The summer of 1999 proved a significant turning point in the history of Reading Football Club as the Centre of Excellence became an FA-approved Academy.

25 years later, Reading are one of the most productive youth systems in the country and the ability of coaches, such as Eamonn Dolan and Michael Gilkes, to nurture and produce talented, strong individuals has become a jewel in the club's crown.

To kickstart a summer of Academy anniversary content, take a look below at 25 of the most significant youth products the club have produced in the last quarter of a century.

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Alex Haddow- Four appearances

It would not be right, when discussing the Academy’s significance, to not start at the beginning. Joining in 1998, Haddow was the first ‘official’ Academy graduate when awarded status by the Football Association in 1999. Making his debut at 16, the midfielder was restricted to just four appearances, but you can never take away the title of ‘the first.’

Darius Henderson- 83 appearances

Incredibly highly rated when bursting through in the early 2000s, Henderson was almost ever-present in the Royals’ promotion-winning campaign of 2001/02. A whopping 71 of his 83 appearances came off the bench, but he continued playing in the EFL into his mid-30s for the likes of Watford and Nottingham Forest.

Peter Castle- One appearance

Similar to Haddow, he may have not made as big a mark as he would have hoped in Berkshire, but he continues to hold a record that will take some beating. Back in 2003, at 16 and 49 days, Castle became the youngest Royals player. 21 years on and it still stands to this day.

Simon Cox- 69 appearances

A youngster trying to make a name for himself during the 2005/06 record-breaking season, he impressed during a pre-season tour to South Kora but failed to break the dominance of Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson, Leroy Lita and Long. Carving a career for himself up and down the EFL with Swindon, West Brom and Nottingham Forest, the Tilehurst lad made an emotional return home in 2014 and top-scored in 2014/15.

Shane Long- 203 appearances

One of many ‘cheat’ graduates on the list where Reading have managed to lure teenagers across to Berkshire shortly before breaking through, Long was famously part of the deal that saw Doyle arrive from Cork City. Remaining in blue and white for six years- picking up one Player of the Season award- the Ireland forward made an emotional return in 2022 after a decade of Premier League football. Only returning two goals in his second spell, the 37-year-old retired a club legend.

Alex Pearce- 240 appearances

One of many to break through following Premier League relegation in 2008, no-nonsense centre-back Pearce was a crucial component on the 2012 Championship-winning team and lifted the Player of the Season honour. Choosing to move on in 2015, the Ireland international ended on a high after captaining the club in their first FA Cup semi-final for 127 years. Someone who embodied the club’s ethos from start to finish, Pearce will always be popular with supporters.

Gylfi Sigurdsson- 51 appearances

The club’s biggest export for a long time, the Icelander burst onto the scene in 2008 and never looked back. 22 goals for the club and a Player of the Season winner, the creative midfielder went on to enjoy a long career at the top of the game with the likes of Tottenham and Everton.

Jem Karacan- 175 appearances

An all-action midfielder who gave his all every time he wore the shirt, Karacan notched nearly a double-century in appearances despite suffering three serious and long-term injuries. Indispensable for Brian McDermott in a successful period for the club, Karacan loves the club, and the club loves him back in return.

Simon Church- 122 appearances

Another who suffered with injuries and was forced to retire earlier than hoped, Church got every ounce he could out of his career through sheer hard work and determination. A Championship winner in a large crop of Academy graduates, the Wales international continued at a strong EFL level after departing in 2012.

Hal Robson-Kanu- 227 appearances

An ever-present for almost a decade, supporters were never quite sure what to expect when Robson-Kanu received the ball. Perhaps now more famous for his international exploits for Wales at Euro 2016, Robson-Kanu achieved great things during the Royals’ golden era.

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Jordan Obita- 191 appearances

Starting out as a winger, it is at left-back where most now associate Obita. Biding his time with a series of loans, Obita picked up Player of the Season in his breakthrough campaign and was ever-present until his departure eight years later. Still proving his talent, the 31-year-old won Player of the Season for Hibernian in Scotland this season.

Alex McCarthy- 75 appearances

A worthy back-up for a long time, his performance during the side’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool in 2013 earned him an England senior team call-up and ensured he remained as number one for the following season. Too good for the Championship, the veteran enjoyed a long Premier League career and helped Southampton return there via the play-offs last month.

Michael Hector- 93 appearances

Sent out on 11 loan spells before making his debut, the strong defender impressed in what was a disappointing 2014/15 season which earned him a big money move to Chelsea. Immediately returning to Berkshire and racking up another 30 appearances, he failed to make the grade at Stamford Bridge but enjoyed a solid EFL career with the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham and Charlton Athletic.

