In conversation with Ian Branfoot
Former Reading FC manager Ian Branfoot reflects on when he won 13 consecutive games
During nearly six years in charge, Royals won 13 consecutive matches at the start of the 1985/86 season (a record that still stands), the 1986 Third Division Championship and the Simod Cup in 1988, bringing about the club's first appearance at Wembley.
As guest of the Former Players' Association and Reading FC, Branfoot enjoyed a day at the Madejski Stadium for the recent Reading v Sheffield Wednesday.
For Wednesday, Branfoot made 36 appearances during a five year spell whilst he was at the helm of the Royals for six years.
How did it all start for a lad from the north east?
“I played at Redheugh Boys Club where Gazza came from. I was about 16/17 and was asked by Alan Brown, who was manager of Sunderland, to sign a contract.
“Unbeknown to me, my father said, 'I want him to stay at school and finish his A levels'. After that he might think about it.
“By the time I got my A levels Alan Brown had gone to Sheffield Wednesday. One day he knocked the door and asked my father if I could sign for them.
“I made my debut in the last game of the season before the 1966 Cup Final. Ron Springett was the goalkeeper. It was 0-0 until about five minutes from the end. I backpassed to Ron which was 60/40 in his favour. Then I noticed it was 60/40 in the other player's favour. It ended one-nil. That wasn't a cup final backpass.
“Ron told me afterwards: 'I wanted to make sure I was playing in the cup final next week. There was no way I was going for that ball'.”
Branfoot illustrated Wednesday's high status in the late 1960s when they were chosen to help the England team prepare for the 1970 World Cup.
“The FA asked Sheffield Wednesday to go to Mexico City, We had to find out what it was like to play at altitude. I was about 19/20 and hadn't been further than the Lake District and here I was in Mexico City playing at the Aztec Stadium. Then we had a four-day break in Acapulco and I can't remember much about that!”
After Brown left Wednesday, Branfoot was out of favour with new manager Lawrie McMenemy and joined Doncaster Rovers for four years, then Lincoln City for another four.
You played for a young Graham Taylor in the 1975/76 season when they got the record number of points under the two-points system. What did you pick up from him?
“It annoys me that he got an enormous amount of criticism when he was England manager. He was the best manager I ever worked with. I also knew him quite well from when we did coaching courses. The best analysis always came from him.”
Branfoot recalled a free kick routine carried out 36 times with teammate Dennis Booth because Taylor wanted it perfected. Fitness came from long runs, steep hill runs and assault courses.
He said: “We were unbelievably fit. That's how we were so successful. We were so fit and well organised and we had a great team spirit.”
He added: “I played every game that season, 60+ games. I wouldn't be allowed to do that nowadays, I wouldn't be 'fit enough' which is a lot of old nonsense. Our fitness was amazing. We were playing two or three games a week.”
The 13 wins at the beginning of the 1985/86 season: Was that the biggest high point for you at Reading?
“The biggest thing at Reading was the Simod Cup Final. People come up to me and say, 'thank you, it was the best day of my life at Wembley'. A lot of people say that to me. It's hard to explain that experience.”
But he noted particularly, the semi final victory. He said: “The Coventry game, because there was extra time and penalties, didn't finish until half past ten, quarter to eleven. Then Elm Park absolutely exploded. I've never seen anything like it.”
25 February 2015