ONE of Reading FC’s greatest ever player, Jimmy Wheeler, has died aged 86.

The hometown hero scored 168 goals in his 453 appearances for Royals, making him the second top goal-scorer in the club’s history, and one of their most capped players.

Wheeler was born in December 1933 and as a professional was a one-club man with Reading, joining the club in 1948 having impressed manager Ted Drake in the Spartan League as an amateur with Huntley and Palmers.

Wheeler developed in his early playing days in Drake's youth system, in which Reading's third team played in the Hampshire League, and after gaining experience he signed professional terms in 1952.

A prolific forward, Wheeler reached double figures in the scoring charts in eight seasons out of nine from 1955-1964, and was one of the scorers as Reading's-first ever match under floodlights at Elm Park was broadcast live on the BBC in a 3-0 victory against French side, Racing Club de Paris.

Wheeler scored a sensational 31 times in 40 games to help Reading secure survival by finishing 18th in the 1960-61 Division Three season, and in the last match of the 1963-64 season, he scored all four goals for Reading as they swept Southend United aside.

However, it would be one of his last major contributions as a professional.

While he had been on course to become Reading's record goal-scorer, he suffered a broken leg at Barnsley the following season which scuppered his chances of doing so.

Despite this signalling the end of his professional playing days, Wheeler was promoted to become Reading's assistant manager under Roy Bentley, in a time which saw him coach and captain the Royals' reserve side.

Wheeler and Reading's youthful reserves were an exciting side to watch, with the 1965-66 season seeing the young Royals have a run of just one loss in 18 matches on their way to winning the Football Combination Second Division title - with that defeat coming as a result of Gillingham playing their full first team in the hope of stopping Reading's march.

Such was the excitement surrounding the reserves' exploits under Jimmy's tutelage, their title-clinching match against Bournemouth saw more than 5,000 supporters come to Elm Park - which had eclipsed Reading's three previous first team league attendances.

Jimmy's management skills did not go unnoticed, and he took the reins as manager of Bradford City in 1968 to bring to an end a 20-year association with Reading Football Club.

His first season at Valley Parade saw the Bantams promoted from Division Four with a club-record 21-match unbeaten run, and would spend two more seasons in West Yorkshire before resigning from his only management role in football.

In a statement, Reading said: “We would like to pass on our heartfelt condolences to Jimmy's family and friends at this difficult time, as we remember one of the greatest players in the history of Reading Football Club.”