A closer look at Saturday’s attendees!We are welcoming 11 members of the record-breaking 1985/86 squad to Madejski Stadium on Saturday – famed for being the first and only team to win 13 straight games at the start of a league season, as they romped to the Division Three title!
31 years on almost to the day since that record was set, we’ll be welcoming back the gaffer, the captain and the top goalscorer and eight other members of that remarkable side… and you can read the full story of that season in the matchday programme on Saturday!
In the meantime, we have profiled the 11 who will be there below…
Gateshead-born boss Ian Branfoot was just 37 when he took charge of Reading – and he transformed the team into a team battling in Division Four to one that earned promotion to the second tier as champions. Taking over from Maurice Evans in January 1984, he finished the job of promotion – and two seasons later his record-setting side were lifting the trophy… and then in 1988, he led the Royals to glory in the Simod Cup! A full-back up north in his playing days for Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster and Lincoln, his managerial career was based in the south – he took the reins at Southampton and Fulham after leaving Elm Park in 1989.
A bad jaw injury picked up by Martin Hicks during the latter stages of our record-setting campaign didn’t prevent the skipper from getting his leadership qualities across to the team! He was the glue in the sternest defence in the division and promotion in 1986 was his third during his time at Elm Park, at the age of 29. He had previously been on the books at Charlton, but he joined Reading in 1978 and went on to play 603 in our colours – making him our all-time leading appearance-maker. His season ended abruptly in March when he fractured his jaw in three places against Rotherham – until then, opposing forwards rarely won an aerial battle with our skipper.
If there was one man in the team who knew where the net was, it was Trevor Senior; his 31 goals in all competitions that season paved the way for promotion. It was a surprise to some that he was still on the books at Elm Park for the 1985/86 campaign, as he had been expected to sign for Norwich… but he stuck around in Berkshire and led the line for a remarkable Reading team. He arrived in Reading via Dorchester and Portsmouth; he also netted 41 in his first season as we were promoted for Division Four, and his 184 goals in all competitions for Reading over two spells make him our all-time leading scorer.
Formerly a player with the Royals, Scotsman Stewart Henderson was part of the Reading coaching staff in the 1985/86 campaign. He had featured over 200 times for Brighton before making the switch to Berkshire – he had been a midfielder in Sussex, but was converted to a midfielder at Elm Park. Henderson had experienced promotion 10 years before with the Royals too – he was part of the team that climbed out of Division Four in 1976. He became Reading’s first Director of our Centre of Excellence after retiring from playing in 1983 and assistant to manager Branfoot; he went on to work out Southampton, where he helped bring through the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain!
Didcot-born utility man Jerry Williams was in his tenth season at Elm Park when they won promotion – he had joined the club straight from school as a 16-year-old! He missed 12 games of the campaign after a scything tackle against Notts County resulted in an ankle injury, but he played a crucial role when he was on the pitch… indeed it was his goal on the opening weekend against Blackpool that resulted in 1-0 win… which was followed by another 12 straight triumphs! Williams played in defence, midfield and up front during his time here – he was Player of the Year in the 1981/82 season too.
Sheffield-born midfielder Mark White agonisingly missed four months of the campaign, after picking up a knee injury in November. But before then, the former Sheffield United man had netted critical goals in wins against two other South Yorkshire sides – Rotherham and Doncaster – helping the team to their 13 consecutive wins. He spent over a decade at Elm Park; he had played crucial roles in two previous promotions too. White was Player of the Year in the 1978/79 Fourth Division title win and he netted the promotion-clinching goal in 1984. He later became a chartered physiotherapist with the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust.
One of the elder statesmen in the title-winning side, Gary Peters’ calming influence on the pitch was an important factor during his second spell at Elm Park. After leaving Berkshire, Peters earned promotion with both Fulham and Wimbledon – and then made it a hat-trick on his return to the Royals. He was also formerly a builder – and he certainly formed the foundations for a solid unit and a tough team spirit. It wasn’t often that his name appeared on the scoresheet, but he did grab an all-important equaliser against Brentford during the 13-game winning run. During his playing days, he also owned the Blue Lion pub at Bracknell.
Initially a loan signing from Ipswich at Elm Park to cover for the injured Alan Judge, goalkeeper Gary Westwood rejoined Reading on a permanent deal during the summer of 1985 – and at the age of 23, he showed himself to be among the best in his position in the division. He had represented England at youth level against Switzerland back in 1980, and he was ever-present between the sticks for the meanest defence in the division when we earned promotion in 1986. Even concussion sustained at Derby couldn’t prevent the enthusiastic stopper to come off the pitch – he played on to help the Royals secure a draw in front of over 16,000 supporters.
Partner to captain Martin Hicks in a watertight defence, centre-half Steve Wood was the Royals’ Player of the Year in the promotion-winning year – as he had been the season before as well. Born and bred in Bracknell, Wood had been on the books with Arsenal (having caught the eye for a few scouts whilst at Bracknell Dynamos!) before going pro back in Berkshire with Reading. The Royals had been expected to take Bolton apart for win number 11 to equal Spurs’ previously-held record – but the Trotters were tough to break down, and that game needed the defender to pop up and rattle in the game’s only goal.
Another fans-favourite at Elm Park, full-back Steve Richardson formed another part of a stern defence (as well as offering width down the left flank on the overlap). He was a model of consistency when playing – albeit a few bumps and bruises kept him out of some fixtures during the winter months… that included having to sit out the fixture at Newport when the record was broken at 12 straight wins. Despite being just 5’5”, the Slough-born defender was remarkably strong in the air and he had been voted as the Reading Chronicle’s Player of the Year award in both 1983 and 1984.
Last, but by no means least, we welcome winger Michael Gilkes… who is still on the staff with the Royals, 30 years on! Blistering pace and an eye for goal were trademarks of the then-21-year-old… he was used sparingly during the title-winning campaign and was regarded as a huge prospect for the future. Who would have thought that he would be still be here over three decades on?! The Hackney-born winger went on to feature over 400 times for the Royals in all competitions; these days he works at our prolific Academy, where his coaching ability has helped countless local young players to realise their ambition of turning professional with Reading.