Football: Burns makes a day and night of it

Deadline diary: How a new manager won his race against the clock; Stephen Brenkley charts a week of many comings as Reading try to change their fortunes
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The Independent Online
AT 4.55pm on Thursday one of Britain's shortest professional footballers raced into the offices at Elm Park. There were five minutes and counting until the transfer deadline for the 1997-98 season. Paul Brayson had to demonstrate the sharp and classy turn of foot which, it is hoped, will enhance Reading's attack sufficiently to extract them from the mire of the First Division.

He reached the desk and signed the registration documents making him a former Newcastle player. The clock seemed to be gaining speed by now but the overworked facsimile machine performed its duty one more time. The line to the Football Association's headquarters was clear and the 5ft 4in forward became his new club's seventh signing of a frenetic day.

Those scanning the list of deadline deals could be forgiven for thinking that they were only reading Reading. There were six permanent transfers, involving a total of pounds 780,000, and one loan signing until the end of the season. All were orchestrated by a man who had been the manager for only two days.

"It was a gut instinct," said Tommy Burns, ex-Celtic boss and more recently Kenny Dalglish's aide at Newcastle. "I could have got one player for that sort of money but I felt that it isn't a situation that can be turned round by one player. It needs more because we need competition for places as well as trying to overcome a long injury list.

"So we decided to go for it. We targeted the players. Believe me the list was longer and there could have been a couple more signings. I've never experienced anything like it in my time in the game and it couldn't have worked if so many people hadn't been willing to do so much."

It was an extraordinary train of events in the life of Reading, whose manager Terry Bullivant, having seen his side plunge to the bottom of the First Division after seven consecutive defeats, resigned last weekend.

Tuesday, 4pm: Burns, youth development officer at Newcastle, officially becomes Reading's manager. He had turned down the job nine months earlier.

Tuesday evening: Burns, having said he will be definitely be strengthening the squad, contacts his long-time friend the Scottish agent Raymond Sparkes. Together they draw up a long list of potential players.

Wednesday, am: The new manager, Sparkes and staff at Reading, including the director Ian Wood-Smith and club secretary Andrea Barker, begin preparing the groundwork. With the club chairman, John Madejski, away in Malaysia several phone calls have to be made there.

Wednesday, pm: The team work long into the night and the list narrows. Sparkes is working his way through the potential Scottish signings favoured by Burns, who is also using his Newcastle connections to to try to recruitplayers who might not figure in the Premiership club's plans but will suit the Royals royally.

Thursday, 7am: Burns is involved in delicate toing and froing phone calls for the signature of Jim McIntyre, a forward he has long admired. Some three hours on he agrees a fee of pounds 440,000 with Kilmarnock, by far the most expensive deal in the entire package.

Thursday, early afternoon: Barker is ploughing her way through copious amounts of paper work as well as ensuring transport and accommodation for the new players. The list is beginning to take final shape with three Newcastle players - Brayson, Chicago-born midfielder Jimmy Crawford and loan recruit Paddy Kelly - all lined up. Motherwell goalkeeper Scott Howie and a former Burns protege, Stuart Gray from Celtic, complete the contingent from north of the border. And Robert Fleck has arrived from Norwich.

Thursday, late afternoon: It is suddenly realised that Brayson has not actually put pen to paper. He has to be rushed from the Royals' training ground to complete his move.

Thursday, 5.30pm: All done and dusted. Reading hold a press conference for an astounded local media. "The Brayson one was very close," said Barker. "Everything else went smoothly but there were some complications with the Scottish deals with loans arrangements with other clubs to be sorted out. I wouldn't like to be doing it every day."

Having spent two days on the phone Burns then had to begin coaching his team for yesterday's decidedly tough match at Ipswich. In selecting the likely signings he had already decided who might fit into the team. It was not simply a case of filling positional weaknesses ("I'd have been happy with three if they had been in the areas we're really short") but of trying to ensure they will gel as a unit.

"That's my job now," Burns explained. "I know there's very little time but I'll be spending the next month on the training pitch with my players, not sitting behind a desk. We've got some good players here. I've already been impressed with Darren Caskey and I'm sure he can be a top player. The team needed refreshing more than anything else. Players need to be pushed for their place."

Yesterday: Reading lose 1-0 at Ipswich, with two players sent off - both formerly of Ipswich.

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