Reporting the Royals- ITV Meridian's Dave Reilly looks back at his time following Reading FC

The Royals played their first ever game on 21 February 1872.

Television wasn’t around in those early years but ITV’s regional has been following the team for many decades. Two of our Sports Reporters take a look back at their time covering the club and what it meant to them.  

First up, David Reilly, who was the ITV News Meridian Reading FC reporter from 2002 to 2009. (Click here to read about Sarah Gomme’s time with the club, from 2009 to present). 

You never forget your first football match, and mine was Reading v Preston North End in 1990.

I’d already been indoctrinated by my Dad to support another team by then, so the thrill of a 3-3 draw in Division 3 didn’t convert me but the thrill of going to a real game was something I’d never forget.  

Growing up in Tadley, the club invited my local team to Elm Park, a couple of times, to take part in their ‘Beat the Keeper’ half time challenges, so I got to score in front of the Tilehurst End – which no-one will remember but me!

The Royals’ rise started with Sir John Madejski investing in the club, on and off the pitch.

Club legends, Jimmy Quinn and Mick Gooding, guided the team to what is now The Championship, in 1994, and they had one foot in the Premier League the following year - the streamlining of the top flight and that ill-fated play-off defeat to Bolton Wanderers. 

The new stadium opened in 1998 and by the time Alan Pardew left in 2003, the club had become a strong, ambitious second-tier team.

I had started working at Meridian now and, got to interview former Premier League players, like Luke Chadwick, Les Ferdinand and Martin Keown.

This showed their ambition but I still didn’t think they’d actually make it into the Premier League. It’s Reading!  

I had watched my ITV colleague, Chris Maughan, reporting on the Royals since I was a kid, so it was amazing to have him mentor me.

After he’d seen that I could do pre-match interviews, he started letting me go to games and producing my own reports and sports slots. 

On 6 August 2005, I witnessed a Reading team, which I thought was on the rise, lose 2-1 to Plymouth. I remember walking down from the Press Box thinking, “same old Reading!” How wrong was I?!  

After that game, Steve Coppell’s side only lost once more that season and reached 106 points, a record that still hasn’t been broken.

Reading had made it to the top flight…in my lifetime…while I was reporting on them!  

I was lucky enough to be on the open-top bus parade around the town. I remember when we left the depot, the first couple of roads were empty and one of the players said, “Maybe it won’t be as big as we thought.”

We turned the next corner and saw a sea of blue and white – it was like something out of a film. It felt like the whole of Reading had turned out to celebrate what this team had achieved.

The town came out to celebrate promotion to the Premier League in 2012 Credit: PA

The players and coaches definitely felt that pride and love. 

There was only one time that I didn’t feel the love from the manager, Steve Coppell. He wouldn’t even talk to me when he found out we were on the same flight for their pre-season tour of Sweden.

It was a tense first few days but he quickly realised that we weren’t trying to distract or interfere with his players.

In fact, it was a memorable festival of football around Sweden. Whole villages turned out to watch the team play, even if some of the players were worried about the level of opposition, ahead of such an important season.  

In the Premier League, things changed for me as a sports reporter.

On one hand, the press were given a hot meal before a match and pizza at the training ground, but now everyone wanted a piece of the club so informal training ground chats turned into press conferences with Coppell and one player.

It could have meant the fans wouldn’t feel as close to the team but this group of players was happy to chat outside of the world of football, which makes it an even more interesting story, usually. 

Reading’s Press Officers were always brilliant at trusting me with some weird requests, for example: interviewing James Harper while playing table tennis, taking a fan to the training ground to ask questions, and letting me interview players whenever we wanted – I remember, I went to Graeme Murty’s house the day after his wife had given birth!

I hoped the ITV Meridian audience felt like they were getting to know the players and staff, too. 

It felt that everything the Royals touched turned to gold: they finished eighth in their first season in the top flight, just a point from making it into a European competition.

This was a golden era for the club. I still feel proud and privileged to have witnessed it all at such close quarters. I hope the fans felt as though they got to know the team, too.