McDermott - 'What drove us to the title'
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GOING UP! Reading boss Brian McDermott is thrown in the air by his players during the team's promotion celebrations. Pic: Chris Forsey. 122412. CLICK ON 'PHOTOSALES' TO VIEW AND BUY PICTURES OF READING FC'S PROMOTION CELEBRATIONS.
READING boss Brian McDermott says he finally realised he'd made the Premier League big time when he stepped onto the promotion parade bus.
When Steve Coppell's Royals won the Championship title in 2006, McDermott - then chief scout - was relegated to the second support coach along with players' friends and family.
Their bus followed quietly behind the leading bus as Coppell's squad were cheered on by thousands of fans during a memorable tour around the town.
But last weekend McDermott led the celebrations himself as he revelled in another bus tour - and this time he was right at the front.
"The last time we went up I was on the second bus," recalled McDermott. "If there had been a third bus I would have probably been on that.
"Back then did I dream that one day I would be the manager and win the title? To be honest, I was just pleased we had won the league. The side we had back then was just fantastic.
"But I made the first bus this year so I must be doing something right."
Not only did McDermott make the leading coach, he should have been driving it. The 51-year-old's navigating skills take some beating having steered Royals to the Championship title with one match to spare.
"At the start of the season I wasn't thinking about the title or anything like that," he admitted. "I just wanted us to do the best we could in each game.
"Now I can reflect and look back and say it was a job well done, a fantastic achievement."
Of course, what makes promotion even more spectacular is the fact Royals went so agonisingly close last season when they lost to Swansea City in the play-off final at Wembley.
"I don't know how many teams have lost in a play-off final and come back to win the Championship, but it can't be many," he said. "It was an incredible thing to do because a lot of teams go into freefall after something like that. But I was determined that wouldn't happen to us, although you wouldn't have guessed it after six games of the season."
After those six games Reading were languishing one place off the bottom of the Championship table as the team struggled to recover from that Wembley heartache plus the sale of Shane Long and Matt Mills in the weeks that followed.
But with criticisms ringing out from all directions and when lesser managers could have caved in, McDermott remained strong, resolute and maintained his focus on finding a solution.
"I didn't panic but nor did I listen to too many people, just the ones I had to," he admitted. "The most important thing was to keep our focus and trust what we were trying to achieve.
"We lost a lot of players last summer, we had the heart ripped out of us and we had to start again and put this team together. But we play a different way now, though I will play whatever way suits the personnel and the players we have."
The signings of Kaspars Gorkss from QPR and Adam Le Fondre from Rotherham United gave Royals the boost they so desperately needed.
Gorkss went on to become a mainstay in the best defence in the Championship, while Le Fondre came up with some priceless goals, none more so than against Leeds United and Southampton during the run-in.
"Kaspars has been a warrior and Adam Le Fondre is getting better, fitter and stronger," stated McDermott. "They will look after themselves in the summer and they'll look forward to playing in the Premier League."
But even before Reading's results began to pick up there they had to experience the nadir when the team were soundly beaten 2-0 at home by Watford at the beginning of September.
It proved to be the turning point of the season.
"There are plenty of highlights," recalled McDermott. "Bristol City away when Matthieu Manset scored a late winner, Millwall at home when Mathieu scored a worldy goal on the opening day.
"There's Noel Hunt's finish against Ipswich; Adam Le Fondre coming off the bench and scoring at Southampton and two goals just before half time at West Ham. There are plenty.
"But perhaps the overriding memory was losing 2-0 at home to Watford. We were nowhere near where we should have been in what was a really important game. Okay, the team was different to the one that finished the season but it wasn't a 'Reading performance.'
"We didn't reach the levels we needed to get to, we didn't play with any tempo I remember the game very clearly. I looked at the stats and we were down on all of them."
That defeat by the Hornets even sparked protests in the stands as Reading fans urged the club to spend some money and invest in the team.
"We weren't winning and when you aren't getting results fans get edgy," said McDermott. "Personally, I didn't get edgy, I just felt we needed to solve the problems and that's part of my job."
He certainly managed that - and much more - as Reading went on a incredible run that took them to mid-table by the start of 2012 and then to the summit by the end of it, clawing back a 12-point gap on previous leaders Southampton to win the championship outright.They even managed it with a game to spare, rendering their final-day defeat at Birmingham meaningless.
"It was irrelevant really," admitted McDermott. "The most important thing is we won the Championship after 46 games.
"The fans didn't care about the result at Birmingham. In my heart of hearts, I was thinking I didn't want to go there to win the championship. I wanted it done and dusted and I was grateful that happened."
And he added: "We had two big meetings over the season which came after that Watford game and also after we lost at Peterborough United in March.
"I just needed to make sure we finished the season well. After Peterborough we had eight more games and the run-in looked pretty difficult to say the least.
"But I thought we could win them all and it proved to be a good run-in for us."
As McDermott held the Championship trophy aloft the other day, the weight of history was bearing down.
"It's the best trophy in the world, I love it," he beamed. "I think of all the players who lifted it, Alan Hansen, Dave Mackay, Frank McLintock, the Liverpool era, it's amazing, a great feeling. And now it's ours.
"You never really get a chance to reflect in football, but I can now."
Who knows what would have happened to Reading if McDermott had agreed to become manager of Wolverhapton Wanderers following the sacking of Mick McCarthy in February.
Instead, he signed a new long-term deal with Royals until 2015 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Like the Royals' bus parade in the pouring rain, it has certainly been an amazing journey for the former Arsenal and Cardiff City winger who launched his managerial career with his hometown club Slough Town before accepting Alan Pardew's offer to join the Royals coaching staff in 2000.
"I'm not bigging myself up but it's an amazing story really," said McDermott. "Saying that it shows that if I can do it anyone can do it."