Reading changed their nickname from the Biscuitmen to the Royals.
If you had to make a list of opposition clubs Albion fans, on the whole, aren’t particularly fond of, Reading would be near the top.
Everything was going fairly swimmingly until the Royals moved to the Madjeski Stadium 1998. Prior to the move, the club contested its home games at Elm Park – described by the godfather of football stadia literature Simon Inglis as ‘nondescript’ and ‘the least interesting ground in the entire league’.
Almost as far away from the town centre as the Mad Stad, Elm Park was a crushingly dull arena, bereft of any redeeming features whatsoever, other than the knowledge that Robin Friday (a mercurial striker of sublime talent who retired, aged just 25) would enjoy a couple of pints in the pub opposite, directly before playing 90 minutes for the Biscuitmen, the club’s former nickname in deference to the local factory whose tasty fumes used to waft over the ground.
The move to the out-of-town Madjeski – named after the club chairman, founder of Autotrader and one-time companion of Cilla Black, John Madjeski – saw an upturn in fortunes on the pitch, and a significant rise in crowds from the previous ground’s Withdeanesque attendances.
New Reading fans, much like the Albion’s, were called ‘plastic’ due to their new-found allegiance as Premier League pub goers ditched faux indignation towards a television screen for painting their faces, wearing half-and-half scarves and donning tight replica kits.
Albion have enjoyed some cracking encounters with the Berkshire outfit over the years. In 2001/2, with both clubs tussling at the top of League One, Alan Pardew’s men were welcomed to the Theatre of Trees by a torrential February rainstorm. Bobby Zamora, Steve Melton and Junior Lewis hit the target with memorable strikes as the Royals were convincingly beaten 3-1. Just two months later the teams met at a packed Mad Stad and, with the game goalless, Gary Hart netted in the last minute, from an acute angle, to send the 3,500 Albion fans behind the goal nuts. It was disallowed.
Two years later Maheta Molango scored the fastest goal in Albion history – after 12 seconds – and promptly recorded the speediest fall from grace too, never netting for the club again and disappearing from the English game. He now works as a lawyer and plies his trade for Unión Adarve in group one of the Preferente de Madrid, level five of the Spanish pyramid.