Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of football at Madejski Stadium!
In the summer of 1998, Reading Football Club were a cash-strapped mid-table third tier side living in a somewhat dilapidated Elm Park.
The early nineties was a period of revolution in terms of football stadia. Hastened by the horrors of Hillsborough, facilities were being renewed, refreshed, redeveloped and rebuilt at a rapid rate.
The urban location of Elm Park meant that significant redevelopment of the ground was impossible – there simply wasn’t the land to build on. And converting the three existing terraced stands into seating would have reduced the overall capacity to less than 10,000 – clearly insufficient to sustain Premier League, or even Division One, football.
So it didn’t take John Madejski long to come to a stark conclusion – to take Reading into the top flight, he needed to build a new ground.
It was a mammoth task, but with the site identified and the land purchased, the club began to transform a former household waste site into a modern football stadium.
On the pitch, the Club was enduring troubled times, giving further fuel to doubters who questioned the wisdom of investing so heavily in a state of the art new facility. But there was no turning back and the construction of the stadium continued apace.
Tommy Burns’ new-look side would begin their campaign with a home fixture against Wrexham – or, at least, that’s what the Football League’s fixture computer had decreed. But by now it was apparent there was no way that Madejski Stadium would be ready in time to stage the fixture on the opening date of Saturday 8th August.
So, with the League’s blessing, the Club was allowed to agree with Wrexham to switch the fixture to north Wales, giving Burns two consecutive away fixtures to start the campaign before Madejski Stadium officially opened its doors with a visit of Luton Town on Saturday 22nd August 1998. Twenty years ago today!
The new dual carriageway A33 relief road was still some months from being completed, but 18,108 supporters found their way into our new home top record Reading’s highest home gate since a League Cup tie with Southampton in 1978.
Before the game itself got underway, the Club had arranged an impressive range of pre-match entertainment for the growing crowd, including parachutists, a marching band, thousands of blue and white balloons and the appearance of a number of former greats such as Maurice Evans.
Eventually, with everybody finally inside and the formalities out of the way, there was a game of football to play. And it was an important one for the Royals, because Tommy Burns’ side had made a dreadful start to the season, losing their opening two games by a three goal margin – and the manager made five changes to his starting line-up.
Reading lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Peter Van Der Kwaak, Andy Bernal, Stuart Gray, Linvoy Primus, Elroy Kromheer, Grant Brebner, Darren Caskey, Ray Houghton, Mark Reilly, Jim McIntyre, Mass Sarr.
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.
Striker Jim McIntyre doubled Reading’s advantage early in the second half after being set up by Mass Sarr. And the scoring was completed in the final stages, and again it was one of Burns’ signings to find the net as substitute Robert Fleck took advantage of being in a suspiciously offside position to make it a hat-trick of Scotsmen on the scoresheet.
20 years of history have followed that famous first day, including two second tier title wins and three years of Premier League football.
Two decades in RG2 later and more history is being written every day…