STEPHEN STRATTON explains why he believes the Irish striking duo, who came as a 2-for-1 package, were Reading’s finest ever acquisitions.
Reading have had great success in the 21st century with bargain signing; Nicky Shorey from Leyton Orient for £25,000 in 2001, made over 250 for the Royals and represented England on two occasions and was the first Reading player to be capped by England since Herbert Smith in 1907. Or Dave Kitson, bought for £150,000 from Cambridge in 2003, scored over 50 goals for the club, helped secure promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history before being sold to Stoke City for £5.5million. However, in my opinion, the greatest transfer in Reading’s history has been that of Kevin Doyle.
Reading went into the 2005/6 season having finished one place outside the play-offs for the second consecutive season. The summer saw a number of players leave the club including strikers Shaun Goater, Les Ferdinand and Nicky Forster. With reinforcements required, Leroy Lita became the club’s first £1million signing with his arrival from Bristol City; less heralded was the arrival of a little known forward from Cork City. Reading paid Cork City roughly £78,000 to take the 22-year-old from the Emerald Isle. Doyle started his career as a winger but was converted into a striker with great success, leaving Cork with a league winners’ medal and a record of 25 goals in 76 games.
Doyle was signed predominantly to be understudy to Kitson and Lita but took his chance scoring 19 goals in his debut season, winning the club’s player of the year award, as well as being named Championship Fans’ Player of the Year and being included in the PFA’s Team of the Year. Doyle’s personal efforts also helped Reading win the league with a record points total of 106, with the Irishman scoring the equaliser at Leicester City which confirmed promotion.
The 2006/7 season saw Reading confound critics to earn an 8th place finish. Doyle scored 13 goals, including the opener in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, rounding off a 3-1 win against Tottenham and a brace in the 6-0 rout of West Ham. He would end up being nominated for the PFA’s Young Player of the Year alongside Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas.
After relegation Reading needed to offload players so Doyle was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers for £6.5million. His 4-year stay at Reading had resulted in 55 goals in 157 appearances, not bad for a £78,000 signing. Did I mention that included Shane Long? That’s right, Kevin Doyle and Shane Long for £78,000.
While Doyle was ready for the first team at Reading, Long was just 18-years-old and had only made one appearance for Cork City before crossing the Irish Sea. Long was also a talented hurler; he appeared in two All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship (Under 18) semi-finals for Tipperary at Croke Park. While at the Leesiders, Long was managed by Pat Dolan who recommended the youngster to his brother, Royals’ Academy Manager Eamonn Dolan.
In Long’s first season at the club he played a played a minor role but contributed with three crucial goals including the equaliser against Derby which maintained Reading’s record breaking unbeaten run to 26 matches. While Long continued his development in the Premier League, mainly as back up to Doyle, it was once his compatriot left for Wolves in 2008 that he was considered a regular.
Following Brendan Rodgers’ ill-fated six month spell in charge at the start of the 2009-10 season Reading recovered their league form to finish mid-table. In the FA Cup Long won a penalty and scored an extra time winner in a famous victory over Liverpool at Anfield. The Royals made it to the quarter finals and were 45 minutes away from the semi-finals after a double from Shane Long meant Reading led 2-0 at half-time. However, it wasn’t to be as a John Carew hat-trick ensured Aston Villa progressed to Wembley.
The following year, Brian McDermott’s first full season in charge saw an upturn in the club’s league form; It was also Long’s most successful in the hooped shirt. A return of 21 goals helped the Royals to a fifth place finish meaning the lottery of the play-offs again. In the semi-finals two more goals from Long saw off Cardiff to set up a final at Wembley against Swansea City, managed by former Reading boss Rodgers. The match ended in heartache for the Berkshire side as Scott Sinclair inspired Swansea to a 4-2 victory. It was inevitable that Long would be moving on and West Bromwich Albion picked up the in-demand Irishman for a fee of £6m.
In terms of performances on the field it is the finest deal in Reading’s recent history with the pair contributing almost 100 goals during their spells at the club. On financial value for money, it is also possibly one of the best pieces of business; two players signed for less than £100,000 earning the club around £12.5million from their subsequent sales. However, for fans of Reading Football Club like myself, it is the memories of both players’ performances during the most successful period of the club’s history that will be cherished the most.