Book Review: Roy Bentley's Stationary Club
Roy Bentley’s Stationary Club
by Roger Titford
Published by Further Thought
In his seminal volume, The Football Grounds of England Wales published in the late 1980s, Simon Inglis described Reading FC’s then stadium Elm Park as possibly the least interesting in the league and that’s also reflected by how many fans in the wider football community regard the club as a whole. Indeed, there is a twitter feed devoted to highlighting the Berkshire outfit as the exemplar of dowdiness, updated many times weekly with the spluttering of opposing supporters.
Roger Titford’s new book Roy Bentley’s Stationary Club will do little to rectify that impression. A truly curious exercise that probably does more to highlight the possibilities of self-publishing as anything else, the author takes a six-year period in Reading’s history and places it under the microscope. What’s odd about that, you may ask? After all, Paolo Condo devoted a whole book to just a few short months in the history of Real Madrid and Barcelona and microhistory is a valid approach these days.
Well the volume is odd because the years between 1963 and 1969 were almost superhumanly uneventful for Reading Football Club – hence the book’s title. Under the stewardship of the former Chelsea and England man, Roy Bentley, Reading were noteworthy for their lack of progress. Indeed, I was reminded of an observation my Dad made to me when I was small that Reading would generally expect to finish in the top 10 of the English third tier season after season, thus being a good team to support and one a fan could count on to provide happiness at a quarter to five on the Saturday more weeks than most.
But this is a tough sell over the space of a book. Sure, there are observations to be made about the influence of petty local businessmen at board level, an age before the play-offs were introduced where a season’s outcome would often be known as early as November, and the way the swinging sixties passed most ordinary towns and the people in them by.
Aside from mildly eyebrow raising facts such as the number of Reading players of the time who would go on to sire famous offspring (Martin Allen, Neil Webb), the book is surely one for completists and the information therein, carefully gleaned from a spectacular collection of press cuttings, will be of less significance to the history of the game than a previous volume Titford published on the early years of the club at the turn of the previous century.
It’s tricky enough to persuade the current generation of social media animals to take an interest in the 1990s, let alone a decade that is very distant indeed and the lack of trophies and events really compound this. Titford, a When Saturday Comes regular, writes in exemplary fashion with flashes of low-key humour but one wonders whether he should have sat back and held back his various projects to provide a definitive, sweeping overview of Reading Football Club as a whole. With the 150 year anniversary of the team’s founding approaching in 2021, that surely would have been a better project. Maybe he has it up his sleeve?