2006 was quite possibly the greatest period in the entire 135-year history of Reading Football Club. A very bold statement indeed, but a statement that many would find difficult to form an argument against.
From securing promotion to the top flight for the first time ever with the 1-1 draw at Leicester; to lifting the trophy that announced us as Champions of the second tier of English football. From the result which pencilled Reading`s name into the history books for a record unbeaten run stretching to 33 consecutive league games before the 3-2 reverse at Luton; to the day when the team recorded the highest points total ever achieved in a single league season with the 2-1 victory over Queen`s Park Rangers.
That particular penalty kick that was wholey irrelevant, but still meant so much to everyone associated when captain Graeme Murty lashed it home in spectacular fashion. That particular cold night in March when Leroy Lita heroically stamped his name on English cup football – scoring a wonderful hat trick against Premiership opposition that included a spectacular goal that would stand out in any highlights reel. I could go on and on but for fear of wearing the keyboard on my laptop out.
Undoubtedly though, it is one fine day in August that jumps out the most in my graphically congested memory – a day that no Royals fan could ever forget.
2006 has been a year filled with glee. There has been so many high notes, so many fantastic displays both on an individual and a collective basis, and so many incredible superlatives used to describe the team that even the most avid of historic fans would be hard-pushed to find a season filled with as little as twenty percent of what has been achieved this year. I, for the most part, could be found pinching myself.
It would honestly take me days to review the year as a whole, and equally as long for you to read. Instead I have decided to break everything down into categories, and write about my top five from each – my top five games, top five goals, and top five players of the year, as well as touching on the important occasions that have been so special to us all.
Top 5 Games Of 2006
? 25th March, vs. Leicester – Walkers Stadium
25th March 2006 was the day that every Royal had been waiting for. The day when Reading Football Club secured promotion to the Premiership! Our 1-1 draw at Leicester, thanks to Kevin Doyle`s late header, was one of the defining moments of the season. The point meant that the Royals won promotion after fewer games than any club had ever achieved in any league prior. The team and backroom staff celebrated jubilantly with the travelling fans in what was a day to truly cherish.
? 1st April, vs. Derby County – Madejski Stadium
A week after the Walkers Stadium party, the Royals sealed the Championship trophy with the 5-0 crushing of Derby County. To ensure the title with such a devastating display of attacking prowess seemed fitting, and thousands of fans celebrated by invading the Madejski Stadium pitch in scenes of unbridled joy.
? 19th August, vs. Middlesbrough – Madejski Stadium
Our opening Premiership fixture against Middlesbrough seemed to be turning sour when the visitors raced into a 2-0 lead. But then Dave Kitson pulled one back and, in incredible fashion, Steve Sidwell drove home the equaliser. Leroy Lita completed the comeback, gleefully smashing home a loose ball early in the second half. Despite pressure from Boro, the Royals held on. We will never again win our first ever Premiership match and this particular afternoon became one of our most historic occasions.
? 12th November, vs. Tottenham Hotspur – Madejski Stadium
Following a run of four consecutive defeats, a number of pundits were beginning to predict a long, hard winter for the Royals. The honeymoon period, they said, was now over, and we were going to struggle from here on in. Fortunately the Royals, spurred on by another moment of brilliance from Nicky Shorey, begged to differ. Strikes from Shorey and Steve Sidwell put the team ahead after an early penalty from Spurs` Robbie Keane. Kevin Doyle`s late goal rounded off a brilliantly confident 3-1 win, and belief was restored.
? 26th December, vs. Chelsea – Stamford Bridge
As 2006 came to a close, the Royals pulled off one of the Premiership shocks of the season by claiming a point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was fully deserved after a magnificent second half performance that had the champions of the back foot for large periods. The second goal was somewhat fortunate, but so was Frank Lampard`s winner in the much-talked-about reverse fixture earlier in the season.
Top 5 Goals Of 2006
? Leroy Lita vs. West Bromwich Albion
A late equalising penalty from Kevin Doyle earned the travelling Royals a replay, in which, after promptly going 2-0 behind to an early Richard Chaplow brace, Leroy Lita rescued a makeshift Reading team with a phenomenal hat trick. His second goal of the game was a spectacular 25-yard effort that was fashioned by some quick passing between James Harper and Shane Long, and arrowed past the helpless Chris Kirkland in the Baggies` Goal.
