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.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Elm Park Years Part 4: Where's Our Eddie Gone Then?

"Where's Our Eddie Gone Then?" was the question fired by one of the more aggressive looking Reading fans at John Madejski, as the Chairman ventured in to the away end at Brisbane Road on the penultimate  sunny Saturday of the season. The Eddie referred to was Welshman Niedzwiecki, placed in charge of the Royals after Ian Porterfield was sacked, with the assistant now joining his former boss in the dole queue. The new man in charge, but not the final change of the season, was physiotherapist John "healing hands" Haselden. Madejski himself was the second Chairman of the season but had rather a longer stint in post than the loyal Haselden who reverted back to his physio role the following Saturday under new manager Mark McGhee in a chaotic end to a tumultuous season which remains something of a nadir in the modern history of Reading Football Club. A low point from which, barring the odd stumble, everything improved exponentially to the point of selling out a shiny new all seater stadium on a regular basis in the Premier League.
This end to the season didn't bear thinking about on the similarly sunny Saturday on which the season began, way down in Devon at St. James Park where Reading confirmed early season optimism about promotion by systematically taking apart 1990 Division Four Champions Exeter City 3-1, the Grecians first defeat at home in over a year. Standing on the distinctly non league terrace which masqueraded as the away end we saluted the team and in particular the scorers of the three goals the triple strike force of Trevor Senior, Craig Maskell and Steve Moran before getting back on the coach to avoid the attentions of the locals who wanted to fervently discuss the outcome of the game. 
Porterfield had bet the farm on Maskell, a striker prolific in the previous two seasons at Huddersfield in Division Three, a classy ball playing forward that any supporter would want to watch. The problem was the squad was already congested with attackers, the always reliable Trevor Senior playing alongside a number of partners who all remained at Elm Park over the summer, with no form to attract other clubs. Presumably Moran would have also been on a contract as big as his waistband hence his presence in the line up on the opening day. David Leworthy was a permanent bench fixture, George Friel was one for the future and at least Michael Gilkes' pace could be devastating anywhere on the left hand side. Porterfield attempted to convert the hard working Mike Conroy into a midfielder, but the Scotsman's application lacked the finesse to augment Mick Gooding's dynamism in the centre, and with hindsight this is where the investment should have been following the summer departure of Stuart Beavon and Mick Tait. This would have complemented the neat bit of business in defence which saw Darren Wood swapped for Keith "Tom's Diner" McPherson who fortunately exceeded expectations as the other defender brought in was the frequently injured "Oops Up" Floyd Streete.
Still the feeling of bliss to be in the heaven of an season opening day tour de force persisted until the middle of October when the Royals held third spot after drawing at home to Birmingham City following an exciting midweek win at Elm Park over Bournemouth. League games with the Cherries were the closest the Royals had to a local derby at this time and it was Reading's turn to claim the bragging rights in a somewhat fortunate fashion when goalkeeper Peter Guthrie let a Maskell shot through his legs to complete the comeback from a 1-0 half time deficit before second choice Reading goalkeeper Phil Burns sealed the points with a world class save to stop Efan Ekoku snatching a point.
This play off placing proved to be a temporary one as the next four games were all lost but promotion hopes were kept alive by a 1-0 at Stoke in November. This was my first trip to the Victoria Ground and last one on the supporters coach. Standing in the abysmal fenced away end which at the front was below pitch level, we just about saw Moran give Reading a very early lead and then saw the Royals heroically hold on for the rest of the game to win the Football League performance of the week. This proved to be another false dawn though as form continued to slump up to Christmas.
However if the league form suffered, the Cup matches were a complete write off and I saw every minute of each of the five knockout defeats. Earlier in the season Reading had lost both legs of their first round tie against deadly local rivals Oxford United, whose top boys contribution to the atmosphere at Elm Park was to vigorously rattle the gates at the front of the away end.
Hopes that another great FA Cup run was in prospect were raised when Reading were drawn away to Colchester United, the Us then battling for promotion at the top of the Conference. This proved to be a great day out spoilt by ninety minutes of football. Travelling up by train from Liverpool Street, we joined the Reading fans wholly occupying one carriage and marshaled by one supporter with an Ed the Duck glove puppet. Welcomed by the local constabulary on our arrival in Essex we made the long walk to Layer Road to the dire covered away end consisting of wooden terraces. Everything was going to plan at half time thanks to a Martin Hicks goal, but the Col U came back to create a cup upset and leave us with an uneasy walk back to the station with the locals eager to engage us in conversation about the result.
Any chance that the Leyland Daf Cup would provide any joy were quickly crushed in an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at soon to be defunct Aldershot where once again the locals were keen to start a post mortem asking me if I was part of the "Reading scum". Needless to say the final group game ended in a 4-1 defeat to promotion chasing Southend at Elm Park, the Shrimpers second win at Elm Park in a fortnight. In the league they had thoroughly exposed Reading's shortcomings by going 4-0 up. At this point we decided to de camp to the Tilehurst End where we saw Reading score two consolation goals, the second giving Dave the opportunity to be captured for posterity on TVS by giving the finger to the United goalkeeper.The only bright spot on the horizon was the continuing development of young talent such as Ady Williams and Scott Taylor with Stuart "Archie" Lovell announcing his arrival with the only goal of the game on his debut at home to Fulham.
By now Mark had passed his driving test to signal a change to our trips to Elm Park. Although the long walk down the Oxford Road had stopped when we discovered our train tickets were valid to Reading West, and the 17 bus could get us back to the station in time for the 17.08 train back to Maidenhead, Mark's mum's spacious saloon car made the journey even easier, with the only problem trying to find a parking space somewhere between the Bath Road and the Tilehurst Road which didn't infringe resident parking restrictions.
