In celebration of Reading Football Club's 150th anniversary, The Reading Chronicle spoke with 15 figures from the Reading community, past and present, to find out above all one thing: What makes Reading FC special?

David Downs

Club Historian


Appearances: 2,150

Well, from my point of view…because it’s the only football club I’ve ever supported. I was born in 1941, I never saw my father during the war because he was away with the Royal Airforce. It was only when he came back to Reading after the war, one of the first things we did together was to go and watch Reading Football Club at Elm Park.

I remember going to my very first game with my father and not really being able to understand what was going on. All I could see as a young six/seven year old was lots of guys in coloured shirts running around a patch of grass, chasing a ball.

It was only after I went to a few games that I started to understand what football is actually about. But I never forgot those early days of watching football - and Reading in particular - that fascinated my young brain. Not only that, but it was everything about going to the match with my father: walking to the ground, listening to a guy bellowing ‘PROGRAMMES!’...

Reading Chronicle: David Downs with his wife Marion after being presented an award by the FA for his service to English youth football.David Downs with his wife Marion after being presented an award by the FA for his service to English youth football.

As a young spectator, just leaning on the wall at the front of what was called the Tilehurst Road side, the players were like gods even if I couldn’t really understand what was happening! There are things that get you for a lifetime, and that was 70 years ago!

When Elm Park closed in 1999, the very last afternoon I played in a six-aside competition on the pitch, it was a farewell competition for local teams. And because I was working for the club at the time, I was doing some coaching in the academy, I asked for permission to camp out in the centre circle overnight.

That was the last night Elm Park was going to be open to the public. And the stadium manager kindly let me camp out. So I borrowed a tent and put the tent up in the centre circle. I slept in the tent overnight and during the night I looked out and I could see on the pitch the players of my childhood, the teams I’d supported as an eight/nine year old. I could see that team playing football, running up and down the pitch, passing the ball.

I slept that night on the Elm Park pitch and my only companion aside from those imaginary footballers was a cat who’d somehow gotten in!

Stand-out memory:

If I had to pick one game from watching Reading home and away over the last 70+ years, I’d pick a very unusual game - it would be an FA Cup third round tie played in January 1971.

Reading were drawn away to a team called Blythe Spartans. Blythe Spartans were then an amateur team who had beaten two football league teams on their way to the third round. Reading at the time were struggling in Division Four, the bottom division of the football league. 

Reading Chronicle: David Downs holding the once-lost Angle-Italian Cup. David Downs holding the once-lost Angle-Italian Cup.

There was a special train laid on to take Reading supporters up north, we got to Blythe Spartans’ ground and there had been a fire and the changing rooms had burnt down! Reading had to change in a porta-cabin a field and a half away from the main pitch.

There were floodlights, but those had burnt down in the fire so the game kicked off at two o’clock but this was January and the last 20 minutes were played, if not in darkness, then in the gloom!

Reading were winning 2-0 but Blythe Spartans scored twice in the last quarter of an hour and had a goal disallowed. And speaking to the Reading goalkeeper Steve Death afterwards, he said that in the gloom he just could not see the ball. So it was 2-2 at full-time and that meant a replay back at Reading. 

Kick-off was scheduled for two o’clock at Elm Park, I was teaching at the time and I was desperate to get to the game. So all I could do with my class of ten/eleven year olds was ask for permission to take some of the boys out of school to what I described as a ‘nature ramble’.

So we went on a nature ramble to the local park and then forgot about the nature ramble and made our way to the football ground. And that day, what had been predicted to be a crowd of 2000, was a crowd of 10,500! In that game, Reading were comfortable, winning 6-1 to go through to play Arsenal in the fourth round.

Click here to read all of our 15 for 150 interviews