? Graeme Murty vs. Derby County
After more than five years of waiting, Reading fans were finally able to celebrate a goal by skipper Graeme Murty – and it could not have been any more dramatic. With five minutes remaining against Queen`s Park Rangers and the score even at 1-1, the only out-field player to feature in the league without a goal to his name smashed home a penalty to set a new Football League points record.
? Glen Little vs. Plymouth Argyle
Glen Little`s wing wizardry was a constant feature of our title-winning campaign, and there was no finer example than midway through the first half of our game away to Plymouth, when he produced a sublime piece of genius to put the Royals ahead. Receiving the ball on the right with seemingly nothing on, Little twisted and turned past two defenders to give himself a yard of space, and then, from the right corner of the penalty area, lofted a delicate chip which floated over ‘keeper Romain Larrieu and dropped just inside the left-hand post.
? Dave Kitson vs. Middlesbrough
Although not the greatest goal you will see in terms of technique and skill, it can be considered so in terms of importance. Dave Kitson`s scrappy, bundled goal was the first top flight strike in this history of the club, and the first in a spirited and heroic fight-back that saw the Royals recover an early two goal deficit to win in our first ever Premiership game.
? Seol Ki-Hyeon vs. West Ham United
Unfortunately I didn`t witness this goal in the flesh due to being stuck on the motorway on my way to the game. However, upon realising that we had taken a third minute lead at Upton Park, and taking into account Seol`s previous goal for the club up at Sheffield United, I just knew it would be the screamer that it was. A well position free kick seemed to be wasted as Bobby Convey rolled the ball a matter of inches. Seol had other ideas though, as he took the ball and jinked inside Yossi Benayoun`s challenge before unleashing a 25-yard thunderbolt.
Top 5 Players Of 2006
? Kevin Doyle
Since arriving as a relative unknown from Wexford, Ireland, Kevin Doyle has been an absolute revelation. He scored 20 goals in his first season with the Royals, and registered 8 times in the team`s first top flight campaign – temporarily leading the goalscoring charts at one stage! Doyle leads the line terrifically, and at just £75,000, must be considered one of the all time bargain buys, even by Steve Coppell`s standards. He was voted the Football League Player`s Player of the season and selected in the end of season select for 2006.
? Steve Sidwell
In my opinion, Sidwell has been Reading`s standout player so far this season. His work sometimes goes unpraised, but his ability to win and then keep the ball is such an important attribute to this club. Add to that his goal and assist tallies and you`ll be hard-pushed to find a better midfielder who`s just stepped up to the top division. He was fantastic in our promotion winning campaign also, and was inches away from securing a hattrick against Cardiff back in January.
? Glen Little
Despite missing dribs-and-drabs of last season through injury, Glen finished the campaign at the top of the league`s assist chart. With Little in the team Reading were menacing in attack, often scoring at will, racking up ‘cricket` scores. His skill on the ball and intelligence with his distribution were a key feature of the Royals outfit that stormed the Championship, and since making the move up to the Premiership he`s tormented many a left back, such as Chelsea`s Wayne Bridge who was substituted because of his suffering. Ashley Cole replaced him but Little made a fool of him also, supplying a goal.
? Nicky Shorey
It came as a surprise to many at just how influential a left back can be in his side`s play. From making the run that captivated his team mates into coming from 2 down to win against Middlesbrough, to scoring a peach of a goal to equalise against Spurs, Shorey has taken the Premiership by storm. He scored two wonderful free kicks at the beginning of the year, beating Norwich`s Robert Green and giving Crewe`s stopper no chance. Chants of “Shorey for England” are certainly not misplaced.
? Graeme Murty
A captain, who`s team goes 33 games unbeaten, who`s team scores 99 goals in a single league season, and who`s team secure promotion without even breaking stride, certainly deserves a mention. A captain, who`s team defends doggedly, who`s team scores prolifically, and who`s team dominate games, is a captain to be talked about. That captain is Reading`s Graeme Murty. Perhaps not the most gifted footballer in the world, but Murty`s fight, attitude, and commitment is certainly unrivalled.
The year has been filled with so many positive talking points that there is honestly too much to cover. My memories of celebrating on the pitch, cheering our first Premiership win, and singing my heart out at Stamford Bridge will always be with me. There`s no question that 2006 will live with us Royals forever, so here`s to 2007, which has already got off to the best possible start.