This meant the lack of public transport on Boxing Day wasn't a barrier to getting to the game at Elm Park although very few bothered on a horribly wet and windy day in a crowd of just over 3,000. Grimsby were the unseasonal visitors for a match that started a run to raise hopes that the second half of the season would be better than the first. Mick Gooding scored both goals in a 2-0 but it was his new midfield partner Danny Bailey who sparked a five game winning streak. Bailey a man as wide as he was tall stomped around the midfield daring anyone to come near him and became the source of endless conversations starting who would win  in a fight between Bailey and Vinnie Jones, Mike Tyson, a sabre toothed tiger etc.
Mansfield were up next at Elm Park with my main man Linden Jones forcing a last minute winner over the line. Maskell scored the only goal of the game then got sent off in the return fixture against Exeter and by the time Wigan were comfortably beaten at Elm Park at the end of January the Royals stood on the brink of the play offs once more. Confirmation that they were serious promotion contenders then followed on a midweek trip to Southend. Everything looked lost at half time at Roots Hall, with the home team one goal up thanks to Ian Benjamin. Worst was to come after the break when Gilkes was stretchered off with a broken leg but Reading rediscovered their resilience of the previous season with goals from Moran and Bailey winning the game, the latter climbing the fence at the away end to receive the acclaim of us travelling faithful.
This upturn in form coincided with a change of ownership. In the autumn former Chairman Roger Smee had revealed that weekly losses were running into five figures which he was unable to subsidise. Just when it seemed Reading might be on track to follow local rivals Oxford and Aldershot into financial oblivion a local businessman stepped forward to take up the challenge of getting the club back on its feet. Despite a professed lack of interest in football John Madejski was man cast in the better aspects of Victorian civic philanthropy. Founder of the publishing empire which produced Auto Trader, Madejski was one of the country's richest men and perhaps because of his antipathy towards the beautiful game, unlike many a new football club owner, he managed to hold on to the sound business principles which had made him so successful, seeing the virtue of parsimony (which reportedly led to the break down in his relationship with Porterfield) and being ready to play the long game. He also had the nous to show a genuine interest in the concerns of supporters in stark contrast to the previous regime which led to his pioneering terrace walkabout at Brisbane Road.
The Orient match came almost at the end of a nineteen game run which included just three wins and four draws. Porterfield had tried to plug the gaps in the team with loan signings, some of whom (Mark Smith and Steve Morrow) were more successful than others (Garry Brooke, Matthew Edwards and Brian Statham), all of which contributed to an ever growing sense of desperation which ultimately saw home crowds plunge below the 2,000 mark.
Still hope sprung eternal after the Southend win, with another good point on the road at Fulham spoiled by the over zealous Met police who decided to stop the half time lets all have a disco bundle by ejecting the only non white Royal involved, leaving us to return to making fun of Bjorn Borg the groundsman. A trip to the Cottage always gave rise to the feeling of faded glamour as a celebrity was taken onto the pitch by Diddy David Hamilton to make the half time prize draw. To show that sublebrity is not a new phenemon I can remember Oxo Dad Michael Redfearn and Duffy from Casualty being wheeled out in consecutive visits in the early nineties.
Serious promotion hopes hinged on a midweek trip to fellow play off hopefuls Bournemouth in mid March. After analysing the league table all day at school, Mark made the snap decision to borrow his mum's car at 5 pm and we got to Dean Court just in time for kick off which was all to no avail as the Cherries won comfortably 2-0 under the horror show management duo of Harry Redknapp and Tony Pulis. This result hit me so hard I had to bunk off school the next day to recover but a win the following Saturday over Rotherham at Elm Park saw me and Mark take the train up to the midlands seven days later to stand at the top of the steepling away terrace at St Andrews. Welsh wonder Jones repaid our loyalty by scoring in a 1-1 draw to leave us to walk back in silence to New Street in the middle of several thousand Blues.
Two points out of the next eighteen though spelled the end for Porterfield a decision which at the time upset me although as I type these words two decades later seems evidently sensible. I never lost my trust in a manager for whom the Reading spell must have been a low point in a fairly admirable career on and off the pitch. Stories emerged that he was sacked as a result of unprofessional conduct in terms of transfer dealing and a drink driving charge which seemed to point to opportunism on the part of the club to get rid of an employee on a sizeable salary. A more obvious reason for dismissal due to performances on the pitch would of course necessitated paying up his contract.Still us vocal South Bank right siders were placated by "our" Eddie being placed in temporary charge.
Niedzwiecki was backed to the hilt by us loyal Royals in a tumultuous end of season trip to Griffin Park. Whilst the Met found it necessary to search my turn ups before allowing me entry they missed someone else in the away end bringing in a smoke game which was let off in the first half. The atmosphere grew more febrile as the game which remained goalless moved into injury time. Brentford then scored and Reading were reduced to ten men following a bad tackle by Statham at the far end. The usual melee on the pitch followed whilst Brentford keeper Graham Benstead turned round to inform us of the score, prompting one fan to jump on the pitch to seek more details, meanwhile Eddie tried to do likewise with the referee but was led away by a policeman. The final whistle sounded soon after signalling the end of any Reading fight on or off the pitch.
Seven days later a supine team looked after by Haselden were thrashed by Orient and although new manager Mark McGhee's first home game a week later ended in another 1-0 win over Stoke, the naughty 40 invaded the South Bank at the end of the game and we all ran away never to be seen again for another three months. Things could only get better.

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

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