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Royals make history in Italy - Part 3!

15 May 2014

101 years ago this week...

This week, is looking back 101 years to a remarkable week in the club's history - when the Biscuitmen enjoyed a successful tour of Italy. Click here for part one - on the Biscuitmen's superb 5-0 win over Milan and click here for part two - about a Reading legend who lost his life in the war.

Wednesday 14th May 1913

With Reading facing their third game in four days, the club decided to bring in their reserve players for the game against Casale Monterrato, a town about 40 miles to the east of Turin. Although the line-up was not recorded, this meant that Fred Bartholomew and Joe Dickenson probably played.

The game kicked off at 5pm and, after playing Milan on the oldest football ground in the world, this match was played on what must have been the world’s smallest pitch! Only 90 yards long, opinions vary as to its width – one report stated it was just under 50 yards wide while another recorded it at just 34 yards, some 10 yards shy of the size of the penalty area!

Another error crept in to the locals’ pre-match build-up, which described Reading as having finished the season as runners-up in the Football League. In fairness to the Italian press, Reading had beaten the actual runners-up, Aston Villa, in the FA Cup a year earlier.

Tiredness or the tight pitch could have been major factors in Reading’s display but the team were not in the same dominant form as they had displayed in the first two games. As a result, Casale took the lead on 18 minutes and then doubled it just before half time. Joe Bailey pulled a goal back in the second half but Reading could not force an equaliser and so suffered our first defeat to foreign opposition, while Casale had the honour of being the first Italian team to beat an English professional team. That was not the last honour for the Italian club because, no doubt inspired by their display against Reading, they went on to win the Serie A title for the first and only time the following season.

Thursday 15th May 1913
Less than 24 hours after suffering their first defeat of their Italian tour, Reading faced their toughest opponents so far as they faced Pro Vercelli, the best club side in Italy. The Piedmont club had won the Italian title six times in the previous seven seasons and were unbeaten for the last 18 months…until they met Reading.

Again there is no record of the Reading line up but Jack Smith (captain), Dr J H Burnham (goalkeeper), Joe Bailey, Allen Foster, Andrew Burton, Jimmy Lofthouse, Ted Hanney, Ivor Brown, and Jim Morris all played. Before the match kicked off, the home side’s captain, Guiseppe Milano, presented Jack Smith with a pennant while the Reading captain returned the compliment by handing over a Union Jack and the Reading borough arms.

Spurred on by the previous day’s defeat, Reading turned in a devastating display, scoring six times without reply. Ted Hanney netted twice, as did Allen Foster while Andrew Burton and Joe Bailey completed the scoring. Both of Hanney’s goals came from the penalty spot, an indication of the Italian’s response to Reading’s overwhelming superiority. One of the home side’s increasingly reckless challenges saw winger Jim Morris kicked on the ankle with such force that he was put out of action for a few day and, not surprisingly, he reacted angrily. This upset the Pro Vercelli players and supporters, who ‘assumed an ugly attitude.’ At one point it looked like the game might be abandoned but the home side’s captain addressed the crowd and the match was completed. It seems that Reading’s win was not just well-received in Berkshire – apparently the other Italian clubs were overjoyed that the county’s dominant club had been so humbled.

There have been few players who were more popular with Reading fans than Joe Bailey. Christened Walter, known as Joe and nicknamed ‘Bubbles’, he joined Reading as an amateur but after injury ruled him out of the 1912 Olympic squad Joe turned professional. A regular goalscorer throughout his career, as well as scoring in every one of our five Italian tour games, Joe was our top scorer in our last season in the Southern League and then in our first in the League, a total that included Reading’s first-ever League goal. During the war, Joe often spoke passionately to the fans at matches, urging them to volunteer for the forces but this was no idle encouragement. Joe joined the Middlesex Regiment’s Footballers’ Battalion as a private but ended the war as a captain, his numerous displays of bravery earning him the Military Cross, with two bars, and the Distinguished Service Order. Joe left Elm Park in 1921 to become a cricket coach at Warwick School but not before the club had arranged a benefit game for Joe, a match for which he famously sold a ticket to the future Edward VII.

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