On New Year's Day the chant rang around the Madejski Stadium. "Shorey for England," sang the home supporters as Reading destroyed West Ham United, with left-back Nicky Shorey playing a part in four of the six goals put past the club he supported as a child. "It was great to get plaudits like that from your own fans," Shorey recalls. "I love it and I'd love to play for England. I think that is some way off - but for the fans to recognise you in that light is good enough."
Recognition is arriving thick and fast at Reading this season. Shorey; midfielder Steve Sidwell; striker Kevin Doyle - all are being fêted. But personal accolades are quickly shot down. Not least by the deadpan manager, Steve Coppell, who has brushed aside talk of international call-ups for his players.
"The only thing the gaffer is worried about is the team, and he stresses that to everyone," Shorey says. "He keeps you grounded and that's the way it has to be at a club like Reading. We know where we have come from and we are not trying to get above our station. We have a long way to go still and are just trying to get those footholds."
Shorey knows more than most. His story is an encouragement to every footballer who dreams of working his way through the system. "There's a market out there for players to come through the lower Leagues," he says. "You have to give people their chance if they are doing well."
Having trained with West Ham, the Romford-born def-ender signed as a professional with Leyton Orient only to find his path to the first team blocked. "They had a good left-back, Matt Lockwood," he recalls. "He's still there - I'm surprised he hasn't moved, because I couldn't see myself getting in front of him."
Shorey, whose father Steve was formerly a scout at Orient and became Reading's academy recruitment officer in 2004, made 16 appearances for the east London club, mainly in midfield. It gave him a "great grounding" before a week-long trial at Reading allowed him his chance. He impressed, and the then manager, Alan Pardew, paid £25,000 for his services. That was six years ago. Shorey was immediately put on a weights programme to build himself up by Pardew and is effusive in his praise for the man now in charge of Charlton (who he hopes will stay up) having been sacked by West Ham.
The 26-year-old has now played in all four divisions. The Premiership, he says, was always a "very distant dream". Shorey adds: "It's unbelievable finally to get here. I just want to enjoy it and stay here for the remainder of my career." The plan is to do that with Reading, although Shorey acknowledges that he is "still not quite used to the step- up in notch" from the Championship. "You don't know quite what to expect," he says, "but I've enjoyed it and that's been the key to our success."
An added bonus for Shorey, who made the PFA Champion-ship Team of the Year last season and has been watched by a host of clubs, is the faith that Coppell has shown in the players who earned promotion. "It's pretty much the same team that did so well last season and it's refreshing that the gaffer has given us our chance in the division," Shorey says. Indeed the back four, with Shorey alongside Graeme Murty, Ibrahima Sonko and Ivar Ingimarsson, has remained intact. "He's not just spent money and replaced us," Shorey says of Coppell. "He's given us the opportunity and we're trying to repay him."
Inflated prices have also played their part, showing the wisdom of Reading's policy to trawl for talent. "The money in the transfer market is unbelievable," Shorey says. "So it's a bit of that and a bit of faith that the club has shown that we can do well in the Premiership. You always need to freshen it up a bit, but the lads have shown we can hold our own."
And more than that. Today Reading face Everton and are keen to avenge one of their weakest performances of the season so far, when they capitulated at home to the Merseysiders. The paucity of that effort is recalled by Shorey, who ranks Everton's Mikel Arteta as the trickiest opponent he has faced this season - apart from Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Ronaldo was unbelievable. You have to make sure you watch the ball and not his feet," Shorey, recently voted Reading's best-ever left-back by fans, says. How does he think he fared against the Portuguese winger? "Not bad," he replies cautiously before adding: "Obviously he scored three goals against us in two games so it wasn't the best. But you learn playing against players like that."
His education has improved dramatically this season - "They suss you out quickly in this division," he says, quickly adding: "It's a team thing. That's all we are worried about at Reading, making sure the team is right. If one person isn't performing it's not-iced. We all have to do our jobs."
Still, it is hard not to look back at how far Reading have come. "That's incredible," Shorey agrees. "But it's our first season in the Premiership so it's all about staying in there and building on it." Coppell is the key. The manager is about to be offered a new contract and Shorey, who has himself signed up to June 2009, hopes it is agreed quickly. "He's a massive part of Reading. You can't put into words how good a job he has done to take this club to the Premiership. I still find it hard to believe."Reuse content