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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 18:07 GMT
History in the making for Downs
By John May

Reading historian David Downs
David Downs knows what the Essence of Reading is
Reading's club historian David Downs has one of the more unusual souvenirs of their 1988 Simod Cup win sitting on his shelf.

It really is the Essence of Reading FC, but you would not want a dab of it behind your ears.

"I wanted to get a souvenir but the players wanted to keep their shirts," Downs explained to BBC Sport.

"So I talked to the lady who washed the kit and asked her to fill a bottle with the water as I thought that was the next best thing.

"It's a murky brown colour and there's a sediment at the bottom. But it contains the blood and sweat and dirt off all the shirts."

Downs has been hooked on Reading since his dad took him to his first game at Elm Park in 1949 at the age of six.

"Reading lost 2-0 to Port Vale but I loved every minute of it," says Downs.

We were so short of players we had to ask the coach driver to play
Reading historian David Downs

In his 57-year marriage to the club, Downs has tasted bitter disappointment which will make Reading's promotion to the Premiership all the sweeter.

"The low points have been the relegations, and there have been a few of them.

"The centenary year of 1971 should have been one of celebration but we were relegated down to the old Division Four for the first time in the club's history.

"Relegation was confirmed on the last day of the season at Aston Villa through an own goal by Terry Bowden, who had been voted player of the year by supporters."

There have been light moments in the club's darkest days.

"I used to help Bobby Williamson with the reserves and once at Portsmouth we were so short of players we had to ask the coach driver to play.

"He was probably our best player but he never drove our coach again. I think he was worried he would be called on to play again.

"That, though, showed the dire straits the club was in at the time."

Former Reading goalkeeper Steve De'ath
Steve De'ath is David Downs' favourite player

Downs insists he has never sought the mantle of club historian he was given after writing the club's history, Biscuits and Royals, in 1978.

He has written other books on Reading's greatest players, and his newest effort is due out soon, which chronicles the history of Reading's managers.

"It's called Aborigine Biplanes and the Crusades. Hopefully such an unusual title means it will be picked up by people who might otherwise not look at a football book."

Downs has little hesitation in naming his favourite Reading player down the years.

"It has to be Steve Death. He was a goalkeeper but only stood 5ft 7ins tall and he set a Football League record of 11 consecutive games without conceding a goal," says Downes, who inevitably has a tale about the keeper.

"In 1976, he was in dispute with the club and refused to travel with the first team to Gillingham.

"The reserve keeper was injured so I went round to Steve's flat to try and persuade him to play.

I got permission from the club to camp out in the centre circle after the last game
David Downs
"He was in bed listening to the radio with his pet greyhound lying across the bottom of the bed.

"But after about 10 minutes he agreed to play so I drove him to Gillingham where he played a blinder in a 2-2 draw."

It is not difficult to work out what Downs sees as the most important moment in Reading's history.

"That has to be the appointment of John Madejski as chairman. Until his appointment we were a run-of-the-mill third division club.

"I suppose the second most important moment was Steve Coppell's appointment as manager.

"We've had some good managers down the years but by definition he's been the only one able to get us into the top flight."

To say that Reading is an obsession with Downs is an understatement.

"I was on a football tour of Jersey and was desperate to find out the result of Reading's midweek game at Wolves," he adds.

Reading's old Elm Park ground
Elm Park, David Downs' favourite campsite
"I tried everything, I phoned the local paper, radio station, and in complete desperation, saw a notice in the hotel which said: "In despair? Call the Samaritans."

"I did but they couldn't find the result. I must have sounded despondent because the lady operator said: 'you won't do anything silly now, will you?'"

Downs found his own way to mark the passing of Elm Park when Reading moved to the Madejski Stadium in 1998.

"I got permission from the club to camp out in the centre circle after the last game. At midnight, I played a recording of Verdi's 'Requiem'."

But now, Reading's club historian has got a piece of history to record, and he is ready for a whole new chapter.

"I still won't believe it until it happens. The thought of Reading playing the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool on a regular basis is unbelievable.

"I will enjoy every second of it."




SEE ALSO
Leicester 1-1 Reading
25 Mar 06 |  Championship
Coppell pays tribute to players
25 Mar 06 |  Reading
Reading's rags to riches
25 Mar 06 |  Reading
Royal seal of approval
24 Mar 06 |  Reading
Jason Roberts column
23 Mar 06 |  Football
Royals ascent
21 Mar 06 |  Reading


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