Reading Football Club was formed late in 1871 by a group of young townsmen meeting in Gun Street and the first match was played on 21st February 1872 at the Reading Recreation Ground (now King’s Meadow).
The club slowly grew in strength and in1878 moved to an enclosed ground (Reading Cricket Ground). With two internationals in defence (Morgan of Wales, Field of England) Reading won their first trophy, the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup, in March 1879. At this time the club was regarded as one of the strongest in the south outside London but decline set in during the 1880s when a move was made to Coley Park.
It took the determined leadership of Horace Walker from 1890 to revive the club and put it on a more attractive and open footing. Now playing at Caversham Cricket Ground Reading regained the Berks & Bucks Cup in 1892 and became founder members of the Southern League in 1894. In 1895 the club turned professional, with an amateur section splitting away, and in 1896 bought a ground for the first time, this being Elm Park the club’s home for the next 102 years.
Reading FC directors in front of the steps of the Tilehurst Road terrace at Elm Park
Reading spent 22 seasons in the Southern League, all but one season in the top division. Amongst the highlights were finishing runners-up three times, winning the second division title (1911), reaching the FA Cup quarter finals (1901), knocking Football League giants Bolton (1901) and Aston Villa (1912) out of the Cup and a successful tour of Italy in 1913 which included a win over AC Milan. Elm Park staged the FA Amateur Cup Final and a FA Cup semi-final replay (1900) while Johnny Holt and Herbert Smith won full caps for England.
The club was much weakened financially and in terms of personnel by the First World War. The most prominent casualty was star forward Allen Foster who had been tipped for England honours. However, soon, at last the Biscuitmen were to be admitted to the Football League.
At the start of the 1920-21 season, the Southern League clubs were elected en bloc to form Division Three of the Football League and in 1925-26, Reading won the Championship of Division Three (South).
Promotion was assured with a thrilling 7-1 victory over Brentford, and international honours were gained by Dai Evans for Wales, and by Billy McConnell and Hugh Davey for Northern Ireland.
The club's best run in the FA Cup came the following season, when they were defeated 3-0 by Cardiff City, the eventual winners, at Wolverhampton in the semi-final. In round five, the attendance record for Elm Park was set, as 33,042 people watched Reading's 1-0 victory over Brentford.
Reading lost their place in Division Two in May 1931, and remained in Division Three (South) until the outbreak of World War Two. The club won the Southern Section Cup, beating Bristol City in the two-legged final in 1938, and when taking part in the regional London War League and Cup competitions, gained another honour by beating Brentford in the London War Cup Final of 1941 by 3-2 at Stamford Bridge.
When League football resumed after the war, Reading quickly came to prominence once again. The club's record victory, 10-2 versus Crystal Palace, was recorded in September 1946, and Reading twice finished runners-up in the Third (South), in 1948-49 and 1951-52, but they were denied a return to Division Two as only the champions were promoted.
In the latter season Ron Blackman established the club's individual league scoring record with 39 goals, and Jack Lewis set a Football League record with 15 goals from wing-half. Reading also amassed a total of 112 League goals, and two other well-known players appearing for the side were Maurice Edelston, a former amateur international, and Stan Wicks, an England 'B' International.
When Reading finished fifth in the Division in 1957-58, they became founder members of the non-regional Division Three, remaining there until the club's centenary season of 1970-71. This proved to be one of the least successful in the club's history, and at the end of it Reading were relegated to division four on goal average.
It took five years for the club to regain Division Three status, third place and promotion being achieved in 1975-76, but the club slipped back into Division Four at the end of the following season.
1978-79 brought promotion once again, Reading becoming Champions of Division Four under the management of Maurice Evans and setting a Football League record by not conceding a goal in 1,074 minutes. Steve Death was the goalkeeper throughout that period, and he became the holder of the club appearance record with a total of 536 first team games in all competitions between 1969 and 1982.
In the 1982-83 season, however, Reading FC almost ceased to exist. Relegation back to Division Four was bad enough, but the club had to fight off a threatened merger with Oxford United and the sale of Elm Park. Eventually Reading survived and at the end of the season Roger Smee, a former player with the club, was installed as Chairman.
He appointed Ian Branfoot as manager and, under his guidance, Reading returned to Division Three by finishing third in Division Four in 1983-84. After a season of consolidation, Reading won the Division Three Championship in 1985-86, returning to Division Two after an absence of 55 years.
The club set a Football League record by winning outright its first 13 games, and set a new club record with a total of 94 points. The return to Division Two lasted only two seasons, as Reading were relegated in 1987-88.
The two year period in Division Two, however, contained what many regard as the club's greatest achievement. Reading reached Wembley for the first time ever, beating four First Division sides on their way to the Simod Cup Final. They beat Division One Luton Town 4-1 at Wembley on 27th March 1988 in front of an attendance of 61,470, the largest crowd ever to watch a Reading game. Martin Hicks, Reading's captain at Wembley, went on to make a club record 577 first team appearances in major competitions.
