Did someone say Premier League? On Tuesday night, after a frankly unbelievable past three months, what every Royals supporter dared to dream finally became a reality when the team clinched promotion to the top flight of English football with a 1-0 defeat of Nottingham Forest.
For me it capped off a truly wondrous season, and I felt immense pleasure not only in knowing I could watch my team get picked apart by Hansen, Shearer et al. on Match of the Day every weekend, but for our boys who have performed admirably in getting the club back into the league it dropped out of four years ago. People outside the Reading supporter circle must be sick and tired of hearing it, but the bunch of boys we’ve got at the club really are second to none. They work hard for each other, there’s great relationships between them all and the manager, and most importantly they have such a passion to get to the Premier League.
Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Connolly, statistically the Championship’s most effective defensive pairing last season, both joined our cause from QPR after being deemed surplus to requirements for their Prem campaign, whilst Leigertwood joined the season prior. Neil Warnock was seemingly intent on breaking up his team that romped to the Championship title and replacing them with big money signings, and look where that left him.
He cheekily takes credit for our success too. Jobi McAnuff, made captain in summer, has never played in the top flight, despite trying with five other teams. Noel Hunt follows his brother’s footsteps in gaining promotion with us, and could play against Stephen if Wolves beat the drop. Adam Federici was the Royals’ reserve goalkeeper during their last Premier League stint, and the likes of Jem Karacan, Alex Pearce (two of three players up for Player of the Season), Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu have all made their way up through the club’s fantastic academy. Andy Griffin, Ian Harte and Jason Roberts provided the experienced heads, whilst Adam Le Fondre will become a top flight player less than a year after being picked up from League Two and chipping in with 12 goals.
I can honestly say that I didn’t think I’d see a team I loved more than the fabled 106ers of 2005/06, but here they are. It’s a perfect combination of players with varying careers who have such a fantastic bond, and I know that Brian and the rest of the staff will be keen on keeping them together next year. You only have to look at the likes of Swansea and Norwich, and on the flip side QPR, to know which transfer policy works best.
In my last piece, I wrote how the run-in to the season’s end could make or break Reading’s season. It featured five of the top ten at the time, and despite our good form, I was concerned for how well the players would cope with such a tough set of games. What I didn’t anticipate, was that Reading would win 6 of the final 8 fixtures – we face Birmingham next weekend – including games against the top two in West Ham and Southampton, and playoff challengers Leeds, Blackpool and Brighton.
Each and every game was momentous, and with each three points my belief grew. McDermott’s men wrapped it up on Tuesday with a well-fought win against Forest, and as news filtered through that Bristol had held West Ham, the Mad Stad went mental. I really advise checking out some of the promotion videos online, they’re absolutely fantastic. Jem Karacan discharging himself hours after an operation on his broken foot showed what it meant to him, and despite being high as a kite on the medicine, the boys welcomed him like a hero.
Although yesterday’s game against Palace maybe showed traits of complacency in the team, we wrapped up the title later in the day, watching Middlesborough beat Southampton in the late kick off. It would have been nice to have done it with a win at the Madejski and at the same time as the Saints game, but a title is a title, especially considering our position but three months ago, and I ain’t moaning.
What remains important is that we don’t act like there’s nothing to play for at St. Andrew’s in a week’s time. Technically there isn’t, but let’s make it a fine finish to a finer season. Remember 2008/09 boys? We’d been fighting with Wolves and Birmingham for automatic promotion the whole season, and Birmingham condemned us to the playoffs on the final day with a 2-0 victory. Perhaps it’s time to return the favour.
The media have already started paying attention now that Reading are back in the limelight of the Barclays Premier League, and it’s about time too. We’d slipped under the radar, and many people didn’t quite trust in our promotion credentials over West Ham and Southampton’s until it was confirmed. The outright favourites are still battling for that 2nd position, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to drop into the ridiculously strong playoffs this year. Birmingham, Blackpool and Cardiff? No thank you. I don’t imagine Reading would have fared too well in that cauldron. The stats don’t lie though: 47 points gained out of a possible 54 in the last 18 games is promotion form of the finest. That, my friends, is unreal. I’m hella’ proud of the lads, the manager, the chairman, and the club, and there’s just one thing left to say.
Bring on August.
Up the Royals!
Written by Ben Barker, We Are Going Up’s Reading blogger
Ben tweets at @benjambarker