By Matthew Williams
In the month of August 2006 terrorists threatened to kill thousands of innocent holidaymakers, Israel attempted to start World War Three, David Beckham was dropped from the England squad and Roger Federer failed to get to a major tennis final for the first time in 300 years. Whatever was going on in the world took a back seat though for most Reading fans, as the day we'd all been waiting for approached. August 19th 2006 - Reading's first ever game in the big time. Here it was, the day every Royal had longed to see ever since Joseph Sydenham and his biscuit-making buddies founded the club all those years ago.
The national newspapers had finished their season previews and the pre-season training was all done and dusted. The compulsory 40-0 defeat of a Swedish pub side was complete and the much-hyped-yet-ultimately-very-dull home tie against some Dutch giants was long forgotten. The sun was shining, the fireworks in place, this was to be Reading's greatest day. We could not fail.
After about 20 minutes of nerves, miss-placed passes and sloppy marking it seemed like Middlesbrough had forgotten to read the script. This was not how it was meant to go, today was supposed to be about the small time Berkshire club discovering the magic of the Premiership. A kick up the arse and an incredibly frantic three goal turn around later and the Royals were the talk of the town! Suddenly Mr Hansen and friends had to quickly brush up on their Reading knowledge as the Royals were put straight to the front of the Match of the Day queue. (They didn't do that well though; apparently Murty is now our left-footed free kick taker!)
Now I wont bore you with any form of match report, I'm sure like me you went home and relived the experience on Football First, then again on Match of the Day, then again on Goals on Sunday, and then again on Match of the Day 2! I'm sure you've read every review under the sun in every paper, relishing in the fact that yes that really is Dave Kitson on the front of the News of the World football supplement!
But what I will do is take Steve Coppell's advice. Now the hype and excitement is over, I'll sit down and "look at the bigger picture".
And that bigger picture still looks as good! Before the game on Saturday I had identified three key players whose performances I was most interested in evaluating. The first, perhaps least surprisingly was the new signing, Seol Ki Hyeon, along with Sidwell and Ingimarsson.
Now if I was allowed into Fifa HQ and was able to change one thing in football, I'd rule that anyone called Didier Drogba would be instantly banned from the game. But if I was allowed to change two things in football I'd also get rid of this stupid rule that jumping into the crowd to celebrate a goal warrants a yellow card. The fans are the ones who pay the players wages, they are the heart and soul of football and will be supporting the club throughout whilst players come and go. So what is wrong with a player celebrating with the people who spend their free time cheering them on?
If you'd had read the papers these past few weeks, you would never have believed it when you saw Sidwell dive ecstatically into the adoring fans. Isn't this the man who wants to find a home at any dull, mid-table side willing to meet his wage demands? Why is he working so hard, going in for every loose ball when he hates the club, and criticizes everything they do!? Believing the papers is a silly thing to do. Sure, his refusal to sign is frustrating, the fact he is believing his own hype is trying, and sure some of his comments about having a family to feed is simply baffling, but this is a footballer who will not shy out of a scrap, he'll get forward and help the attack plentifully, and similarly he'll be happy to get back and help defend. Whilst his passion may be for football rather than directly for Reading FC, this man should be at the club at least until January, and we're better off for having him. If the team was a car, Sidwell would be the engine, and this engine will never stop running.
Carrying on with the car theme, I was worried that new signing Seol Ki Hyeon would be one of these fancy gadgets that looked stylish, but would end up pretty frustrating and have no real end product. How, I thought, have I been so impressed with him when I've seen him play for Wolves, yet no other club has taken a chance on him? My only answer was that he was a luxury player, one that most teams couldn't afford to have. I was worried that this would be the case at Reading, yet Saturday's performance showed me just how na´ve I was being. It's all very well having a luxury product, but if it's in a rubbish car then really it can be rendered pretty useless. And Wolves aint no Bentley! Reading isn't a rubbish car, it's strong and solid, and that sexy, stylish new accessory will fit right into place.
On Saturday Seol fitted in like a dream. Sure, Julio Arca at times looked like a battered old Morris Minor, but the fact is Seol ripped to shreds a team who finished last season in the UEFA Cup final, and won so much acclaim that their manager was given arguably the biggest job in football. One Sun writer in Monday's paper referred to the winger as 'a South Korean who is still living off a fancy back heel pulled off in the World Cup in Japan'. Had they seen the performance on Saturday, the writer would have replaced that drivel with, 'the most dangerous looking player of all the recent new signings, who has the ability to cut through a defence like a knife through butter'. Brilliantly positive and effortlessly stylish, Seol epitomized the last 70 minutes of Reading's performance.
I'd probably call James Harper the steering wheel of this 'Reading car' that I'm creating, although Ivar Ingimarsson runs a close second. Cool and composed, no-one reads the game better than Ivar and he breeds his calm nature throughout the team when things get a little frantic. However I had some question marks over his ability to contain some of the Premiership strikers. He was going to get a huge test against Yakuba and Viduka, and I was a little afraid that is pace and power would not be up to the task. With all the talk of a new centre back coming in, I was a little surprised that it was Sonko's name being branded as the player to be replaced, but Ivar showed me just how able he is to cope with the very best. I'm sure he'll be the first to admit that a left-footed cross in assisting the first goal is not the main part of his game, but on Saturday that cross was always going to be inch-perfect, such was the brilliance of his performance. Last season he was Mr Dependable, and this season he's started off in a similar rich vein of form.
No car would be complete without its driver, and Steve Coppell has rightly received yet more praise from the media. Man Utd may have the winker, but we have the thinker, and it could very well be our trump card. Coppell will no doubt have spent Sunday focusing on the first 20 minutes of the game, singling out everything that went wrong, and so he should. This man is paid to improve us, not revel in the glory of three points. Last season quite rightly proved that if you don't take your eye off the ball when the season is in full swing, you'll be celebrating as much as you like come the seasons end.
It's funny how all the papers are now tipping us as the team to stay up. Maybe the Journalists are now seeing the bigger picture and not just the 'transfers in' column on Sky Sports News. However maybe we are just the flavour of the week and next Sunday we'll be reading about how Adrian Boothroyd is the one who has really got it right and Watford are the team to be sticking around. But if you ever doubt the Royals when the inevitable first defeat of the season rears its ugly head, just look back on that fantastic recovery, and realize that if we can show that much character and fight in one game, imagine how much we can show over the course of the season. Don't forget these Royals came up with a record amount of points, if this team can't give the Premiership a go then surely none of the Championship teams should ever bother trying. There's also still at the time of writing nine days until the transfer window closes, with Coppell surely to add to the squad.
So lets not get too over-excited about it all, even the most optimistic fan wont put us in sixth position come the end of the season, but lets not see this as a 'one-off' either. We'll be heading into every game with as much character and urgency as we showed against Middlesbrough, and we'll certainly make sure that we didn't wait 135 years for nothing.