Reading 4 Watford 2 (U16s) (29/04/2012)
There aren’t many U16s friendlies that attract a crowd of around 12000, and to be honest, it wasn’t the game itself that drew the crowds into the Madejski Stadium on a miserably wet and windy afternoon. Not that the football on show wasn’t worthy of such appreciation. While there were obviously mistakes, some of the football on display was a credit to the work the Reading academy has done in recent years.
The mere two goal deficit flattered the Watford side, and was scant reward for some fine football played by the youngsters, stuff that would have been unthinkable even by the first team not so long ago. Two of the Reading goals, a cut inside and low placed shot into the far corner, and a patiently teed up shot from the edge of the box, were probably among the better goals seen at the stadium all season.
Traditionalists might grumble that even U16s are wearing orange boots these days, although one wonders if the post-goal celebrations are normally quite as flamboyant when the crowds are typically 12000 lower than they were today.
For the first three years at the Madejski, this would have been a good crowd for a first team game. When Reading announced plans to leave the antiquated but well-loved Elm Park in the mid 1990s, a drop back to the third tier wasn’t in the plans. Despite the drop, I still recall the first time I went into the Madejski for the first time. Along with two friends, I was one of the first three people to ever buy a ticket for the Madejski’s North Stand (for the record I was the second). I consciously didn’t look at the rest stadium as I walked to my seat, dead centre, right at the back, and then turned to get the view.
Stunning doesn’t do it justice. I loved Elm Park, but this was a whole new world. I couldn’t believe something so large and so modern could be the home of a club like Reading, a club with so much to be modest about. I knew the club would never be the same again, and while it perhaps too a few years longer than planned to get the club back to where it was planned to be, it’s been onwards and upwards ever since.
Of course, tastes change. What look modern and different in 1998 is starting to look ordinary, dull even, in 2012. As a ground there’s no doubt it performs its function exceptionally well. There are probably few grounds in the country that have such a high proportion of seats with a view that’s good or better. It’s just….well, there are so many new grounds now that are mainly single tier, that the long continuous single tier look just seems a little boring now. The contrast against the old style grounds, once seen as a positive, is now often presented as a negative. People liked the awkwardness, the disjointed lack of symmetry and the piecemeal development of the old style grounds. It gave them character, or at least it gives them character now, in contrast to the too orderly modern grounds.
Don’t get me wrong, I still like the place, but I watch from the East Stand now, which is probably the most interesting angle to view the ground from, but I do sometimes wish for a little extra, just to lift it out of the ordinary that it tends to get lumped in with when people are moaning about modern stadium design.
That extra something could well be on the cards though. Should the club have a prolonged spell in the premier league then plans are afoot to expand the ground. Goodbye straight lines, hello curves, and maybe a more interesting ground all round.
It was the first step towards that possible prolonged spell that merited that 12000 crowd. Promotion to the premier league for the second time had been achieved, and after a rain-lashed parade through the town centre, where the players had probably been the least happy people to be in an open-topped vehicle since JFK in 1963, the Championship trophy was to be officially presented at the stadium.
If the gods had seemingly smiled on Reading at some stages of the 2011/12 season, they smiled again as the U16s game finished. The wintry squall that had soaked all brave and foolhardy enough to make their way to the stadium or parade, miraculously stopped, allowing a one hour window of bright weather for the trophy presentation and laps of honour. I can only hope for such brightness in the club’s future.