Another pre-season before Reading’s return to Division 1 whilst full of promise following a promotion year, still had the normal signs of another season at Elm Park avoiding bouncing straight back to Division 2.
Dad placed his usual £10 promotion bet on, school mates chatted about their other club (always Premier league, never Wokingham or Sandhurst Town) and their chance of success following the signing of another £2 million player. 1994/95 was also to change Division 1 with the Premier League deciding it would be better for fewer clubs to share the spoils of Sky’s communion, making way for only two sides to attend the altar this year, one via the side aisle. But what did we care. We wanted 21st place.
Fast forward 9 months, and a home win against Charlton saw Reading secure second spot and an away leg to start a playoff 1st round against Preston. First year second failed to get promotion. Did we care, hell no — we were 19 places above 21st! The greatest memory in our Reading lives followed and took place at Prenton Park and was probably missed by everyone but those in Berkshire and a few from Birkenhead, who did not have their ‘other team’ across the Mersey seeing Blackburn lose but still take the Premier league spoils following a 1-1 draw at Upton Park. The lowly national coverage was the norm, yet the performance was more than fit enough to grace any Premier League ground.
An Archie Lovell brace and a Lee Nogan roof raiser saw Reading practically book their spot at Wembley with a 3-1 away win, and the dream had all but formed and was to unfold at the holiest of grounds, Wembley! Chatting to my brother en route home we suddenly realised that Radio 5’s match reports from both Anfield and Upton Park featured sides that could be playing at Elm Park, in a league encounter! We had never played Liverpool in a competitive fixture, despite our 1871 formation. We may have two games with them in the next 12 months.
After a few beers had passed and we had all but won the final against Bolton, reality never returned until the big day itself. My mates’ ‘other side’ was now Reading, the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea being also-rans for the year. The Royal ‘We’ were all off to Wembley. Actually about 36,000 Reading and ‘other side fans’ (plus a few wives and girlfriends) embarked on the Wembley journey. 36,000.
I am sure many will comment on that day, a well worn VHS film has still not been played past half time, when Reading entered the players’ dressing room 2-0 up and having missed a penalty. This is where my day ends, but the greatest of memories will remain despite losing 4-3 to an inspired Bolton side led by a young Jason McAteer. The fairy tale did have a strange end for Reading fans but gave Bolton one forever in their folklore. We cannot begrudge them their greatest memories and all but few Reading fans will forever share in it. One of the few is my Dad. Unfortunately, as we descended the Wembley steps in the late afternoon sun, Dad suddenly remembered his betting slip.