DAVE KITSON returns ‘home’ to the Madejski Stadium for a sentimental Cup tie at his former club this afternoon.
Five seasons ago, the magic of the FA Cup meant nothing to the former Reading frontman, despite the Royals landing a third-round draw with Tottenham Hotspur – the club he supported as a boy.
Famously, he stated that he could not care less about the competition with the Berkshire outfit’s priority very much being top-flight survival in 2007-08.
Before the January, 2008 tie Kitson said it was an unhelpful hindrance to the mission of keeping Reading up and avoiding a raft of people losing their jobs. His words proved prophetic, even if they did upset Cup traditionalists. Four months later, the club did go down with many staff axed, as he feared.
What happened at the end of that season is something the 33-year-old will never forget.
Kitson said: “I got hammered by the press and wrongly so. It was a case of ‘shall we get the point across that Kitson was trying to make that people will lose their jobs if Reading get relegated – which happened – or should they just stitch me up?’ They chose to do that, which was unfortunate.
“It was a bad choice of words that I used but the sentiment was exactly right. We didn’t need that distraction.
“We lost eight games in a row and, ultimately, it cost me my career at Reading and a lot of people who were friends of mine, their jobs.
“That is a big responsibility. At Reading, we were all in it together – the kitmen, groundsmen and the cooks.
“You were very aware of the way Reading ran their business and knew if we went down, players would be sold and the staff cut back.
“It was very hard. I’ll never get over it and a lot of players haven’t – that you are responsible for people losing their jobs. It was an absolutely horrendous time.
“You are coming into training in your nice car and you are looking at these people carrying their boxes out thinking: ‘That’s my fault, I did that.’ And there is nothing you can do about it.
“It still affects me to this day; (at the time), it affected my family; everything. I nearly lost everything over that relegation – my family, career – everything.
“It is now nice to be at a club on the up again. But I will not forget it or the people who lost their jobs.”
With his career in domestic club football in its deep mid-winter, Kitson – contracted to the Blades for the rest of the season and hoping to achieve a storybook finish with a promotion before ending his playing days in the States – will probably be turning out at the Madejski for the last time today.
Scorer of the club’s first goal in the Premier League, against Middlesbrough in August, 2006, Kitson will always be part of Royals folklore and admits he owes a massive debt to big friend Brian McDermott, with the former chief scout’s input convincing Steve Coppell to buy him from Cambridge United for a bargain £150,000 in December, 2003.
Kitson, part of the Royals side which won the Championship title with 106 points in 2006, admits the current Reading manager was the first to get in touch when the draw was made. The fixture also delighted his young family who live nearby, particularly Royals-supporting four-year-old Zeph, whom he takes to games when he can.
On the draw, Kitson, who turned down the Blades’ neighbours Rotherham United to join the Royals, said: “You look at the numbers coming out and you suddenly realise how many people you have annoyed in the game.
“But then Reading came out and when ours did, I couldn’t believe it. The phone went mad and when I looked at it, the text was from Bri and it said: ‘Welcome home, Kits.’
“I will certainly be rooting for Reading after the tie. Absolutely. They are the team I take my son to watch – and not just because they give me tickets!
“I always look for their results and if they have a good one, I will text Bri. Whatever result really, even if they have been unlucky. Me and Bri have good chats on the phone as we have a lot of common and mutual respect. After all, he was the one that persuaded Steve Coppell to take me from Cambridge, so I owe him more than I can ever repay him.
“I am glad he got his chance at Reading as he did all the work behind the scenes and found the players for that team.
“He is one of those guys, like Steve, you just want to win for and don’t want to let down. Some managers have got it and Brian is one. It’s a case of: ‘if you work hard and do well for me, I will look after you.’ It’s a rare thing in football.”
In his final English footballing swansong with the Blades, Kitson is at ease, although a second promotion would cap his career nicely.
He added: “When we went up as champions at Reading, we had a good scrap with Sheffield United who also had a great season. The clubs had shared success and here like at Reading, the people are genuine, very friendly and the sort you want to do well for.
“The fairytale for me would be is finishing my career here with a promotion medal and then I can sit down with my wife in the summer and make a decision.
“I would like to play in American or aboard as there’s lots of emerging markets opening up. I have a lot of friends in the States; Bobby Convey, my great friend from Reading is at Kansas and we nearly did something. But the situation at Portsmouth meant we missed the registration.”