Madejski Stadium, Reading
v Sheffield United, Championship League 
Saturday October 1st 2005, 3pm
By Martin Hart

Another trip south, another English ground came calling. Today it was the turn of Reading's outstanding Madejski Stadium.

I was excited about going to the ground really for two main reasons - I love going to a ground I haven't previously visited and having seen photos of the stadium it looked absolutely stunning.

My journey to the ground was long, in fact it started at 5am on the Saturday morning. I won't go into the boring details of how I made it to Reading but having met up with my "tour guide" for the day, Ian (otherwise known as loyalroyal on the Message Board), he took me to a pub where I grabbed a quick pint before we both took the bus to the stadium.

Incidentally, the number 79 buses now cost 2.50 for an adult return and 1.25 for a child return. They are marked "Madejski Stadium" and leave about 100 yards from the train station. There's usually a queue of about six waiting to leave for the ground, as is the case after the game. At full-time you get picked up at the same place where the bus drops you off - I must admit that it's a very efficient service.

Before the game and once Ian and I had reached the stadium, I had to get a ticket for the match. Ian directed me to the main ticket office, where I paid my 22 for a North Stand ticket. Once I had my ticket we went for a walk around the outside of the ground, by which time my eyes were already watering at the sheer sight of the Madejski Stadium. I'll certainly add my name to the fact that the Madejski Stadium wouldn't look out of place in the Barclays Premiership... it does after all already play host to another Premiership (London Irish - rugby union Zurich Premiership.) On the mini-tour, Ian told me that the former rubbish tip on which the ground is now built cost 2 to buy - not a bad investment by Mr. Madejski to turn a 2 landfill site into a multi-million pound sports arena (with a hotel too.) Ian also pointed out the stunning Reading Dome (where the Academy players train) - situated across the road from the stadium, and also the nearby Fosters brewery, hence the reason why the away (South) stand is
called the Fosters Stand.


Having taken care of formalities outside the ground, it was time to go inside the Madejski Stadium, and get a real look at what I had seen on the photos. I thanked Ian for his help, he having earlier revealed his own Scottish heritage to me. It's also worth noting that Reading's turnstiles use an electronic scanning system, which I had a bit of trouble with, but a very nice steward helped me with the system and eventually I was inside the stadium.

Now to the game itself. Sheffield United were flying - 10 wins out of 11 and 8 on the spin had made Neil Warnock's side the talk of the country (with the inevitable exception of Chelsea!!), but little did they know that it would take just 83 seconds for that record to crumble. A great move led to
Icelandic international, Brynjar Gunnarsson smacking the ball past Paddy Kenny, 1-0 Reading !! The 20,000 Reading fans erupted. Sheffield United equalised on 17 minutes.  The in-form Steve Kabba stooped low to head a free-kick past Marcus Hahnemann. The 2,000 fans from Sheffield had their moment to savour, it would last until the remaining few seconds of the game.

There was
one particularly controversial moment when Sheff. Utd. 'keeper, Paddy Kenny handled the ball outside his area. Naturally, the home fans were screaming when referee Mr. Hegley produced only a yellow card, but looking  back on the incident I have to admit that the referee got it right, because although Kenny did handle illegally, he wasn't denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. Of course, the passionate home fans didn't forget the incident, booing the goalkeeper every time he touched the ball.

With just 41 seconds of the game left, Reading scored a dramatic winner, a terrific free-kick from sub Sekou Baradji was met by the head of (once again) Brynjar Gunnarsson, I didn't even know until I saw the East Stand celebrating that the ball had gone in, what an amazing finish to a heart stopping match.

The final whistle saw Reading beat their early season title rivals 2-1, which for me meant 1 thing more than any... my "unbeaten" record in English league matches stretched to 7 games. However, after the game, both on and off the park came a number of incidents which soured a match which would put most Premiership games to shame. Neil Warnock had a real go at the referee (surprise !), and Keith Gillespie was also reported to the FA for a separate incident. Meanwhile, outside the stadium a number of minor scuffles broke out amongst rival supporters. Although, I was impressed that the fans themselves stepped in to break up the trouble, rather than have 14 police men arrest the odd lunatic, but still it wasn't a nice thing to witness.

In general, the Madejski Stadium is a wonderful day out. The food is good, and reasonably priced (there's a good deal where you get a "pie and a pint" for 4.70), the 22,000 crowd created a fantastic atmosphere, and the stewarding, at times a little "heavy handed" is generally fairly relaxed. So all in all a good day should be had at Reading.

Getting away after the game is actually quite easy. OK, there's usually a long queue waiting for the buses back to the train station, but it does move quite quickly, due to the fact that quite a number of people can cram onto the one bus.

Some general tips for fans visiting the Madejski Stadium - Don't try to walk from the town centre, take the bus, as it's at least 3 miles along a busy motorway. Make sure you have a ticket before you attempt to enter the ground, and if you're looking for a decent pub, try the Three Guineas next
to Reading train station. Although it's the pub where the away fans tend to congregate, it provides a nice friendly atmosphere, and it also has TV's showing Sky Sports... oh, and the beer's not too bad either. Finally, enjoy your day out at what is a cracking stadium.

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