Chris Gunter has been one of the first names on the team sheet ever since he became a Royal back in 2012, and last week against Stevenage he stepped out in a Reading strip for the 250th time!
He joins an elite group of Royals to wear the shirt 250 times, becoming only the 34th player to achieve that accolade in our 146-year history!
He capped the occasion in fine style, with a hat-trick of assists for Jón Daði Böðvarsson to finish in our FA Cup replay at Madejski Stadium.
In honour of this fantastic milestone for our vice-captain, we sat down with some snapshots of his Reading career so far, and he talked us through what was going through his head at the time.
Gunter signs! July 2012
RFC: So, let’s start at the beginning: The day you signed for the Royals.
“I was at Nottingham Forest, and on a Monday I got told a bid was accepted. I drove to the stadium and stayed in the hotel, woke up the next day and had my medical and agreed everything. This was probably taken around 5 o’clock, and I remember the next day we were going to Portugal for pre-season training!
“I was at the stadium a couple of months before for that game (when Reading got promoted against Forest), but it was a nice day, a busy day. It’s a long 24 hours where you’re travelling up and there’s a lot of medical stuff going on, you’re just waiting for everything to be agreed really.
“At this point, it was done. I was feeling a bit of relief and then there was the realisation you need to move your whole life two-and-a-half hours away!”
Was anyone from your family with you on the day?
“No, I had a couple of people from my agency but the next day we were in Portugal for two weeks pre-season training, but I was straight on the Internet looking for places to move to, then sorting everything out back in Nottingham. It was a nice day but a pretty busy and stressful one too.”
Game 1️⃣: An opening day debut, August 2012
Onto the next one, your debut!
“I remember we went to Portugal and I actually got injured a couple of sessions in! We played Crystal Palace in the last pre-season friendly at home, I think I played 60 minutes and was relieved to be back and fit for the first game. It was a big day for the club, first game back in the Premier League. It was a typical first game, really hot and a big day for myself being a debut.”
How were your nerves before getting out there?
“The nerves were fine, but this was a weird day as well as I was still in the Madejski Hotel at this point! I woke up on the day of the game in the hotel, had breakfast and got ready for the game. You could see out of the window that it was a matchday, really busy, and you’re never normally in that position because you’re normally preparing at home!
“To get from ‘home’ to the changing room was a two-minute walk and it was all a bit strange. It wasn’t normal, to be staying in the stadium before a home game!
“I remember in the first half, we didn’t play particularly well. I think we gave a poor goal away and in the second half we played really well. I think G (Garath McCleary) won the penalty and Alfie (Adam Le Fondre) scored it. It was a decent point against a good Premier League team, which was a decent start for us.”
Game 3️⃣: First goal for the club, celebrating with G! August 2012
Next up, your first goal for the club and celebrating with your partner in crime…
“The thing with G was he moved here a couple of weeks before me, which was a big help.”
Did he try and persuade you to come to Reading?
“G was out of contract at Forest and he had a couple of clubs after him, and he made his decision. We’d actually been to Vegas that summer and bumped into a load of the Reading boys who were celebrating promotion! He knew at the time, I think, that once he got home he was going to travel down to Reading and sign. I knew then, once we got back that the club were after me so he didn’t really need to persuade me.
“It was obviously good just before I signed to speak to him whilst I went back to Forest, and I had already decided that I wanted to move as well. It was a big help to have him, moving together. Even though I knew players like Hal (Robson-Kanu) and Churchy (Simon Church), when there was someone who I’d been really close with for the past couple of years at Forest was a really big help, and even to this day. We enjoy playing together, and it was nice for a change that he was congratulating me for scoring for once!”
A visit to Royal Berkshire Hospital, December 2013
Now, talk us through this photo, it caused a bit of a reaction at the time!
“I’ve been every year to the hospital, we as a squad collect money every year and the club go and get presents for us to give out for the kids. You just delve in the bag and that year, there was this car! I got it out for the boy and I was thinking that I need to get G’s little boy, who I’m godparent to, some presents. I remember finding out where this car was bought and I got it for him too!
"The joke afterwards is that I was having more fun with the car than him! It was the best present we had…
"It’s nice when you go and see the kids, you normally can’t relate to the toys you give them, but for some reason I liked that one!"
Game 1️⃣0️⃣3️⃣: FA Cup quarter-final euphoria, March 2015
Next, what are your memories of this one? This was a pretty special night for the club.
“This was from a tough season for the club, really. We’d gone away and drawn 0-0 in the first game, I think that was the season where they’d knocked out Sunderland and Chelsea, going away 0-0 felt like a good score.
