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It is a privilege for me to be able to give details of Gordon's career in football, and in particular his long and loyal services to Reading Football Club.
Gordon was a talented young footballer, who represented Alfred Sutton School, the Reading Boys under 15 ream and Berkshire Schools during the 1954-55 season.
Such was his ability that Reading manager Harry Johnson signed young Gordon as an apprentice professional aged 15 in April 1956. He played in the youth and reserve teams before making his first team debut in April 1959, playing at left-back away to Colchester United. He made a total of 107 first team appearances, scoring twice before retiring from playing as a result of a serious knee injury. His style of play as a tough defender might be politely described as uncompromising, or in modern parlance, “he took no prisoners”.
As soon as he finished playing full-time football, he was offered the post of groundsman at Elm Park, taking responsibility for preparing and maintaining the pitch, general stadium repairs and even making the perilous journey up and down the floodlight towers to replace the bulbs.
Gordon did play local football in the Sunday League for Armour Athletic and was a popular performer in charity matches. He even played in a friendly match against the Supporters’ Club on the Sunday morning after his 50th birthday celebrations and scored the winning goal from the penalty spot.
But nothing eclipsed his pride and skill in tending the Elm Park pitch, which he kept in immaculate condition over three long decades. He enjoyed a well-deserved testimonial match just before the ground closed in 1998 and continued to serve his beloved club after the move to the Madejski Stadium.
No club could have had a more dedicated employee and this service was recognised with Canon Loyalty and Football League Long Service awards; both rare, even unique, awards for a groundsman. Eventually the time came for him to retire and in his later years he moved from his house in Walnut Way into Riverview Nursing Home to see out his final days.
As well as family visits his time at Riverview was made more bearable by visits by friends from the football world, in particular his great pal and another Reading FC salwart, Bobby Williams. Bob would play cards with him and talk about the old days at Elm Park. We should be acknowledging how much Bob’s weekly visits did to lift Gordon’s spirits.
And now Gordon is off to join his old team mates upstairs – the likes of Denis Allen, Maurice Evans, Brian Leach, Dave Meeson, Chris Palethorpe, Ray Reeves and Dick Spiers. They are just waiting for Gordon to the trim the grass, mark the pitch out and then then game can start.
I make one last appeal, and I am sure it is on behalf of everyone. It is that there should be some permanent memorial at Reading Football Club to recognise his half century of service to his local club. But one thing is certain – Gordon Neate will always be respected and remembered by those of us who were luck enough to know him.
01 July 2019
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