READING FC winger Garath McCleary has finally lifted the lid on being put ‘in the chokey’ by ex-boss Jose Gomes.

The 32-year-old, who has nearly 250 Royals appearances to his name, was axed from first-team affairs under the Portuguese manager.

Along with teammate and best pal Chris Gunter, the ex-Jamaica international was barred from eating with the rest of the squad and was not even allowed injury treatment in the same room.

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He admitted feeling rock bottom after having to tell his children that he is not playing football anymore and spending time on the golf course rather than playing matches.

But after fearing his time at Madejski Stadium was over, McCleary was given a new lease of life when Mark Bowen came in to replace sacked Gomes.

After two assists and a first goal in two-and-a-half years, which left him driving home in tears, the fleet-footed-forward is rolling back the years under Bowen.

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Despite the emotional rollercoaster he endured, and not knowing where his future may be, he insists he is now ready to forget the past and help push Royals up the Championship table.

And in an exclusive interview, this is what he had to say:

You’ve had lots of ups and downs in your seven years as a Reading player. Have the last few months been the toughest yet?

“It’s been the hardest period of my career. Not just physically but mentally too. A lot has gone on, I’ve been lucky to have people around me who I’ve built relationships with. They’ve been a different class, as have the players.

“Scott Marshall, Mehmet Ali, Steve Cottrell, Ged Roddy and Ollie Harrington were all different class. They kept us at optimum condition and treated us as experienced pros. They gave us time off if we needed it or would understand we didn’t need to be in meetings. I want to say thank you to them.”

Jose Gomes was a master at answering a question without actually answering it so nobody really knows what happened. Can you tell me why you were exiled?

“At the end of last season, two days after the Birmingham game, I was pulled in for a conversation. I was told that the club didn’t want me to stay on for the next season because they were having some financial problems. They said they needed to get certain players out.

“I specifically asked him to clarify where it would put me if I didn’t get a move. I know what football is like, some clubs may not want to take you or they may not know if you’re fit. I asked what would happen if a club didn’t take me.

“I wanted to know if I would still be part of the group or shipped out into what we call the chokey, the other changing room. David Meyler, Vito Mannone and Marc McNulty were there. He looked at me, laughed and said he can’t look that far ahead.

“So when he put me in that changing room I knew it was something that he chose, it was his decision to put me there.

“We got a phone call half way through our holidays saying that we had to come back later because of cross contamination.

“Then we got a message the week before the first team were in telling us we have to come back. We’d already booked holidays and we’re not a piece of meat. We weren’t allowed treatment with the first team, we were completely shipped out to the Under 23s.

“When you’ve been a pro for 10/12/15 years, to be put with Under 17 trialists and made to train on your own was very hard to take. Jose may have pulled the wool over many people’s eyes to be honest.

“I don’t want to go too much in on Jose. There were times like when he made me captain, those were good times.

“But the way he treated certain players, especially me and Chris (Gunter) who have been here for eight years nearly and done so much for the club on and off the field, things that don’t always get coverage, was flabbergasting.”

It must have been hard for you to go back to training knowing you weren’t going to be allowed to train with the rest of your teammates. What was that like?

“It was very hard. You want to get back into football. When you have a break you really miss it.

“To come back knowing you’re not in the plans, especially when you know you have so much to offer, is hard to take mentally.”

“Chris and I are professional down to the core. Everyone in the group likes us. We have a good rapport with everyone around the club. Nobody has a bad word to say about us.”

Did you find it hard to motivate yourself when you came back?

“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. Maybe that’s because I know I still have to prove people wrong.

“There have been times when people have told me it’s my fault Jose got the sack or that I had a part to play in it but that’s so far from the truth.

“We were so ostracised and away from the group, there is nothing we could have done. We weren’t in the same canteen as the rest of the group even, there was no mingling at all.

“Some players would come in and see how we were. The easiest thing for me was knowing that I had Adrian Popa, Chris Gunter, Meyler, Kelly, Sam Smith and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson with me. We all kept together and somehow Chris and I stuck it out.”

Did you ever think that maybe you weren’t good enough anymore?

“No, I always knew that given a chance I would prove what I can still do. I was surprised more clubs didn’t come in for me. I always knew that if I got my chance I could still show people.

“That’s why you give your all in every single session, you always have to be ready. No matter what happens in life, if you work hard and give your best then a little bit of luck may come your way.”

You were linked with moves away, were they close?

“There were a few sniffs from abroad but it wasn’t right. My family are settled and it just wasn’t the right timing. Even though I knew I needed to play, and I didn’t want to be out of the game for too long, they just weren’t right.”

What was it like at the start of the season when you weren’t involved in match days?

“It was so tough. I had it under Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest but not as extreme. I was either watching Soccer Saturday, playing a round of golf or spending time with my family.

“There are things you have to do in that situation to take your mind off of it because it’s hard knowing the first team are in preparing for a game and you have to train by yourself.

“Knowing that I could affect it but not being given a chance spurred me on. I’ve known from a young age I’ve had to prove people wrong and this brought back the fire in my belly.

“I didn’t think there was a way back for my under Jose because that ship had sailed by the way we were treated. Nothing would have changed.”

I don’t want to suggest you were happy to see Jose Gomes get the sack but when he left it opened up a far better opportunity for you. When did you find out and how did you react?

“You never want anyone to lose their job. People have families and you have to consider their mental state too. I don’t wish badness on anyone so when he was sacked it wasn’t as if I was celebrating or anything like that.

“I always knew that at some point the tables would turn. If I was a bad egg or the people who were put in that situation were bad eggs then I could understand certain aspects of what went on but to completely ostracise us, players who give their all and have been here so long, I just couldn’t understand it. 

“It did put us in better stead (when Jose left) but it’s not something I would have wished for.”

What happened when Bowen came in? Did he just tell you you’re back in the squad?

“Eddie Niedzwiecki came up to me and said he’d seen me train. He told me I was excellent in the first session and he wanted me to be integrated back into the first team and that I was going to be given a fresh start.

“Chris was away with Wales at the time and he told me he would have a chat with Gunts when he got back.

“It was good to have a fresh start. Mark saw everything that went on and for him to bring us in, because realistically you shouldn’t have players of our quality and experience out of the squad, that should be commended.”

How did the players react when you went back into the group?

“Like I said we still have a good relationship.

“The funniest part was when the first team first came back from off-season and it was like we hadn’t left. We hadn’t seen each other since the end of last season so there were lots of hugs and people asking how we were. There was a bit of awkwardness when Jose saw that.”

You get back into the squad, you come on as a sub against QPR and then a few days later you come off the bench and score. What was going through your head at that point?

“There were so many emotions. The first thing I did was cry on the way home. It had been so hard for me mentally, to the point where I thought I was rock bottom. I had my kids asking me why I didn’t play football anymore or asking if I play golf now. It was so hard to tell them that dad doesn’t play much anymore.

“So yeah, the first thing I did was cry. It also made it harder for me because Gunts wasn’t in the squad that week. If he was then we could have celebrated together.

“I wanted to do a celebration but I just couldn’t.

“I’ve had to deal with so much stick too which I can’t understand. I’ve kept quiet through most of it.

“But sometimes you think there’s only so much you can take. Like if the team were losing or Jose got sacked then somehow it would fall on my head.”

Part two of Garath McCleary's interview will be on the Reading Chronicle website next week.