Reading aim to be more than FA Cup footnote after history of heartbreak

The Royals hope for maiden win over Arsenal in their first semi-final since 1927

Arsenal’s Theo Walcott celebrates scoring their sixth goal during the League Cup fourth round 7-5 win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium in October 2012. Photograph: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Arsenal’s Theo Walcott celebrates scoring their sixth goal during the League Cup fourth round 7-5 win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium in October 2012. Photograph: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

 

Even schoolchildren born 50 and 60 years later know that 1927 was a special year for the FA Cup. It remains the only time in the Cup’s 143-year history that the trophy has left England. Cardiff City, with Drumcondra’s Tom Farquharson in goal, defeated Arsenal in the first final to be broadcast on radio.

Less well known, and a measure of the cliche that states no one remembers beaten semi-finalists, is that Cardiff overcame Reading in the last four. The match was at Molineux. How evocative that sounds when compared with new Wembley.

That is where Reading are going now. They have reached the FA Cup semi-final for the first time since 1927. That year’s beaten finalists, Arsenal, are in front of them; Arsenal are expected to win comfortably.

For Reading, like Wigan and Sheffield United last season, like Millwall the season before, their destination is likely to be a non-Premier League footnote in the record books, an FA Cup quiz question if they’re lucky.

If so, it will not be out of keeping. There is an element of the so-near, so-far to Reading.

Just last season, they finished seventh in the Championship, missing out on the playoffs by a point due to Brighton’s 90th-minute winner at Nottingham Forest on the final afternoon. Nigel Adkins might still be Reading manager had that not happened.

Ripple impact

That final-day drama last May joined 1927, 1939 – Reading were top of Division Three South when war broke out – and 1977, when they were relegated to the old Fourth Division on goal difference, in the club’s catalogue of tight misfortune.

There was then the close encounter of the Robert Maxwell kind in the early 1980s, when the idiosyncratic Daily Mirror owner wanted Reading to merge with Oxford United to form something called “Thames Valley Royals”, a scheme which Reading fans fought against harder than the authorities.

The club were still known then as “the Biscuitmen”, due to the factory across the road from their Elm Park home, but by 1994-95 Reading had become “the Royals”. And of various near misses, the Royals of 1995 probably take, well, the biscuit.

Here we have one of those massive details so many of us forget but Reading don’t because they can’t.

The 1994-95 season was when the Premier League decided to cut its numbers from 22 to 20. Ordinarily three clubs would go down and three would go up, but this season, four were being relegated and two were being promoted.

But only one of the two going up were doing so automatically, and that was Middlesbrough. Three points behind them were Reading, who had Belfast’s Jimmy Quinn as player-manager.

In any other season Reading would have been promoted to the top flight – for the first time in the club’s history. It would have been momentous for the town, celebrated still. Instead they went into a four-club playoff.

It was looking historic once Tranmere Rovers had been beaten in the playoff semi-final. That meant Wembley, old Wembley, and a playoff final against Bolton. After 12 minutes Reading were 2-0 ahead. Then they got a penalty and Stuart Lovell took it. He missed. Bolton won 4-3.

Bolton went on to the Premier League, Reading finished 19th the next season and two years later were in the third division.

They were relegated in the final season at Elm Park. It was no way to say goodbye to the ground they had been at since 1896, the ground John Arlott used to cycle 17 miles to and from to offer his support.

Coppell’s team

Steve CoppellKevin DoyleDave Kitson

In the Premier League neither Doyle nor Kitson were so prolific but in that first season, Reading finished eighth. Coppell was manager of the year twice in a row.

But how quickly it can go. The next season, it was 18th place and, Royal or not, Reading went down on goal difference again. They did so on 36 points, the sort of tally which would certainly keep them up this season.

Brendan Rodgers succeeded Coppell – Rodgers had been a youth coach at the club for years before leaving for Chelsea – but it lasted six months. Reading did reach the Championship playoffs in 2009, losing to Burnley, and again in 2011. This time they lost to Rodgers’s Swansea – at Wembley.

By then Brian McDermott had stepped up to be manager and in 2011-12 Reading won the Championship. To be at the club’s Hogwood Park training ground that week, watching McDermott and Ian Harte playing table tennis, was to witness a relaxed club on the up. So it seemed. But the Premier League was hard, McDermott was dismissed, relegation was immediate.

Then came last May’s near miss and by December Adkins was replaced by Steve Clarke. A fortnight later Reading won at Huddersfield in the third round of the cup and via Cardiff (revenge for 1927), Derby and Bradford, they were on their way to new Wembley.

There they meet Arsenal. Reading do so as the team 18th in the Championship; Arsenal are the cup holders.

Reading have never beaten Arsenal in 12 meetings, and there is little expectation they will do in the 13th. Yet they have come close: the last time the two met in a cup-tie was in October 2012 in the League Cup and Reading were 4-0 ahead in 37 minutes.

They ended up losing 7-5 after extra-time in a crash-bang-wallop of a match.

Once again Reading – the Biscuitmen, the Royals – were so near to history and glory, and yet as far away as on so many nights before.

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