A 1-1 draw at Leicester is hardly a result to quicken the pulse, but for Reading Saturday’s stalemate was arguably the most exhilarating in their history. After 135 years spent scrapping for crumbs in the lower leagues the Royals will take their place with the aristocrats at the top table of English football. Steve Coppell and his team are fully deserving of the many accolades lauded them this season. They reach the Premiership with a swell of genuine non-partisan support behind them. Credit in equal part to the way they play the game in both technique and spirit.
Steve Coppell is rightly remembered for his endeavours and achievements at Crystal Palace as a hero. During four spells with the club his feats included an FA Cup Final appearance, a third place finish in the original First Division, not forgetting a ZDS Cup triumph. But arguably his greatest achievement came during the post-Goldberg administration. His hands tied by a transfer embargo, Coppell somehow kept a bankrupt team of veterans, obscure trialists and youth team graduates, many of whom would subsequently drop out of League football, from relegation.
A major factor in Reading’s record-breaking season has been the stability of their starting eleven. When players have been injured or suspended replacements have stepped in seamlessly. Focus and motivation have not wavered; there is no ‘I’ in Reading’s team. The ability to meld individual and common objective is often underrated, but Coppell is an expert at managing and inspiring egos – just ask Ian Wright.
Mark Viduka extolled the virtues of Guus Hiddink recently, drawing particular attention to the motivational powers of the Dutch coach. “I’ve never dealt with a person who has his type of ability to be able to get every single player, even those on the bench, to be 100% willing to go out and die for the team,” Viduka said. Coppell enjoys a similar ability to unify a squad and inspire a powerful team performance.
In 1992 Coppell took Crystal Palace into the inaugural Premier League season. In preparation Palace reinforced their squad with the signing of two non-league players, Martyn O’Conner and Stuart Massey, who made a total of 7 first team appearances. Ron Noades was Palace chairman at the time, a visionary to whom the words “speculate to accumulate” are almost blasphemous. Palace got what they paid for that season and were relegated. They have not spent more than one consecutive year in the top flight since.
The encouraging Premiership performances of West Ham and Wigan this season provide hope for any promoted team. Reading will need to strengthen, of that there is no doubt. If John Madjeski grasps the purse strings as tightly as Ron Noades they could struggle. But the majority of neutrals will hope they do not “do a Sunderland.’ With Steve Coppell at the helm it is unlikely that they will.