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Come On You Royals!!!

No, not the Kansas City Royals, I am writing about Reading's Royals and this is not an article about a minor-league baseball or hockey team it is about my favorite club soccer team on the precipice of playing on England's biggest stage. Reading Football Club, currently fighting to get back in the playoff hunt in England's second division, are poised to face Premiership giants Manchester City Football Club on Sunday, March 13th in the FA Cup quarter-final. If the Royals can somehow take down Man City they will be among the final four teams playing at Wembley Stadium in a winner-take all tournament to bring home England's oldest piece of hardware.

So why am I blogging about it on rotowire? I used to be just like you. A typical U.S. sports fan wrapped up in the NFL, MLB, NHL and a bit of NBA. But something changed in the last ten years, let me tell you my story and you will see how I wound up here.

Some would say I choose Reading as my club, but just as likely Reading choose me to be a supporter. I played football (soccer) with Marcelo Balboa back in Jr. High School (1979/1980). When I discovered a decade later that he had made the U.S. National Team I started watching the World Cup. This was in 1990. I started off a follower of the World Cup and would cheer for the US, England and Ireland (I have both English and Irish heritage). Then in 2006 after the World Cup I decided that it was silly to wait every four years to watch the beautiful game and wanted to support a team in the Premiership. Plus, Balboa had retired and was now in broadcasting.

So I looked over the Prem teams and immediately eliminated the top four. I am not a front-runner and I found the idea of supporting Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool revolting. When I came to Reading everything started to make sense why they should be my team. They were new to the Premiership (as I would be), they had two Americans (winger Bobby Convey and keeper Marcus Hanhemann, who was from Seattle and a Seahawks fan like me), they had three Irish players in the team (Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt and Shane Long), hearing Steve Coppell talk was like listening to a General you would go into battle with full confidence following. Finally, watching the clips of what how they played in the championship sealed it. They played the game the right way, using an attacking brand of football that was exciting and fun to watch.

So that was my team. You have to understand that I picked my football team the same way as a 9-year old living in Los Angeles in 1976. The Seahawks were new to the NFL, their QB (#10, I still use seahawk10 as a username on many a forum) was from my hometown of Cerritos, CA. He was a lefty like me and once I started to watch them I was hooked. An under-manned Jack Patera coached the way I would have using onsides kicks, fake punts and fake field goals, doing anything he could to bring home the win. I have been a loyal Seahawk fan ever since despite living thousands of miles away and having to watch them from afar. It is much easier these days with the NFL Package and the internet.

So I started to watch Reading FC games on Fox Soccer Channel, a few months later I found their fan forum Hob Nob Anyone?, and now I try and tune in to BBC Radio Berkshire every Friday to listen to current players be interviewed and to learn about Reading's past. It was disappointing when they were demoted from the Premiership back to the Coca-Cola Championship in 2008. But they resisted the temptation to splash the cash and go deep into debt like so clubs have these days. They have followed a frugal path to re-build their team. Selling players off when their value is high and purchasing bargain players when their value is low. In many ways they are following a 'Moneyball' style of team building in order to balance the books while at the same time putting a solid and fun team on the field.
 
Long gone are the members of the 2005/2006 squad the won promotion. Goodbye Bobby Convey (never recovered from a knee injury), Marcus Hanhemann (let go when his contract was too expensive), Kevin Doyle (sold off to the Wolverhampton Wanderers when it was clear we could not bounce back up right away to the Prem), Stephen Hunt, Dave Kitson, Glen Little, etc. There are only a few players left from the last Premiership team of 2007/2008. Shane Long has emerged as Reading's top striker, after spending most of his time as a super sub on the prem team he has realy come into his own on this team leading them with 20 goals scored on the season. Also still at the club are Ivar Ingimarsson and Bynjar Gunnarsson. Both of them up in years but still capable of putting in a good performance for the club.
 
Reading is in the quarter-finals for the second year in a row. Last year Reading took out Premiership giants Liverpool before falling to Aston Villa despite a 2-0 lead at halftime. This year, the Royals have taken down two Premiership sides on its way to the quarter final, 1-0 wins over both West Brom  and Everton. I am already proud of my Royals for getting into the final eight of a competition that started with an amazing 762 clubs (any club can enter the F.A. Cup from amateur ranks all the way up to the Premiership). But very few are giving Reading a chance this weekend. Manchester City has spent upwards of £200m on transfers alone this year along with a £100m wage bill while Reading FC had to sell its best young player in Gylffi Siggurdsson for £7m in order to balance their ledger.
But while this may look like an impossible feat to the accountants the game is played on the pitch. I will be glued to my television set this Sunday and I hope we get a few more neutrals to join our side as we attempt to defy the odds and live another day. Come on you Royals! URZ!

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