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Downs dreaming of FA Cup history

6 March 2015

Historian reminds us of the magnitude of Saturday's tie

Club historian David Downs has always fallen for the romance of the FA Cup. Victory this weekend is still some way away. But with a semi-final in our sights, Downs is hoping his FA Cup dream can live a little longer this season...

"It would be the first time in 88 years that we reach an FA Cup semi-final," he wistfully began. "I have supported the club for 60 years and, in recent memory, this is by far the best chance we’ve had!

"What that would mean to the club and its supporters is immeasurable, not only in financial terms but in terms of prestige too. And to play a semi-final at Wembley is a bonus of course."

No Royals fans will recall our quarter-final in 1901 and very few will have any recollection of us reaching the last four in 1927, but of course the Reading have reached the quarter-finals twice in recent memory, both times losing to Premier League opponents during Brian McDermott's reign as manager.

"A few years ago we led 2-0 at home to Aston Villa but they drew level and eventually beat us. I thought our chance of a second FA Cup semi-final had gone, but here we are again and - for the first time in our quarter-final history - we’re playing against a team competing in a lower division than us.

"For the first 40 years that I supported Reading, all we did in the cup was win at home and lose away - and if we were lucky we may have reached the Third Round and drawn one of the big boys. We were never thought of as cup giantkillers but, at the same time, we very rarely lost to a non-league side. We’d generally get to the Third Round, then play a bigger club and lose.

"Now we’re only one game away from a Wembley semi-final and two from a final! I can almost smell Wembley. You have all sorts of visions of reaching an FA Cup semi-final; a special programme, special shirts, a special atmosphere, a special day. It would mean so much to the club.

"But let's not get ahead of ourselves, because we have got a very difficult obstacle in Bradford City this weekend. Like all Reading supporters of recent vintage, I have great respect for their manager Phil Parkinson and their results in the competition so far this season speak volumes. But if we play to our potential, we certainly have a chance."

Delving deep into our FA Cup history, Downs recalled his most memorable Reading encounter in the comptition. "It was the most memorable football match I have ever seen Reading Football Club play in fact," he began.

"I'm going back to the FA Cup Third Round in 1971-72, when we were drawn away to Northern League amateurs Blythe Spartans. I travelled up on a specially scheduled train and we played the cup tie in the dark because Blythe’s floodlights had been burned down in an arson attack.

"We kicked off at 1pm but by 2pm it was getting very dark. Reading were leading 2-0 and Blythe fought back to score twice in the final eight minutes, simply because Reading goalkeeper Steve Death couldn’t see the ball!

"The game should’ve been stopped but the referee played on. Blythe refused to play the replay under Reading’s floodlights after their own floodlight disaster so the rematch was the following Wednesday afternoon at Elm Park. I was teaching at the time and the only way that I could get to the game during the working day was to organise my class to go out on a nature ramble.

"Everyone brought in a packed lunch and we left at about 12 o’clock. We went across Prospect Park, looked at some plants a drew a few trees and then, just by coincidence, once we had gone through the park we ended up at the football ground to watch Reading play Blythe. We won the game 6-1 and that took us through to play Arsenal in the Fourth Round!"

Once before have Reading emerged triumphant from a quarter-final, and Downs treated us to the history of 1927, saying "That year we beat Weymouth, Southend, Manchester United after two replays, Brentford, Portsmouth and Swansea in the Sixth Round.

"We played Cardiff City in the semi-final at Wolverhampton Wanderers – the only time that Wolverhampton has ever hosted an FA Cup semi-final - and we lost 3-0. Cardiff went on to the final and beat Arsenal 1-0.

"That is the only time that the FA Cup has gone outside England and the story goes that the goal which decided the game saw the Cardiff centre forward's shot slip under the body of Arsenal goalkeeper Dan Lewis and into the net.

"His reason for conceding the goal afterwards was that it slipped under him because his goalkeeper's jersey was too shiny! Since that day, allegedly, Arsenal have always told their goalkeepers to take their jersey home and wash it themselves before the day of any cup final, so that the shirts are nice and clingy!"

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