Football: Fan's Eye View: Reading - How the FA Cup stopped our rise

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The Independent Online
GENERATIONS OF football fans have been brought up on the magic of the FA Cup. Youngsters dream of scoring at Wembley, while their fathers talk of the giant-killings of yesteryear.

Village teams in the preliminary round hope to make it to the first round proper and play against a real League side. As winter deepens, the villagers give way to the semi-professionals, keen to impress anyone who might ask them to sign for a Premiership club.

As the qualifying rounds progress, players who rely on the game to pay their mortgages develop loftier aims - to reach the third round and meet Manchester United. But there is also a downside.

For teams trying to win promotion or avoid relegation, the FA Cup can be just a midwinter slog. The magic fades quickly when your only decent striker is stretchered off, the opposing team are kicking as many lumps as possible out of your midfielders, and the next round promises another away game at another unglamorous ground.

Last season Reading struggled with a small squad in the First Division. The magic of the Cup for us involved scraping through against Cheltenham and Cardiff, both ties needing replays, before going out to Sheffield United in the dying minutes of the fifth round.

Added to this was a Coca- Cola Cup run lasting into January, which physically drained the players. The result was a disastrous slump, which sent us from 14th in the table in January to 24th a few months later. We finished bottom of the division and were relegated, just in time to celebrate the opening of our new all-seater 25,000 capacity Madejski Stadium.

Instead of big crowds (and big sponsorship) for games against Sunderland or Wolves, Reading have struggled against Wrexham and Wigan.

Last year we weren't going to win the FA Cup, but it is just possible that without injury-inducing matches in the depths of winter we might have avoided the drop. The wonderful new stadium is more than half empty. The town's belief in, and financial input into, its football club is on hold. Reading FC is crying out for real success.

There is one bright spark, however, on the Berkshire skyline. As you look down the fixture list for this season's FA Cup third round you won't find Reading's name mentioned. We were knocked out back in November in the first round.

So no distractions this year. No Cup runs. Just promotion would be nice.

Leave the magic of the Cup to the young and the old. We want more than to gaze at the table where the big clubs feast, we want to join them.