See the fear in their eyes as they contemplate a football world turned upside down; Reading's once laughable low-lifes in the Premiership and their plush stands about, maybe, to welcome Wycombe.
Can the Royals make it to the Premiership? To the surprise of almost everybody but the manager, Mark McGhee, Reading are currently in the highest league position in their history: second in the First Division.
There will be no consolidation, no fatalism and no reserve team, says McGhee. 'No reserve team?' query the fans. 'Even Hereford have got a reserve team.' And look where they are. Without a reserve team the club suffers fewer injuries and suspensions but gets more time for coaching. And, like most other things McGhee tries, it seems to work.
Reading won last year's Second Division Championship with a stylish but ageing team, the better portion of which fell out of contract during the summer. In an unprecedented move, Reading actually managed to re-sign the players who had won them promotion. But that alone does not account for this season's success. The tactics have been revamped, to place a greater emphasis on possession, and new players have been found. Found, not bought by the million-pound load. All right, money did change hands; a mere pounds 130,000 for four first-team players, two of whom, Dariusz Wdowczyk and Andy Bernal, are internationals. We didn't expect that.
Neither did we expect to sign an American college graduate as goalkeeper nor a German striker long before they became fashionable. But we have Shaka Hislopand Uwe Hartenberger. Nor did we expect Daley Thompson. Nor to get involved in club-versus-country wrangles. Elm Park's quite a cosmopolitan place these days and I'm not sure what kind of team we could put out in European competitions . . . Okay, I'm indulging in some wishful thinking.
For two or three years the fans have existed in a contented, fanzine-less semi-stupor, but enthusiasm is at last building. The average gate is already up about 1,500 on last season and there is a new fanzine, Heaven 11, more positively titled than the late Elm Park Disease. But really there has been nothing serious to complain about since the chairman, John Madejski, rescued the club from financial ruin four years ago.
There is, however, one very large fly heading towards our ointment: the Taylor Report. Elm Park, at 98, is the oldest League ground in the South.
Its guise has changed from 'one of the best-appointed lower division grounds holding 30,000' to 'rickety and antiquated, capacity 13,000'. But nothing else there has changed since 1957. The club is pursuing a move to the edge of town and unlikely to increase Elm Park's 2,200 seats in the meantime. Our grace from all-seaterdom lasts until 1997.
If Reading's dreams of Premiership football come true before then, and especially if it is seen to be at the expense of one of the giants, then there will be a few baleful eyes cast in our direction by football's 'haves'. What is a club with no history and 11,000 standing places doing in the new, gold-plated elite? Would it be allowed to stay there? I've no expectations, no predictions, just a new-found relish for dreams.Reuse content