"The pitch was awful, the atmosphere of that game away in Bradford was very good and we felt like a draw was a very good result to get them back home.
“That second game had a real good atmosphere, it was a sell-out, live on the BBC, knowing that if you win it you get to the semi-final. It’s important at any time but especially with the season we’d had, we weren’t doing very well in the league and this was a perfect night really. Hal scored one and G scored early, so we were 2-0 up after about 25 minutes. I think they had a man sent off and we scored again, it was nice to be able to enjoy the last 20 minutes knowing it was a real good night for the club and we were going to Wembley.
“That was one of the highs of the year, we weren’t doing well in the league and we changed managers. To then know you’re 3-0 up and can almost relax slightly, it was a good night.”
Game 1️⃣1️⃣0️⃣: Taking the Gunners to the wire at Wembley, April 2015
Let’s look at that day at Wembley next, it obviously didn’t end how we would have wanted but how was it out there for you?
“I remember that things didn’t overly improve in the league, we knew we were never really in threat of promotion or relegation. We were just wandering through the league, I suppose. We always had this to look forward to, and we played really well.
“Aaron Ramsey, who I get on with really well, was on the right against Jordan Obita, Alexis Sanchez was against me and I think it was (Mesut) Özil in just behind (Danny) Welbeck. Steve Clarke set us up really well that day, we had a good plan. They scored in the first half and it was 1-0 at half-time but we still thought we were doing quite well. Then G scored quite early in the second half and from then on, there was nothing in the game.
“We were thinking that we had a really good chance there, the year before Arsenal had won it, so they were defending it and I remember thinking we were playing really well, everyone seemed to raise their game. For a lot of the boys, it was their first opportunity to play at Wembley and trying to get to an FA Cup Final was a big thing.
“Reading fans will know how it ended, which was disappointing but the season finished quite soon after. We finished in a poor position but I think it gave the manager some sort of confidence to think when we came back for pre-season, we could start really well and kick on. We lost the game but I think we won a lot of friends that day with the way we played.”
We remember the game and felt really bad for Adam Federici, considering how well he had played up to that point.
“Yeah, he was Player of the Season that season, he was brilliant all year. It’s not nice when you go through that, then it was sod’s law, he got taken in to be drug tested afterwards, so it was a horrible time.
“I think we played Birmingham the Tuesday straight after that game on the Saturday, but we obviously had a lot of family and friends up for the game and we were given the Sunday off anyway. I remember afterwards me, G, my mates and his mate went out for some food and a couple of drinks. There was such a big build-up to the game and losing in that way was devastating. I remember going and having a few drinks just to try and escape it.
“It was a massively disappointing day but I think also a proud day for the club as well, because we hadn’t been doing that well.”
Game 1️⃣1️⃣6️⃣: On the scoresheet, wearing African Violet! August 2015
Onto the next season, and you managed to get on the scoresheet and avoid a League Cup upset.
“Yeah, I think this was the first round and we hadn’t started well, we’d lost at Birmingham and we hadn’t created many chances in the game. I think this was the 112th minute or something, and we were just thinking it was going to penalties.
“But it just seemed to open up! I think Ollie Norwood played a pass and it was actually quite a decent finish to be fair, at that point it was my second goal for the club and it came in this cup again, I’d never scored in the league at this point!
“Not that I score many goals, but it was a winner. I think it was more the fact the boys were relieved that it stopped us going to penalties and we didn’t play that well on the night, but it was important to win. It might even have been our first win of the season, and it just got us off and running. Nobody really liked that kit, but I scored in it at least!”
Game 1️⃣8️⃣2️⃣: Scoring against his former side, October 2016
Next, scoring against your former team. Look at the grin on your face before it’s even gone in!
"Haha! Yeah, I don’t really know what’s happening to be honest! G scored in the first half against his former club, we were doing quite well in the league, started well at home. I remember after that game, thinking: “We won 2-0, clean sheet, I’ve scored and we’re doing well in the league.” – It felt like a really good day."
We enjoyed the contrast in celebrations as well, G didn’t really celebrate but you were slightly different!
“I don’t often check social media after games but a lot of people were telling me that Forest fans mentioned that G didn’t celebrate and I did. It could have been against anyone, I didn’t really know what was going on! That may sound completely stupid but I never really score, so when it happens I don’t know what’s happening!
“I’ve seen people say about it in the past, but when they’ve scored it’s like you can’t really remember what happens. I can’t remember how it got to me in that position, but I remember thinking after that game, it felt really nice that we won, kept a clean sheet and I’d scored, everyone had played well and it felt like a good day. A nice day and my first league goal at home with a big crowd, so it was good.”
