Royals return to their third-tier roots after remarkable 21 years

Royals return to their third-tier roots after remarkable 21 years

It understandably didn't make many headlines but after a miserable season, my home town team of Reading have been relegated to League One -- their first time down in the third-tier in 21 years.

Amazingly during those two decades, they actually spent three seasons in the Premier League, something I thought I would never live to see.

The Royals' last appearance in the third tier was back in 2002 in what was then called Division 2.

Since then they have held a regular place in the Championship apart from those halcyon days in the top flight.

Their recent decline is certainly a blow for the loyal Reading fans especially as they are not confident that the club can immediately bounce back. It must be particularly sad for the popular former owner Sir John Madejski who took over the club in 1991 and was an inspirational figure in launching the Royals into the top flight.

A Thai consortium took over the club for a couple of seasons but that didn't really work out and they sold the club to Chinese businessman Dai Yongge and his sister.

Although I am saddened by the relegation, I have this nagging feeling that the third tier is perhaps the appropriate level for the Royals at the moment. A little bit of history is in order.

Back in the 1960s when as a schoolboy I used to watch them regularly at the old Elm Park ground, they were in the Third Division and seemed to have been there forever.

For an astonishing 40 years from 1931-71, they never moved out of the third tier and invariably finished in mid-table. Not even a relegation dog fight to liven things up.

When they did finally move from the Third Division, it was in the wrong direction, as in 1972 they were relegated to the Fourth Division for the first time.

They were to stay there for seven of the next eight seasons until they won promotion in 1979.

After a few more years of messing about in the lower divisions, Reading reached the second tier in 1985-86 for the first time in 50 years, earning promotion after a remarkable run of 13 successive wins.

By the early 1990s, they had established themselves in the second tier and in 1995 finished runners-up but were denied promotion owing to a shake-up in the league structure to accommodate the Premier League.

A big moment in the club's history came in 1998 when they moved from Elm Park to the 24,200 capacity Madejski Stadium.

In the 2004-5 season, the second tier was rebranded as the Championship and Reading had a promising season finishing seventh. But the best was yet to come.

In the following season under the astute leadership of manager Steve Coppell, they ran away with the Championship title, amassing a record 106 points, 99 goals and losing only twice.

I had never dreamed that one day Reading would make it to the Premier League, but after 135 years they had finally succeeded.

It was hard to explain the magnitude of that achievement for Reading.

For most of its existence, the club had been a prize example of mediocrity, punctuated by a few spells of false hopes.

Seeing those blue and white hoops take on the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal was a dream-like experience.

Reading performed remarkably well in their first season in the top flight, finishing eighth.

When they were inevitably relegated the next season, I thought that would be the last they would see of the Premier League.

But they won promotion again in 2012 under Brian McDermott although they only lasted one season.

In 2017, they almost made it back to the Premier League under Jaap Stam when they finished third but lost to Huddersfield in the play-off final.

The last two seasons Reading have been pretty dire although they were not helped by being deducted points late in the season for financial irregularities.

So in the coming season, the Royals can look forward to visiting local rivals Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers. At least it will cut down on travel costs.

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