Jake Cooper- 51 appearances

The man mountain burst onto the scene with two goals in a win over Norwich City and never looked back, solidifying himself as a regular during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 campaigns. Deemed surplus to requirements under Jaap Stam, presumably due to his playing style, Bracknell-born Cooper found a home at the Den and has racked up over 300 appearances for Millwall.

Jack Stacey- Six appearances

One of the key mantras of the Academy is that it isn’t just setting the youngsters up for a career at Reading but for a career in football. That applies to some more than others, including Stacey. An electrifying winger when bursting through the youth ranks, opportunities were hard to come by for Stacey under Nigel Adkins, Steve Clarke and Stam.

Making a name for himself on loan with Exeter City, he won promotion in successive seasons when moving permanently to Luton Town. He picked up a third promotion in 2022 with Bournemouth, featuring more than 20 times in the Premier League, and now plays for Norwich City.

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Sam Smith- 48 appearances

Scoring twice in 11 games immediately after breaking through, Smith couldn’t nail down a starting spot for league fixtures and went searching for a chance to prove himself. 35 goals in two years at Cambridge did just that, putting himself in the shop window before rejoining the Royals last summer for League One. Injured from the get-go, the 26-year-old returned with great expectations and responded with 16 goals in a productive final six months.

Rob Dickie- One appearance

Another, like Stacey, who failed to get a shot at Reading after more than a decade rising through the ranks. Sent on loan after loan, the centre-back joined Oxford in 2018 and made a reputation for himself as one of the EFL’s rising stars, winning the club’s Player of the Season in 2021.

QPR forked out a significant fee to pick up the defender, winning Player of the Season for a second successive season. Still highly regarded in the Championship, the 27-year-old has been at Bristol City since last summer.

Omar Richards- 104 appearances

Not many Reading youngsters can say they have won a European trophy, but Richards can after he featured for Olympiacos in their Conference League success. Quick and versatile, Richards had a very successful 2020/21 campaign and moved to giants Bayern Munich after his contract expired in Berkshire. Winning the Bundesliga in his only year in Germany, the left-back is on the books at Nottingham Forest but is still awaiting his debut.

Liam Kelly- 94 appearances

Diminutive in stature, the midfielder was a classy passer of the ball and suited Stam football down to the ground. Following Stam to Feyenoord in 2019, his Dutch spell failed to bring the success he had hoped and lower league football with the likes of Oxford and Rochdale followed. Joining Crawley Town last summer, the 28-year-old scored and assisted at Wembley as the Red Devils earned promotion to League One last month.

Andy Rinomhota- 188 appearances

Moving as a teenager from Yorkshire, Rinomhota did not take long to work through the Under-18s and Under-21s to become a regular in the first team. Earning the Player of the Season vote in 2019, arguably 2020/21 was even stronger as he made a formidable midfield partnership with Josh Laurent under Veljko Paunovic. Moving on in 2022, the Zimbabwe international has failed to nail down a spot at Cardiff City and spent the second portion of the season on loan with relegated Rotherham United.

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Tom Holmes- 129 appearances

Barring a short period on loan in Belgium, Reading-born Holmes has spent the entirety of his career with his hometown club. Plenty of ups and a few downs, the centre-back was given his fairytale farewell in front of more than 18,000 supporters on the final day of last season as he departed to join Luton Town.

Tom McIntyre- 120 appearances

Another who bleeds blue and white, for many it is hard to imagine a team which does not include one of the ‘two Tom’s.’ Now playing for Portsmouth after his January switch to Fratton Park, injuries are the only obstacles in the defender’s path to progression.

Danny Loader- 35 appearances

Hyped up as the next big star out of the Academy, a few cameos and some out-of-position chances are all the Reading-born striker was given. On track to seal a big-money move to Wolves in 2019, he ultimately walked away for free to Portuguese giants Porto in 2020. Now more commonly known as Danny Namaso, 23-year-old has been a regular feature domestically and in Europe.

Michael Olise- 73 appearances

The jewel in the club’s crown, Reading picked Olise up after spells with Chelsea and Manchester City. Clearly talented from the beginning, his real breakthrough came in 2020/21 when the attacking midfielder notched seven goals and 12 assists, earning him the EFL Young Player of the Year award. Not hanging around in Berkshire for long, the youngster has lit up the Premier League for Crystal Palace in the last two seasons and is being tipped for a mega move this summer.

Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan- 57 appearances

Tall and strong, Ehibhatiomhan has all the attributes to go far. Limited to nine appearances last season, the 21-year-old was trusted this time around and repaid it by the bucket load. 11 goals in 47 appearances was a strong return this early in his career, not to mention the quality of some of the strikes themselves.