Game 2️⃣1️⃣6️⃣: Leading the team out in a critical Play-Off second leg, May 2017
So, you led the team out in our Play-Off Semi-Final against Fulham. What was your take on that night?
“So this was a big, big night. I remember before the game, all the talk of everyone wanting to avoid Fulham. They had a lot of momentum but we were thinking that we’d won seven of the last nine in the league so, even though everyone was talking about Fulham. Our record was just as good.
“We’d gone away and done really well, but Macca (Paul McShane) got sent off so I knew I’d be captain. I’ve played in a lot of semi-finals before, especially play-offs, and you can be so well set-up and know a game plan but it can all just change, and you’re never overly sure. You’re always confident going into any game you play, but in the play-offs you know it’s win or lose and it’s finished.
“Everyone knows the prize and it was just such a tight game, the teams were so evenly matched. In the final 10 minutes we were just thinking ‘Surely, we can hold on.’ When the whistle went, it was a huge feeling and the scenes on the pitch and in the changing room were fantastic. Even though we hadn’t achieved promotion at that point, you had to win to keep going and keep the dream alive, it was a special night for the club.
“At this point, you don’t know it’s going to end in a penalty disappointment, so at this point everyone is riding the crest of a wave and it was nice to be captain, but to get to Wembley and keep the season going was a huge thing. I think that night was the best atmosphere I’ve played in here, along with Bradford, but the atmosphere in the ground and in the changing room was very good and just so nice to see everybody, fans, family and friends relieved more than anything else, a special night."
Game 2️⃣1️⃣7️⃣: Quiet contemplation at Wembley, May 2017
Sorry to bring the mood down a bit, but this photo says a lot about the Play-Off Final.
“Yeah, you don’t know what you’re thinking at this point. I remember the boys were scattered around on the pitch, people all over the place really. There’s no right or wrong thing to do. I remember going round a couple of the boys and trying to pick them up, but there’s nothing you can say. You’re trying to get them literally off the floor, not just from their mood!
“I went over to congratulate the Huddersfield boys, and I thought I just need somewhere to sit down. You have to watch the other team get the trophy, so I just thought I’d go and sit next to the post and lean on something, I suppose. That is a picture of a million thoughts running through your head.
“I remember my mum and dad were sat to the right, the tunnel side and I had everybody else, my mates and family on the left. It was almost like you didn’t want to look at them and wanted to just get off the pitch. That was a bad few weeks after that.
“Not a happy one but one where you need to have a certain amount of faith in terms of the fact you’ve been through it. If and when you’re in the situation again, you can use it but, in football, you never just have good moments.
“We’d had such a good season, it would be a dream if you always just kept having success but you have to take it on the chin and have the belief.”
Captaining his country for the first time, November 2017
We wanted to end on a happier note, and we couldn’t do this without talking about Wales at some point! You’ve racked up the caps during your time here, and you finally got the armband for the first time a few months ago.
“My two worst disappointments in football would be the final and four months later, losing to the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup with Wales. This was taken the month after with Wales, we’d played France on Friday and the manager was always going to make changes for the Tuesday.
“He told me straight after the France game that I was going to be playing and captain. It was a weird night, I’d been captain for Reading but it was something different for Wales, your family and friends messaging you and whatever else. The result was almost irrelevant because it was a friendly and a changed team.
“This was one of the proudest nights in football for me, but it was also the last game with Chris Coleman as manager, so it was a weird one looking back. In terms of me personally, it was a massive deep-down thank you to him for giving me that chance. It was a real proud night and I think, looking at that photo, I look at that right now and think it was a good night, I was captain and it was a big thing, but I think it’s more for my mum and dad because I think that’s as proud as they’ll ever be of me.
“That photo will be for when I finish and I look back because when you’re in football you’re always looking forward to the next game, you don’t have time to sit back and think you’ve done well. That was the night I went level on all-time outfield caps and I was captain, no-one can take that away.”
How did it feel for you, walking into the changing room, seeing your Wales shirt and seeing the captain’s armband on top of it?
“Nice. Really nice. Then little things where you get given the pennant to hand over, and people are looking at you. I think a lot of people were happy for me, but it was a bit different. Because it was a friendly, you could take a bit more in. I’m not saying we took the game lightly, because we didn’t, but it wasn’t as important as other ones we’ve experienced. It was a real good one, and I’ll put that photo on top of the Wembley one!”