Tomorrow night we take on Brentford in what is a massive match for both sides in their push for the promotion and play-off places. But we can't escape our disappointment that due to the ongoing pandemic, this mouth-watering encounter will take place in a stadium devoid of fans.
In complete contrast, almost exactly 94 years ago, the two teams met in Reading for a Fifth Round FA Cup tie at Elm Park. That day, Reading recorded their biggest ever home attendance.
We take you back in time with an article written by STAR Board Member and Royals historian Roger Titford which first appeared in the matchday programme for Reading’s last league match at Elm Park on 3rd May 1998...
On 19th February 1927, a crowd of 33,042, the biggest attendance ever, crammed into Elm Park. The occasion was the 5th Round of the FA Cup meeting with Third Division Brentford.
No-one had anticipated a record attendance. A new high of 28,918 had been set only weeks earlier for the 3rd Round visit of Manchester United. Why did this extraordinary crowd come – and how did they all fit in?
It is hard for us now, to imagine the full-blooded optimism which supporters had for Reading in 1927. In this season, only our seventh in the Football League, we had just won the Third Division (South), opened a new grandstand, were fielding two current internationals, and averaging gates of around 13,000. This was a club on the move, a club that didn’t yet know failure.
Newspaper reports all agree that Brentford brought a large and noisy contingent of between 5,000-8,000 supporters. Factories in their area had shut at midday sharp in order that they could travel. Let our local newspapers paint the picture.
“It was an ideal day for football, dry and little wind and Elm Park appeared to be in the pink of condition. The density of the Oxford Road pavement traffic and the atmosphere right along the route spoke of easy record makings.
"Long before the match terraces were full and the Directors forced to close the Boys Entrance. Before 2.20pm there must have been 18,000 present. A quarter of an hour before kick-off it seemed doubtful that all would get in for there were still hundreds coming up.
"The stewards with megaphones were busy getting people to concentrate. It was a wonderful sight with the ground packed. The Brentford contingent near the clock were busy amusing themselves swaying to and fro with the music.
"It is a long time since so many followers of a visiting club have been at Elm Park. A selection made themselves conspicuous with flags, bells, rattles and profuse decorations.”
It was thought at the time that Elm Park could hold up to 35,000 but it was obviously now at bursting point. Yet there is no mention of the gates being locked. If you had a shilling you got in.
Ground capacity at this time literally meant the number of humans who could be forced in. There would have been about 16,000 on the South Bank alone and possibly a couple of thousand crouched around the touchlines. Some had queued since 9.30am to ensure a good view.
“The crowd behaved very well and only during the match did any trouble occur when the barrier near the Reading (Town End) goal was broken down and numbers rushed onto the ground but the police quickly restored order.”
One newspaper described it as very like the crush at the recent (1923) White Horse Cup Final. “The crowd on the popular side of the field (South Bank) were within a yard of the touchline and when Reading were awarded a corner McDonald had the greatest difficulty in taking it.”
The journalist had some sympathy for the standing spectators though nowhere was there a word of condemnation for the club for letting them all in. The collapsing barrier incident was treated quite lightly; bear in mind however that this was less than a decade after all the terrible tragedies if the First World War.
“The packed terraces were good to see though one wondered if all the folks felt as nice as they looked. Personally I should choose a density per acre that permitted the occasional lighting of a cigarette.
"There were a few anxious moments when a barrier pitted its strength against the pressures of the crowd and came off second best. A small section of the huge crowd I fear did not enjoy an uninterrupted view of the game (sounds like an understatement) but this could not be avoided in the exceptional circumstances. The latecomers who lack inches would have protested if the gates had been closed against them while standing room remained.”
Not only had the previous attendance record been beaten by 4,000 but new record receipts were set at £2,531 6s 6d. And the great majority went home happy as Reading triumphed by one goal to nil.
In the first half the Biscuitmen, playing towards the Town End, hit the bar through Richardson then took the lead with a ‘clever shot’ from the same player. It would have been more but for the excellence of the Bees keeper.
In the second half Brentford rallied strongly but could not find the equaliser. Reading were now the focus of national media attention and Robin Bailey – “the greatest well-known London sporting journalist” – found his way to Elm Park for the first time ever. And did his bit for the North-South divide!
“I am going to get a breath of fresh air and see a ruddy-faced South England crowd for a change. The fact is, of course, there are so many less attractive places where firsts class football thrives. For instance, take Sheffield. The fan contemplating an afternoon of Gillespie and Tunstall is diminished by the sure knowledge that half a pound of soot is swallowed in 90 minutes at Bramall Lane.”
“Reading is off the beaten track. In spite of its achievements of Second Division status and recent cup-tie triumphs, and the possession of world- famous industries, it retains the captivating qualities of a country town. The healthy tanned complexions and the clear eyes of the people met in clean streets advertise the fact that, although this jolly Berkshire community has now leapt into the limelight that beats on first class football, it is not Lancashire ,the Black Country or London’s wide murky circumference.”