather than arguing about it!
The squad is pictured here on a plain backed newspaper supplement, which is in poor condition but quite scarce.