While young Reading supporters might be unwrapping a shirt emblazoned with their favourite Royals player’s name, or a scarf or even a mug on Christmas Day, 150 years ago, a group of local townspeople gave them the greatest gift of all.
It was on Christmas Day in 1871 that Reading FC was born at the Bridge Street Rooms, in an inaugural meeting that resulted in the formation of one of the oldest League Club south of the River Trent.
Playing out their first match in February, Reading only managed six games the following year. However, the turning point came in August 1920, just over a century ago, when they travelled to South Wales to take on Newport in their first ever Football League match, becoming a founding member of the then-Division Three.
Ending in a 1-0 win in the Royals’ – formerly known as the Biscuitmen – favour, the only goal of the game was scored by forward Joe Bailey, a First World War hero and a recipient of the Military Cross no less.
Flitting between Division Three and Four for a number of years, Reading eventually hoisted themselves up from Division Four to Division Two between 1983 and 1986, making an immediate return to Division Three and going one better two seasons later.
But for the Royals, the 1997/98 season brought about the end of an era, as they vacated their Elm Park home and moved into the Select Car Leasing Stadium in August 1998 – formerly known as the Madejski Stadium, named after former Shairman, Sir John Madejski. And the 24,161-seater stadium has seen out some historic chapters in the Club’s history, to say the least.
One such instalment includes the 2001/02 promotion-clinching season, when the Royals dusted themselves off after Play-Off heartbreak the campaign prior and went again under Alan Pardew. Reading left it late, so late that it went down to the final day, when the Royals came from behind against Brentford, with Jamie Cureton’s late leveller sealing passage to Division One.
But it was in 2005/06 that Reading made it to the promised land for the first time in the Berkshire team’s history. And promotion to the top-flight was made even sweeter by amassing a record-breaking 106 points, 99 goals, 33 match unbeaten run, taking the title by storm and finishing 14 points clear of second-placed Sheffield United.
Under the tutelage of the Championship Manager of the Year, Steve Coppell, Reading reached the Premier League, where they would remain for two years before dropping back down into the EFL.
They didn’t have long to wait, making their return in 2011/12, after knocking on the door and reaching the Play-Offs twice in four seasons, but it was Brian McDermott who guided the Royals back to the top-flight. On an April evening, Nottingham Forest paid a visit to Berkshire and, with the Royals running out 1-0 visitors on home soil, the Club bounced back to the Premier League.
Away from the League, Reading have made their mark in the League Cup, reaching the Quarter-Final for the first time in the competition in 1997/98.
But, most notably, the Royals were involved in a 12-goal thriller with Arsenal in 2012. With a place among the final eight up for grabs, Reading found themselves 4-0 up and cruising within the first 45 minutes, only to be undone by two late extra-time strikes, losing 7-5 come the final whistle.
So, here’s to another 150 years!