Reading spent several seasons back in Division Two (the former Division Three) until the arrival of John Madejski as Chairman in 1990 and Mark McGhee as manager soon afterwards revitalised the club. Under their leadership, Reading became committed to a policy of attractive, attacking football.
Steady progress, including a flourishing youth scheme and the introduction of several international players to the first team, led to the Royals becoming Division Two Champions in 1993-94. Reading thus became the only club to have won the Championships of the Second, Third, Third (South) and Fourth Divisions.
The 1994-95 season in Division One proved as traumatic as any in the long history of the club. Reading adjusted quickly to the demands of their new status, and spent the majority of the campaign in the play-off positions.
Even the controversial resignation of Mark McGhee in December did little to halt the team's progress, as joint player-managers Mick Gooding and Jimmy Quinn led the side to an eventual second place, the highest ever achieved by Reading. Northern Ireland international Quinn became Reading's most capped player, and locally-born defender Adrian Williams became a regular in the Welsh team.
In the end of season play-offs, Reading defeated Tranmere Rovers 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final to win a place in the Wembley final on 29th May. Goals from Lee Nogan and Adrian Williams gave them a 2-0 lead, but after Reading's Stuart Lovell saw a penalty saved, Bolton eventually won 4-3 after extra time in one of the most thrilling matches ever seen at the national stadium. Ironically, it was the first time ever that the team finishing second in the Division was not granted automatic promotion to the top flight.
Further records were established in the 1995-96 season. Reading reached round five of the Football League Cup for the first time, and record receipts of £110,741 for a game at Elm Park were taken at the FA Cup tie against Manchester United.
Reading shattered their transfer sales record twice, firstly as Simon Osborn was sold to Queens Park Rangers for £850,000 in July 1995, then a month later as Shaka Hislop moved to Newcastle United for £1,575,000. A record fee was paid for Bulgarian international goalkeeper Borislav 'Bobby' Mihaylov, who arrived from Botev Plovdiv for £300,000, then Darren Caskey was bought from Tottenham Hotspur for £700,000.
The club struggled in Division One in 1995-96, but a 3-0 win over Wolves - by then managed by Mark McGhee - in the last home game of the season ensured their survival. During the close season Adie Williams joined Wolves for just over the million pound mark, to be replaced as club captain by Northern Ireland international defender Barry Hunter, a £350,000 purchase from Wrexham. The next season saw the departure of Mihaylov, who played just 28 games for the club.
Again, Reading spent most of the season in the lower reaches of the Division, but once more a 2-1 home win against McGhee's Wolves in April - with Stuart Lovell scoring both in injury time - proved enough to ensure another season in Division One.
Within days of the season ending, however, Mick Gooding and Jimmy Quinn left the club and on June 30 Terry Bullivant was appointed Team Manager. Unfortunately his appointment did not lead to the success anticipated, and the team spent the majority of the 1997/98 campaign in the relegation places. Bullivant resigned in March 1998 and was replaced by Tommy Burns, who was unable to prevent Reading finishing at the bottom of the Division.
Compensation for the return to Division Two came from the prospect of Reading Football Club leaving Elm Park (its home for 102 years) and relocating to the Madejski Stadium, a splendid purpose-built, 25,000 all-seater ground where there is limitless opportunity for development and progress.
The first season at Madejski Stadium was disappointing as the team failed to find any real consistency and finished tenth in Division Two, and after a poor start to the 1999/2000 season, manager Burns was sacked in September 1999. He was replaced on a caretaker basis by former reserve team boss Alan Pardew and his assistant, former England coach John Gorman, and the appointment was made permanent a month later.
Pardew's first few months in charge were difficult as he made his imprint on a struggling team, and the Royals were in the relegation zone at Christmas. He was joined by new assistant manager Martin Allen, son of former favourite Denis, following the departure of Gorman to join Glenn Hoddle at Southampton, and between February and May the team produced championship form, winning 12 and drawing 4 of their closing 20 fixtures to secure a ten top finish.
This was largely due to the excellent form of player of the season Darren Caskey, striker Nicky Forster and returning defender Adie Williams, as well as impressive new signings by Pardew such as full-back Matt Robinson (£100,000 from Portsmouth), goalkeeper PhilWhitehead (£300,000 from WBA) and striker Martin Butler (£750,000 from Cambridge).
It had been a difficult season during which many changes were made, but one that left supporters in an optimistic frame of mind after a highly encouraging final three months. That optimism was justified the following season, when Reading overcame the pre-season loss through injury of Nicky Forster to spend the vast majority of the campaign in the top six of the table.
