Madejski Stadium, Reading
Division Two v Luton Town
Saturday, December 23rd 2000, 3pm
Having now moved down to Bedfordshire, I've set about visiting the southern grounds that I've not yet done. I decided to go to Reading first, as I was impressed by their new Madejski Stadium from television pictures. My first experience of the M25 and connecting motorways was clear all the way, and as I approached J11 on the M4 I could make out the home of Reading FC through the ever-worsening fog.
The stadium was well signposted from the motorway - not that is really needed as it can be seen from the M4 - as were the plentiful parking facilities. I was tempted to use the same cheeky manoeuvre as I had done at Bolton a fortnight earlier and park in a retail park situated right next to the ground. However, unlike Bolton, there were car park attendants who seemed to be enforcing the "no football cars" rule and I decided to play safe and park in the official stadium car park at a cost of £4. This seemed pretty steep, but then again it allowed use of the park-and-ride service for the short journey into the town centre. This appeared to be the best way of obtaining a pre-match drink, as I couldn't locate any pubs near to the ground aside from a bar called "Shooters" underneath the East Stand. However, the retail park did include a Pizza Hut and KFC.
Approaching - and then entering - the ticket office, I couldn't see any details of ticket availability and prices for the various parts of the ground. I found this strange, and perhaps the only thing that has been overlooked in planning this impressive venue. Having mystified the ticket office assistants with my non-local accent and lack of knowledge about the ground (it felt like I was the first neutral visitor they had come across!), I bought a £14 seat in the North Stand which is the home 'end' behind one goal. Like the car park, this seemed slightly expensive for a 2nd Division setting but as I entered the ground I soon dropped my doubts about the amount I had paid to get in.
As I emerged from the bowels of the stand, I entered a superb, modern arena that wasn't too far removed from the Reebok at Bolton in its' design. On three sides of the ground were single tiered stands of equal height, but the Main Stand to my right had an extra mini-tier of executive boxes and seating, and a further upper-tier of seating. I couldn't see anywhere in the ground where the view of the pitch would be restricted, and my seat towards the rear of the stand afforded excellent coverage of the entire playing surface. What's more, there was plenty of leg-room between the rows of seats, adding a touch of comfort rarely experienced as most clubs seem to cram as many seats in as possible to increase potential revenue.
The facilities inside the North Stand were first class, with numerous TV sets showing Sky Sports (unfortunately for me, they constantly replayed Liverpool's 4 goals against Arsenal from earlier in the day!) and the toilets were in pristine condition. The food and drink outlets were well organised, well staffed and reasonably priced. However, I noticed all of the staff were wearing uniforms that bore the name "Madejski", and this was prominent all over the stadium (even the new hotel at the rear of the South and Main Stands was named after the club owner). I know that Mr Madejski has poured plenty of money into the club and the venue, but surely as this is the home of Reading FC the staff should be wearing branded clothing that bears the club name.
The crowd - being in festive spirit - contributed to an enjoyable afternoon, and one can only wonder what the atmosphere would be like if the stadium was full to it's capacity. Luton never threatened to leave with the 3 points, and a Jamie Cureton hat-trick helped the home side to a comfortable 4-1 win.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Reading. The charges for admission and parking were on the expensive side, more akin to venues in the 1st Division, in which the club should undoubtedly be playing considering their magnificent stadium. Everything about the Madejski was quality and comfort for the customer; the design, accessibility, seating and facilities were all superb and make a trip there worthwhile."
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