One of the great things about groundhopping is that people you know start offering to take you to games. Reading was one such offer, and I was happy to oblige. I’ve spent many years travelling between London and Bristol, and I know the M4 far too well. One of the few points of interest on that road is The Madejski Stadium. Windsor Castle and fields are the others.
Fortunes have fluctuated for the stadium's occupants over all the years I’ve been admiring the stadium from the back seat of cars and various buses. The club have been to the Premier League, and as I visit them they are currently trying to find their way back there.
Competition: EFL Championship
Refreshments: £4.70 (beer)
Star man: Britt Assombalonga
A brief history of Reading FC
Reading FC was formed in 1871, on Christmas Day, and is one of the oldest clubs in England. They are now known as The Royals, due to being in the Royal County of Berkshire, but they were originally known as ‘The Biscuitmen’. This nickname, which unfortunately didn't stick, was down to an association with Huntley and Palmers biscuit makers.
Reading only made it into the top flight of English football in 2006, despite the club’s long history. They can count themselves unlucky, however, as they finished runners up in Division One in 1995. The Premier League decided to reduce its numbers that season and Reading had to go into the Play-Offs. They lost to Bolton in the final at Wembley.
The club moved from their traditional home, Elm Park, to the Madejski Stadium in 1998. Since the move Reading have consistently challenged for promotion from the second tier and enjoyed three seasons in the Premier League.
Interesting Reading FC facts
- Reading hold the record for the most points in a professional league season. They won the Championship in 2006 with 106 points.
- Reading also hold the record for the most consecutive wins at the start of a season. They won their first 13 games in the Third Division in 1985.
- In 1988 Reading won the Full Members Cup, which was an additional competition for the top two divisions while English clubs were banned from Europe.
- Reading have lost both of the two highest scoring matches in the history of the Premier League. 7-4 v Portsmouth and 6-4 v Spurs.
Reading v Middleborough preview
Going into the game both sides had been on a poor run of form, only winning one of their last six games. Reading lost three times in that period while Middlesbrough had lost twice. The visitors had a better start to the season, however, and were five points and seven league places better off than their hosts.
Both sides have looked reasonably solid so far this season and not conceded too many goals compared to the sides around them in the league table. They’ve both, however, found it difficult to score. Middlesbrough attacking stats were looking marginally more efficient than the Royals.
The Reading experience
We arrived at the stadium via the efficient shuttle bus from Reading Station. The Madejski is situated next to Reading Gate Retail Park and it doesn’t look out of place next to PC World and B&Q. We stopped for a KFC and walked up the hill to the stadium.
The stadium looks down on the retail park and is alone in its lofty position apart from the neighbouring Millennium Madejski Hotel. Rather than go straight in we headed to the hotel bar for a quick beer. It was a surprisingly decent drinking spot, with lots of TVs showing the lunchtime Premier League game.
On our return to the stadium we were promptly given the wrong directions by a steward but easily found our way to our seats in the West Stand. We were positioned in the front row of the upper tier, above the hospitality area, and had a great view of the game. The Madejski has a bowl layout, and the other three stands are all single tier. This gives the stadium and neat, uniform feel and good views throughout.
Train: Reading Station is quite far from the ground, but there is a very good F1 shuttle bus to get fans to and from the game. Take a right out of the station, go down the steps and you’ll see the buses on the left.
Car: The Madejski is close to the M4 and quite easy to reach. There is parking available at the stadium complex for £10. There are few other parking options nearby.
Reading’s form has been poor this season and this was reflected in the atmosphere. Expectations seemed low and the home side offered little to get the crowd excited. The visiting fans, who came in good numbers, presented some atmosphere, but even they had little to cheer about. At the start of the second half the announcer implored the crowd to show a ‘shared collective desire’ to will the home side on, but even this odd Apprentice-style pep talk failed to get the crowd going.
After the game we returned to the Hotel bar and watched the final 20 mins of the Under 17s World Cup Final. The loudest cheers of the day were reserved for England’s final two goals in their 5-2 victory over Spain. The bar was busy, but not too busy, before and after the game.
Both sides looked solid, but Reading appear to be lacking a reliable striker. They passed the ball around confidently from the back but failed to find an incisive ball over, around or through the Middlesbrough back four. Ayala and Gibson got in the way of everything and won most of their aerial duels.
The visitors, however, looked marginally more threatening when they attacked. Assombalonga provided a constant physical challenge for the Reading defenders and Braithwaite supported well. ‘Boro’ made the breakthrough when Assombalonga was fouled by van den Berg and Leadbitter scored from the spot.
Reading centre backs Moore and Ilori collided during the first half and the latter had to be taken hospital. Fortunately, he was released the next day, but it meant a re-shuffle for the home side.
The Royals began to look more threatening in the second half with Swift and Beerens getting on the ball. Middlesbrough, however, doubled their lead just as the crowd was beginning to show some ‘shared collective desire’. The first good cross of the game found Assombalonga who powered a header past Mannone.
Final thoughts and ratings
The Madejski was neat and well designed. Reading’s recent form and a poor game, unfortunately, denied us the chance to fully assess how atmospheric it could be. Food and drink seemed reasonably priced inside, but the best beer was clearly available in the Hotel bar.
Ticket availability – Tickets were bought by a friend, but the stadium was far from sold out. 9/10
Website/social media – Reading’s website is good and has some interesting historical sections and information about the club’s achievements. Social Media is pretty standard. 7/10
Travel – The Stadium is out of town but the shuttle bus works well. Parking is available for £10 at the Madejski. 7/10
Ground – The Madejski is a nice stadium, but no more than that. Can’t help but think stadia like this will be significantly improved with the introduction of safe-standing. 6/10
Food and drink – Food and drink was as expected and not over-priced. Good beer in the Hotel bar. 7/10
Programme – The programme is well designed but didn’t contain too much content that couldn’t be looked up online. 6/10
Atmosphere – It clearly wasn’t the ideal time to monitor the atmosphere as recent times haven’t been too kind on the local. The visitors gave it a go though. 5/10
Football quality – Not a great game between two sides that have solid defence as their priority. 5/10
Cost - £30 for a ticket, £2 for the shuttle bus and food and drink costs. Not too bad overall but the ticket cost could be less for what is currently a lower Championship side. 6/10
Matchday experience extras – Not many extras going on apart from the corporate away day stadium announcements. 6/10