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📰 Jimmy Wheeler 1933-2020

20 February 2020

All at Reading Football Club are saddened to learn of the passing of one of the club's greatest ever players, Jimmy Wheeler, at the age of 86.

With 453 appearances in his lengthy Reading career, Wheeler is one of the Royals' all-time leading appearance makers. And with 168 goals to his name for his hometown club in all competitions, "Jimmy Wee" is behind only Trevor Senior in the club's all-time goalscoring charts.

Jimmy was born in Reading in December 1933, and would become a one-club man as a professional for the Royals. Before that, though, he raised eyebrows with his schoolboy career and subsequently in the Spartan League as an amateur with Huntley and Palmers.

Having caught the attention of Reading manager Ted Drake, Jimmy signed for his local professional side in 1948 and would go on to serve the Elm Park outfit with distinction for his entire playing career.

Jimmy developed in his early playing days in Drake's youth system, in which Reading's third team were entered into the Hampshire League structure to aid player development and prepare youngsters for a life in professional football.

After gaining experience in Reading's ranks, a teenage Jimmy would eventually sign amateur terms with Reading in 1952, turning professional a year later and would go on to become a staple of Reading teams for more than a decade.

A prolific forward for Reading, Jimmy reached double figures in the scoring charts in eight seasons out of nine from 1955-1964, and was one of the scorers as Reading's first ever match under floodlights at Elm Park was broadcast live on the BBC, with Wheeler beating the offside trap to round off a 3-0 win against French side, Racing Club de Paris.

Although Reading finished 18th in the 1960-61 Division Three season, Jimmy's performances were the focal point of the Reading team in his most productive season in front of goal - with 31 goals in 40 matches proving pivotal as Reading stayed in the third tier.

In the last match of the 1963-64 season, Jimmy scored all four goals for Reading as they swept Southend United aside, but it would be one of his last major contributions as a professional. He had been on course to become Reading's record goalscorer, but he suffered a broken leg at Barnsley the following season that would scupper his chances of doing so.

Despite this signalling the end of his professional playing days, Jimmy was promoted to become Reading's assistant manager under Roy Bentley, in a time that saw him coach and captain the Royals' reserve side. 

Wheeler and Reading's youthful reserves were an exciting side to watch, with the 1965-66 season seeing the young Royals have a run of just one loss in 18 matches on their way to winning the Football Combination Second Division title - with that defeat coming as a result of Gillingham playing their full first team in the hope of stopping Reading's march.

In that same season, Jimmy, now converted to a full-back, won the club's Player of the Season honour - a unique occurrence for a reserve team player.

Such was the excitement surrounding the reserves' exploits under Jimmy's tutelage, their title-clinching match against Bournemouth saw more than 5,000 supporters come to Elm Park - which had eclipsed Reading's three previous first team league attendances.

Jimmy's management skills did not go unnoticed, and he took the reins as manager of Bradford City in 1968 to bring to an end a 20-year association with Reading Football Club.

His first season at Valley Parade saw the Bantams promoted from Division Four with a club-record 21-match unbeaten run, and would spend two more seasons in West Yorkshire before resigning from his only management role in football.

We would like to pass on our heartfelt condolences to Jimmy's family and friends at this difficult time, as we remember one of the greatest players in the history of Reading Football Club.

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