Our journey to Madejski Stadium
102 years of history will have weighed heavily on the shoulders of Sir John Madejski when, in 1996, the Royals officially decided to move house.
Their beloved Elm Park held over a century of memories within its dilapidated turnstiles, but in truth had been well past its sell by date for many years.
Both the ground’s location and the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report rendered redevelopment impossible – and so relocation was the only feasible option.
The search for a suitable site extended to the outer reaches of Berkshire, though in truth the club’s Chairman was always keen to build within the borough of Reading…
“I didn’t want to go for bog standard,” said Sir John. “I wanted to produce a stadium we could all be proud of – we looked extensively, all around the country of Berkshire quite frankly.”
Property expert Nigel Howe, newphew of the former Arsenal and England coach, was appointed as Chief Exectuive to help with the search – and after some cooperation from the local council one particular location caught the imagination.
In many ways it was rubbish - a landfill site in close proximity to junction 11 of the M4, purchased for the bargain sum of £1 – although in many ways that figure is deceptive. Clearing nearly 500,000 cubic metres of waste didn’t come cheaply, whilst £6m was spent on building the new A33 bypass alone. A plethora of tests and studies were undertaken before the first diggers could take up residency and the initial estimated total cost of building the stadium itself was somewhere approaching the £50million mark.
What’s more, the time was tight. Elm Park would have failed to meet the requirements of the Taylor Report and the Royals would have had to ground share. The planning application went in before Christmas of 1996, consent was granted May 1997 and work started on site a couple of months later. The deadline? One year!
It was always going to be tight. Staff behind the scenes were selling season tickets from hand drawn plans pinned up on the walls of portakabins at the new site; working hours stretched from 8am until 11pm - the day before the first game staff were still fixing seats, unpacking furniture. The new Megastore didn't receive its safety certificate until the night before the Luton match so with little over 12 hours until opening time, the shop had no stock, no shelves, no shop fittings. Hundreds of boxes full of merchandise were transported from Elm Park to the new stadium overnight. The job was done.
Saturday 22nd August 1998 saw the official opening, as Luton Town came to the newly christened Madejski Stadium. Off the pitch things hadn’t gone so smoothly – relegation to the third tier in the previous campaign was followed by two away defeats at the start of the 1998/99 season. Could a new era prove to be a catalyst? 18,108 spectators were given a resounding answer.
With just ten minutes on the clock and attacking the South Stand, the Luton defence was unable to clear a loose ball from a Ray Houghton corner and young Scottish midfielder Grant Brebner, a former Manchester United youth trainee, reacted quickest to smash the loose ball into the net from ten yards. Other goals from Jim McIntyre and Robert Fleck made it 3-0 – all three scorers were Scottish!
Eight years later the ultimate goal of Premier League status was achieved; the club and the stadium haven’t looked back. Constantly moving with the times, in 2008 a new £2 million pound media and office block was built in the south west corner, whist planning permission to extended the capacity of the bowl has been granted – something which new owner Anton Zingarevich has acknowledged. The memory bank is already full to the brim, and there is so much more to come...
Read more about our move to Madejski Stadium by downloading the book 'Decade of Dreams' - available on Kindle for £1.87.
This season our matchday programme The Royal is set to profile all 176 players have played for Reading at Madejski Stadium – click here
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