About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Elm Park Years Part 3: Ian Porterfield's Blue & White Army

The managerial vacancy at Elm Park coincided with my decision that it was time to be a hardcore loyal Royal and start going home and away every Saturday. This would be without most of the friends who I had originally started to go to Elm Park with as we had all got jobs at the new Maidenhead branch of Waitrose but I was the only one wise enough to negotiate two evening shifts and thus avoid working on Saturday. Fortunately the previous season we had been joined on the South Bank by another school friend Mark who was to be my travelling companion for the next eighteen months. This proved to be doubly fortunate as he was the first of my friends to pass his driving test, and had access to his mum's rather nice saloon car, for the time being though we would have to make do with the supporters coach.
The coaches were run expertly by the official supporters club, with the transport provided by Horseman (Horseman coaches and Reading FC, coaching at its best). Tickets could be booked at the club on a matchday, or by ringing Denny Fulbrook at home, the Don of Reading Supporters Club. Fares provided excellent value and you could get dropped off at the station which was a bonus for evening games to get back to Maidenhead. 
First up under caretaker manager Lew Chatterley was a trip to Gigg Lane, Bury. Unsurprisingly there was just the one coach to this game full of the regulars. As well as Denny, you would have his right hand man Peter Brown, always a popular passenger as we would all sing "Its not unusual" when he walked up and down the aisle in acknowledgement to his doppelganger Tom Jones. For games a bit closer to home when more than one coach ran, we prayed Colin Bishop wasn't coach leader as he was a stickler for the no cans or bottles rule even if the contents contained nothing stronger than coke. Other characters included an old chap who was always keen to get back to the local wrestling hall to see his favourite the Mongolian Mauler, whilst a Fagin type character known as Tav always seemed to have a group of kids hanging around him, gleefully reminding another regular passenger of his resemblance to Billy Connolly.
Despite a win at home over Mansfield in Chatterley's first match in charge at Elm Park, the team had gone on to lose to Wigan and Birmingham, and were well and truly beaten at Bury 4-0, with one Royal who appeared to have travelled to the game on his own spending ninety minutes berating young full back Ady Williams, shouting "not good enough Mrs Williams" every time the unfairly maligned youngster touched the ball.
This proved to be the end of the interregnum with the appointment of Ian Porterfield as manager. This appeared to be a sound decision with Porterfield coming across as a real football man having experienced a decent playing career including scoring the only goal for Sunderland in their 1973 FA Cup Final win, and more pertinently substantial managerial experience in particular leading a similar size club to Reading, Rotherham United, to the Division Three title.

