Draped in a blue and white supporter's scarf, Graeme Murty hugged the men loading the kit on to the team bus and high-fived normally staid officials. Reading had just won promotion to the Premiership after 135 years in the lower divisions, but far from simply savouring the moment, their captain was already looking ahead.
Murty, a Scottish full-back who is the club's longest-serving player, planned to mark their arrival among the English élite in time-honoured fashion. "I'm going to be lamped under a bush somewhere," he beamed. "If you see me in Reading later on, just pat me on the head and send me on my merry way. I won't be able to talk to you, but I'll be smiling fairly wide."
The longer term promised to be filled with excitement and fraught with uncertainty, as Leicester, who came close to becoming only the third team to beat the Championship champions-elect, could tell them. Clubs change in character as they begin moving in the company of Manchester United, Chelsea and the rest. When Kevin Doyle scored Reading's late equaliser, it was as if a link to the days of Robin Friday, Trevor Senior, John Arlott cycling 30 miles to watch the "Biscuitmen" at Elm Park, and the fight against merger most foul with Oxford, had been severed.
For the players, the reality is that some will probably not be around to enjoy its fruits. Asked how he fancied the top flight, Murty replied that he had to get in Steve Coppell's team first and planned to "nobble the gaffer to put in a word". Joking aside, he trusted that the players "added to the mix" this summer would be chosen as carefully by Coppell as they were during the last close season.
"I hope he gives a chance to the lads who have got us up," Murty said. "I'm sure he will, but he's a ruthless guy. If you don't cut the mustard, you won't be in the team. The manager and the chairman [John Madejski] say you need to improve the squad to keep your head above water in the Premiership. The lads know that."
Wigan Athletic will be the Royals' role models. The clubs met in last season's final game, Wigan winning to seal promotion when a Reading victory would have put both in the play-offs. "I hate to say defeat is a good thing, but that one may have spurred us on," said Murty. "I don't think we were ready then, but everyone has stepped up this year.
"One of our players, Glen Little, reckons six or seven people have had the season of their lives. When that happens, especially when they're not bothered who gets the credit and are more than willing to share it around, good things can happen.
"We matched Wigan for a long time in this division. Now they're like a breath of fresh air in the Premiership. We said at the start of this season that we'd have to watch them, because we'd have to match whatever they achieved when we went up. They're going to be our inspiration."
Madejski, the Auto Trader magnate whose 15 years at Reading have seen them uproot to a new stadium named after himself, was pleased to have exchanged a hot beach in Goa for a wet afternoon in the East Midlands. Yet the Premiership would be no holiday. Every price "gets a few noughts added to it", he said, and he was looking for "a rich oligarch" to share the burden.
Planning for the future would begin today, he declared grandly before joining the celebrations. The famously downbeat Coppell, whom Murty said "might have raised an eyebrow" if not actually smiled, was looking no further than clinching the title against Derby on Saturday.
A mundane display lacked the quality befitting such status, although being able to dig out a point when below par is not to be sniffed at. Leicester, who are shaping up promisingly under Rob Kelly and may come to view this game as their own "Wigan" moment, led through Iain Hume's stunning volley until Doyle headed Reading into a different world.
Goals: Hume (38) 1-0; Doyle (85) 1-1.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Henderson; Stearman, McCarthy, Kisnorbo, Johansson; Maybury, Williams, Gudjonsson, Hughes; Hume (Welsh, 84), Fryatt (O'Grady, 78). Substitutes not used: Douglas (gk), Gerrbrand, Hammond.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Oster (Long, 61), Gunnarsson (Sidwell, 61), Harper, Convey (Hunt, 80); Doyle, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Makin.
Referee: C Penton (Sussex).
Booked: Leicester Hume; Reading Gunnarsson, Ingimarsson.
Man of the match: Hume.
The next Wigan? The lowdown on Reading
* How do they beat you? With only 26 Championship goals conceded, they are built on a solid base - the US World Cup goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and centre-backs Ibrahima Sonko and Ivar Ingimarsson. In midfield, Steve Sidwell and James Harper - both Arsenal graduates - should adapt well to the Premiership. And Dave Kitson, Leroy Lita and Kevin Doyle have scored 41 League goals between them this season.
* How do you beat them?
One of their biggest problems will be strength - or weakness - in depth. The Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, has made fewest substitutions in the Premiership this season, but Reading's Steve Coppell may find himself with even fewer resources on the bench.
* So can they do a Wigan? It depends on how much money the owner, John Madejski, gives Coppell. Cash will be available - but will it be enough?Reuse content