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Madejski Stadium

Reading v Sheffield United
Saturday, January 26th,
2013, 3pm
FA Cup 4th Round
By James Prentice
(Doing The 92)

1.Why you were looking forward to going to the ground (or not as the case may be):

Originally, two friends and I had planned to go to see Brighton v Blackburn’s Championship clash, but after both sides progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup the fixture was switched. Unable to get tickets for Brighton’s game with Arsenal, we still made the trip down to London (might as well make use of cheap, non-refundable rail tickets!). Rather than go to one of the few remaining capital grounds left to do, it was decided to go to a slightly more tricky venue to reach and the final vote went to Reading for their FA Cup 4th round tie with Sheffield United. I had heard nice things about the ground and Reading’s fans being a fairly pleasant bunch (albeit mainly from a Royals fan I work with), so we plumped for an afternoon our in Berkshire.

2. How easy was your journey/finding the ground/car parking?

We left our home town of Lincoln nice and early and, after a slight delay, arrived into King’s Cross at around 10.00am. From there we nipped over to Paddington and caught a train to Reading, the second leg of the outbound journey taking around 25 minutes. After a couple of lunchtime pints in the Monks’ Retreat (Wetherspoon’s pub), we headed back past the railway station to catch one of the football special buses from the nearby bus station in Garrard Street (which, by the way, is signposted upon exiting the railway station). The journey to the Mad Stad took around 15 minutes and we were dropped right outside upon arrival.

3. What you did before the game pub/chippy.... home fans friendly?

The big dilemma with Reading is what to do before the game. They really could do with a couple of pubs outside the ground so that fans are able to have a drink before the game, as there is literally nothing to do in the surrounding area (unless you fancy a look round the nearby B & Q). That said, I did notice a screen outside the stadium showing the lunchtime clash between Stoke and Man City, but apart from a few burger vans there is nothing between the Mad Stad and the M4 motorway.

We got to the ground early rather than stay and have a couple more pints so we got a place on one of the buses (I had heard that leaving it late may mean you miss out and face a 3.5 mile hike to the ground). After collecting our tickets, eventually decided to get in early and had a drink on the concourse and watched the remainder of the early kick off. The Reading fans certainly seemed quite a pleasant bunch – certainly what you’d expect from a refined county like Berkshire!

4. What you thought on seeing the ground, first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

The ground was built in 1998 and I remember fans that went there within its first few years raved about how futuristic it was. While plenty of ‘soulless bowls’ have sprung up around the country since then, the Mad Stad still looks pretty impressive and seems a little more authentic than some others. I was sat in the only two-tiered part of the stadium and had a seat right next to the Directors’ Box. The views across the pitch were excellent. The other sides are all symmetrical of one another and the relatively steep incline seems to offer decent views of the action. The ground is totally enclosed, which helped create an atmosphere even though it was only half full.

5. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies, facilities etc...

The concourses were your usual breeze block affair and to be honest I had been hoping for a bit more considering the stadium was supposed to have been built with no expense spared. The food on offer was fairly standard and beer is available, although I believe they do not sell alcoholic drinks to away fans. Home fans are rarely bothered by stewards and the same was to be said for the Mad Stad, although whether that was the case for the away fans is questionable given that a few Sheff Utd fans got quite ‘rowdy’ throughout the game.

As for the match, Reading effectively killed the contest early on by going ahead through Noel Hunt. The Blades, to their credit, came back but had left their shooting boots at home, spurning a few decent opportunities. Reading doubled their lead just before half time with a really decent second, and outclassed the opponents with a third and fourth after the break. It was a pretty routine victory for the Royals and it was hard to believe that only two years ago both sides were run-of-the-mill Championship, such is the gulf that now exists between them. Even though the Reading fans appeared at first glance to be quite ‘safe’ (the club is, after all, sponsored by Waitrose), they certainly bit back at the visiting fans with some great chants...although I will refrain from repeating them on a family-friendly football ground website such as this!

6. Comment on getting away from the ground after the game:

After the game we headed for the shuttle bus and there were six or seven of them waiting to take fans back into town – a very well-drilled operation that ran like clockwork. There were lots of fans queuing up for the buses but stewards were on hand to shepherd people in quickly and efficiently. Before we knew it we were on a train bound for Paddington and, after something to eat and a couple of post-match pints, we headed for King’s Cross and made it back to Lincoln for about 10.40pm.

7. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out:

I liked the Mad Stad and the fact that Reading played well, the ground is nicely designed and the ticket was only £15 (bargain) made up for the fact that it is some way away from the town centre and is plonked right in the middle of nowhere. I am not a fan of out-of-town grounds and long for the days where stadia are only ten minutes’ walk from the station and are surrounded by pubs and chippies, but the Mad Stad had just enough about it to win my approval.

The trip meant I became a step closer to holy grail of the visiting all of the 92, which I really hope to have completed in a couple of seasons’ time. It was a long day out and it’d have been much easier to go to one of my remaining London grounds, but I was and am glad to have gone the extra mile and ticked Reading off the list...I can save some of the easier grounds for later.

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