The goals of Martin Butler and Jamie Cureton (a £250,000 signing from Bristol Rovers as a replacement for the injured Forster) were a key factor, the strike duo firing more than 50 goals between them, and after a close battle with Rotherham and Millwall, Pardew's side eventually had to settle for third place and the play-offs, where they were very unfortunate to lose 3-2 after extra time to Walsall in the Millennium Stadium final.
In the 2001/2 season, the Royals finally did return to Division One, securing the second automatic promotion spot with a nailbiting 1-1 draw at third-placed Brentford on the season's closing afternoon. The crucial goal was scored by Cureton just 12 minutes from time, much to the delight of 2,500 travelling fans and 6,000 more watching on a big screen back at Madejski Stadium.
Promotion was achieved largely due to two separate runs of seven consecutive victories in November and January, which gained Pardew the Manager of the Month awards on both occasions, and the Club enjoyed an average home crowd of more than 14,000 - the highest figure for 50 years.
The following campaign was another highly successful season as the Royals reached the play-offs in their first season back in Division One, with Pardew scooping two more manager of the month awards after 100% records in November 2002 and February 2003, before Wolves ended dreams of the Premiership in the play-off semi-final.
The Club was then dealt a blow in September 2003 when Pardew accepted West Ham United's offer to become new manager at Upton Park, and the board turned to former Crystal Palace, Brentford and Brighton boss Steve Coppell, who made a solid start to his reign by steering the club to a ninth-placed finish, just three points outside the play-offs. In 2004/5 the club continued to compete in the top half of the newly-named Championship, only missing out on the play-offs on the final day of the season.
And in 2005/6, following the record £1million signing of Leroy Lita, Reading enjoyed a truly incredible season which stands out as the undoubted highlight of the club's 135-year history. A 2-1 opening day defeat at home to Plymouth Argyle showed little of what was to come as the Royals then went on a brilliant run, losing just one more league game and romping to the title with a record points total of 106 points. On their way they recorded 31 wins, 13 draws and just two defeats, scoring 99 goals and conceding just 32. Promotion to the top flight for the first time was assured with a 1-1 draw at Leicester City on 25th March, with the title coming a week later thanks to a 5-0 triumph at home to Derby County.
And, in fitting style, Sunderland's points total record was beaten on the final day of the campaign at a euphoric Madejski Stadium, when popular club skipper Graeme Murty converted a late penalty - his first goal in five years - to hand the Royals a 2-1 win at home to Queens Park Rangers.
The first Premiership season was equally as breathtaking, with the Royals finishing an incredible eighth, just one place below a UEFA Cup finish. Unfortunately that form could not be repeated in the next campaign as we were relegated on the final day of the season on goal difference. Steve Coppell then left a year later after an agonising play-off semi-final defeat to Burnley; Brendan Rodgers soon stepping in.
Rodgers remained in place until December of 2009, when Brian McDermott took over, initially on a temporary basis. McDermott led us to an historic FA Cup quarter final, including a sensation replay win away to Liverpool along the way, as well as a superb run of League form.
In his first full season McDermott led the Royals to the new Wembley for the very first time ever, losing incredibly closely to Rodgers' Swansea in a dramatic play-off final that will never be forgotten. After being 12th on 12th February, the Royals went on an incredible run, getting to yet another FA Cup quarter final, and were so close to making it back to the top flight.
But the Club only had to wait 12 months before returning to the promised land.
A new era was upon the club as the Royals secured promotion by beating Nottingham Forest 1-0 at home, and the scenes that night will never be forgotten. The title was ours just a few days later, and the Barclays Premier League was the club's destination once again.
The third season in the top flight ultimately ended in relegation, with Nigel Adkins taking over the reigns as manager in March 2013, ahead of our 2013/14 Championship season. This was his only full season in charge, with the Royals finishing just outside the play-off positions in 7th. Steve Clarke was his replacement in December.
Scotsman Clarke could only guide the Royals to 19th in the 2014/15 campaign - but that year was all about our FA Cup run, which saw us take Arsenal to extra-time at Wembley Stadium - only to miss out in a cruel manner. Brian McDermott took up the mantle as manager for a second time in December 2015, though Reading were only able to muster a 17th-place finish in 2015/16.
In June 2016, the Royals appointed former Dutch international defender Jaap Stam to the position - his first job in management. And his first campaign with the Royals was an astounding success that defied all expectations.
Little expectation was placed on the Royals following back-to-back finishes in the bottom third of the Championship. But Stam and his coaching staff recruited new arrivals, kept faith in some of the current crop, and turned our team into a winning machine. With a palpably Dutch brand of football, where possession is key, Stam helped Reading to third in the Sky Bet Championship - the seventh-best finish in the 146-year history of the club.
That secured a place in the play-offs at the end of the campaign... ultimately it ended in heartbreak. Fulham were seen off over two legs in the semi amid some incredible scenes at Madejski Stadium, but Huddersfield were spot-kick winners at Wembley and booked their spot in the top tier. Nevertheless, a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Royals over the course of the campaign.