Match of our time - Stuart Beavon: Reading 4 Luton Town 1
27 March, 1988
Simod Cup Final, Wembley
By Alan Bunce
Reading FC: Memories of the Wembley Simod Cup win
With excitement building ahead of another big Wembley visit, former Royals midfielder Stuart Beavon told the Reading FC Former Players’ Association of the club’s, and his, first ever match at the stadium in 1988.
Just five years after Reading FC almost vanished the club reached a high point it has not managed since - victory at Wembley.
Not only had Reading emerged from Robert Maxwell’s merger plans of 1983, but the club was about to lose its hard won place in the Second Division. Yet victories over QPR, Oxford, Nottingham Forest, Bradford City and Coventry in the Simod Cup, gave fans an unforgettable day at Wembley amid the gloom of impending relegation.
Beavon (second from right), along with the other Reading scorers, left to right. Michael Gilkes, Mick Tait and Neil Smillie
Stuart Beavon was the key man
Midfielder Stuart Beavon was key. These days, the 56-year-old runs his own painting and decorating business but football is never far away. His dad Cyril was a tough defender for Oxford and son Stuart is currently banging in goals for Burton Albion in League Two. But Wembley on Sunday, March 27, 1988 remains a football high for the Beavon family although injury almost cost Stuart his place. An injection of Cortizone was necessary.
Hiding the pre-match pints from the boss
The day before the match players had visited to look around the stadium before a stopover nearby where the main job was to not let manager Ian Branfoot see how many drinks they had had. Beavon said: “We stayed at a hotel in Watford the night before and Branfoot said we could have a couple of pints so we made sure they took the empty glasses away so he couldn’t see them.”
Although he couldn’t remember the exact quantity, he recalls it was more than a couple.
"Luton were the hot favourites"
Despite all the excitement of the occasion, Beavon admits he was not expecting to win. First Division Luton, facing the second of three Wembley appearances that year, were hot favourites.
"I thought we’d get stuffed 5-0," he said.
And although Reading had the vast majority of support among the 61,740 present, Beavon’s predicted outcome looked on the cards when Hatters’ Mick Harford put the Hertfordshire team ahead after 14 minutes.
But Beavon revealed: "Mick Harford’s goal should never have been allowed. He handballed it. He admitted it after the game." Seven minutes later Michael Gilkes equalised and five minutes after that was brought down for a penalty.
Beavon said: "I remember putting it down and Gilksey asked to take it. I said ‘no, I’’m taking it.’ Looking back I remember thinking ‘If I miss this...has anybody ever missed one at Wembley?’"
He scored the penalty but his old trick - look one way, put it the other - didn’t quite work as the keeper went the right way. Gilkes had a quieter second half but Mick Tait hit the third on 55 minutes and Neil Smillie got another for a 4-1 win. From then on Reading played a free passing game.
Celebrations went on until 4am
The cup was placed at the front of the coach for the journey back to the Ramada Hotel (now Penta) for a party which lasted until 4am the next day. Reading were never able to defend the Simod Cup due to the relegation which meant they were no longer eligible. Beavon moved to Northampton in 1991 and eventually went into the non-league game including a spell at Ardley United where he played alongside 17-year-old son Stuart.
Stuart senior’s penalty skills were no fluke. As a 14-year-old he scored 10 out of 10 against Gordon Banks in a competition. However, he affords himself a smile when he recalls a rare miss from 12 yards in a match against Portsmouth, since he had a rare excuse.
Stuart Beavon scores his penalty
A TV series called The Manageress was being filmed at Elm Park in the 1980s and the Reading players took part in it. One of Beavon’s jobs was to miss a penalty and, due to the TV company’s insistence on several retakes, he had to repeatedly put the ball wide. That practice, according to at least one of his team mates, was why he failed against Portsmouth.
"I wish I'd played for England... but it was never going to happen"
For the most part Beavon was a reliable penalty taker. He scored Reading’s second in the Simod Cup semi final shoot out against Coventry after team-mate Keith Curle had missed the first.
Beavon said, with a shake of the head: “People say Gilksey’s (winning) penalty that night was a pressure penalty but if I had missed that...well.” Beavon had been a rare capture for Reading in 1980. He had broken into the Spurs team in the late 1970s but in a squad which included Ossie Ardiles, Ricky Villa and Glenn Hoddle, opportunities were hard to come by.
He played over 400 times for Royals and says Wembley will always be a highlight. But one thought never quite goes away. He said: “The only thing I wish I could have done was play for England but it was never going to happen.”
13 April 2015