Appropriately enough first on the agenda for Porterfield was the FA Cup 1st Round. The subsequent run to the fourth round was unforgettable and securely wedded Porterfield and his assistant Eddie Niedzwiecki to the hardcore Reading support, such was the resilience quickly created and the results achieved which in terms of the number of games played, was more than was needed to win the Cup itself.
First up was possibly the toughest draw of the round, a trip to title chasing Bristol Rovers. A sizeable Reading following travelled down the M4 to Rovers' temporary home in Bath at Twerton Park. To a background of constant noise from the Gas heads, encouraged by the Sinatra loving PA man Bob, Reading worked hard to earn a replay at Elm Park. The rematch went to extra time and the Royals were only saved by a last minute strike from who else but Trevor Senior. This was a time when replays were still unlimited and Reading lost the toss for the third game so we all traipsed back down to Somerset the following Monday. In an unsurprisingly tight affair Reading scored the only goal of the game midway through the second half although Stuart Beavon still needed two attempts to fire his penalty home, a goal I could enjoy again  the next day on BBC Breakfast.
The win provided a reward of a home tie against non league Welling United but despite beating superior opposition in the previous round Welling proved something of a tough nut to crack. Having ground out a goalless draw at Elm Park, Welling were well up for the replay at their tight Park View Road ground.The night was a memorable one but not for events on the pitch. Taking the train up to London was a bit of a mission caused by a serious accident earlier in the week just east of Maidenhead station. Having taken the long walk down Welling High Road to the ground we were then directed on into Kent, racing across a muddy cricket pitch next door to get in for kick off. Fortunately the entrance was nothing more than a gap in the fence where a bloke just ripped our plain cardboard tickets in half. Beavon again was the man to secure Reading's future in the competition although he had to take his penalty twice due to a team mate's encroachment. The goal only secured a 1-1 draw though and this time BBC Breakfast news focused on plucky Welling with me clearly visible behind the goal by virtue of Mark wearing his gold Simod Cup winning replica away kit. Unbelievably the second replay at Elm Park produced no goals in 120 minutes of football so it was back to Kent for the fourth attempt to settle the tie. Welling went into half time a goal up but two rare strikes from Steve Moran in the second half at last sent Reading through to the third round.
Inevitably Wearside folk hero Porterfield was to host his old club Sunderland at Elm Park in the third round in what was probably my favourite ever Elm Park match. At the time Sunderland were resurgent following a dismal time under the management of Lawrie McMenemy which had seen the Mackems fall into Division Three for the first time. McMenemy's replacement Denis Smith had led them to the Division Three title in 1988 and Division One football was to return to Roker Park in 1990. Thus given the struggle to dispose of little Welling, Reading were given no chance even at home, particularly in the face of Division Two's hottest property Marco Gabbiadini. However on a day for heroes the two smallest men in the Royals' line up stood tall to win the day. Firstly left back Steve Richardson was recast for the day as a sweeper and he took to his new role with gusto, effectively marking Gabbiadini out of the game. Right back Linden Jones however set the bar high for heroism when he put through his own net in the first minute. This set off one of his harshest critics who was stood behind me. I quietly seethed as Jones was my favourite player at the time. I loved his all action approach to the game whether selected as a right sided midfielder or at right back In typical FA Cup fairy tale style, Jones went onto score an unusual hat trick, going on to equalise then score the winner, which certainly shut up the bloke behind me. I would love to find footage of this game somewhere more than any other I saw at Elm Park, sadly there is nothing on Youtube to date.
Having disposed of Sunderland, ironically at one go having spent seven games getting past Bristol Rovers and Welling United, logically Newcastle United were drawn to play at Elm Park in round four. With almost twelve thousand in Elm Park the Toon Army were in rather more combative mood than in the League Cup tie back in September. A replica FA Cup made out of silver bottle tops bounced around the away end, whilst a Sid the Sexist look a like skipped around blowing kisses at the South Bank, mocking us as we insisted "We love you Reading we do". The game was a six goal thriller, only interrupted when the Newcastle fans charged into the wall separating them and the South Bank. Fortunately it held firmer than the two defences, with in a neat reversal of the fourth round tie at Elm Park twelve months earlier, Michael Gilkes latching onto a lax back pass in the dying minutes to take the game to a replay. This time though Reading had met their match at the Magpies ran out 4-1 winners at St. James Park, the only game of the ten game FA Cup run I missed.
The Cup run pretty much summed up Reading's season. The Royals were a match for any opposition but too often no more than a match as they drew almost half of their league games, but their ability to sometimes rise to the occasion and beat the best in the division gave hope that a squad was being built to mount a serious promotion challenge in Porterfield's first full season. Thus the rest of the season was an enjoyable one with every journey to the match being made in expectation with many a new ground uncovered on the way. 
Thanks to the supporters coach I made my first trip to Deepdale, Northampton's three sided County Ground shared with the cricket club, Gay Meadow, Ashton Gate and Field Mill as well as the games mentioned earlier at Gigg Lane and Twerton Park. Unfortunately the New Year's Day trip to Ninian Park saw us only reach the Bluebirds car park before finding out the game was postponed. I also took the train to Craven Cottage, Brisbane Road and Griffin Park. The Orient game aside, Reading were never embarrassed and generally came away with a point much to the delight of those of us chanting "Ian Porterfield's Blue and White Army", whilst not forgetting his assistant with regular rounds of "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie".
Two of these trips, Shrewsbury and Mansfield were enlivened by the organised presence of the RDS, not so much a firm, more a jolly boys day out. Travelling on a double decker Reading bus, they allegedly negotiated their way past West Mercia police by claiming they were going brass rubbing at Shrewsbury Abbey, this game being memorable for the way everyone sang "we know a song that will get on your nerves" for the last twenty minutes. At Mansfield chaos ensued when the home team got a penalty in front of the away end. Everyone rushed behind the goal to wave at the penalty taker which seemed to sufficiently distract him as the kick was missed. Whilst delirium broke out behind the goal the referee signalled for the kick to be taken again as seemed to be the style that season so we all rushed back to start waving again only for the ball to hit the back of the net this time. Never mind the game finished as a 1-1 draw as usual.
At home results can be summed up as the veritable curate's egg with crowds often dropping below the 4,000 mark. Only four games were lost all season but nine were drawn. Added entertainment was provided by Mark's friend Andy who prepared for a future career at Sky Sports by regularly going to Reading games. Commonly the result would be in the balance in the second half so Andy would go down the front, stick his head through the fence and wish for a goal, which when it came would see him trampled in the charge for the fence leaving him to describe his pleasure at his pain afterwards. 
A favourite league game this season was a win by the odd goal in five over Porterfield's old club Rotherham, which was memorable for one supporter, clearly under a chemical influence, running along the right side of the South Bank at the front keeping up with play, randomly shouting "triangles" at the players.
Reading were at their best when playing the two Bristol clubs who were dukeing it out for the title at the top of the league. Reading drew either team in every single cup competition that season, playing them a total of ten times, losing just once, at home to Rovers in the league. Apart from beating Rovers in the FA Cup, the only Reading win came at Ashton Gate in February with a rare goal from substitute David Leworthy being the difference between the two teams, Steve Richardson reprising his super sweeper role to shut out the Robins. This proved the latent potential of the Royals who produced some excellent performances against the rest of the top six that season, beating Tranmere, Bury and Bolton at home, whilst holding Notts County in both games. Results against the bottom six however left a lot more to be desired but watching the news clips of the tumultuous final game of the season which saw Rovers beat City at Twerton Park to win the title with City promoted as runners up, it was clear that having matched or bettered these two teams for most of the season the future was bright for the Royals. Porterfield had made just one permanent signing at Christmas (but what a signing in Mick Gooding, "the Bryan Robson of the lower divisions"), so with a bit of tinkering with a half decent squad it was clear that Reading were going to walk the league in 1990/91.

My memorabilia from this season can be found here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/elmparkyears

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