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150 Years of Berkshire Football

Posted in Articles on 01 Apr 2023

Football has long been the sport of choice for many. Berkshire as a county is fortunate to be home to two particularly long running football clubs, with Reading FC and Maidenhead United both having been founded over 150 years ago. As you may imagine, there have been plenty of opportunities for the local newspapers to report on these clubs during their lifetime, including their early matches, moving into new grounds, or simply just keeping their readers appraised of the results.

Starting with the older club (which some may be surprised to learn is Maidenhead United), the Reading Mercury reported on their first match in their 24 December 1870 edition. The team, which had been formed only that season, took on Windsor Home Park in what resulted in a goalless draw. The Reading Mercury was full of praise for the less experienced side however, describing them as having ‘plenty of pluck and determination’ whilst assuring readers that they would gain the experience which Windsor already had. Additionally, it appears that the team were without a captain for this game as he was ‘absent through illness’ with responsibilities falling on the deputy-captain, Mr Goulden.

There were clearly high hopes for the new Maidenhead United as an impressive crowd of spectators observed the match. Amongst their number were two reverends, the Mayor (R. Walker Esq.) ‘and a large number of ladies’. Maidenhead United’s debut match can be nicely summed up as ‘they could not be called victors, yet they were not defeated’. Regardless of the result, it seems that there was a great deal of hope and positive energy surrounding the fledgling team.

It would not take long for Maidenhead United to move into the grounds that they still play at today: York Road. The Reading Mercury reported on their first game at this new ground on 18 February 1871. By this time, Mr Goulden had been promoted to captain of the team and led his side to a 2-0 victory against Great Marlow. Although the exact numbers are unclear, it appears that this game had a larger audience that their initial match, with over 1000 people being cited as attending. The first goal of the match is enthusiastically reported on when it ‘was well kicked by S. Plumbe, jun., the ball passing between three or four who were guarding the goal, causing great excitement’. Clearly, the initial enthusiasm for the club had continued throughout their debut season.

Reading Football Club newsletter August 1998 ref. D/EX2148/8/3

Moving West, the Berkshire Chronicle dedicated a fair amount of space to Reading FC in its 5 September 1896 edition. Despite having been formed on Christmas Day 1871, the club did not move into its Elm Park ground until the start of this season. A celebration to mark the start of the new season was held in the Town Hall on 31 August 1896. This appears to have been a cheery affair with toasts being raised to ‘The Reading Football Club’. There was also celebration of the club having made progress over the previous calendar year and attracting ‘many of their old supporters, who left them when professionalism was adopted’. This support was certainly evident in a practice match played by the team in Palmer Park a few days earlier when ‘more than two thousand spectators’ turned out to watch.

Over 100 years later, the Reading Evening Post (24 August 1998 edition) was reporting on Reading Football Club moving into a new ground. This time it would be into the Madejski Stadium, where the team debuted with a 3-0 victory over Luton Town. Whilst the Post does lament the fact that the club’s chairman, John Madejski, was not among the 18,000 present, it also sings the praises of the new ground. It is described as ‘a magnificent feat of engineering’, having taken little over a year to build. The Post compares the move from Elm Park to ‘moving home from a one-bedroom flat to Buckingham Palace’. Quite the upgrade! The team made sure that it was a celebratory occasion, securing their first win of the season with goals by Grant Brebner, Jim McIntyre and Robert Fleck. It seems that it was necessary to delay the kick-off of the match ‘to give latecomers the chance to take their positions’, maybe indicating at some teething problems with the new stadium. Regardless, it certainly marked a momentous occasion in the history of The Royals.

Local newspapers have clearly had a long tradition of reporting sports and especially football. It makes sense that they would bring the results and important events of local teams to their supporters. In doing so, they now hold an interesting look back on the history of two of Britain’s oldest football clubs.

The Berkshire Record Office holds Ephemeral Records for Reading Football Club (D/EX2148) including match programmes from as far back as 1948. Our reference library also holds several books on the history of the club and it’s grounds.