Former Reading loanee Matt Upson has recalled how he recovered from a “horrible” start to playing a starring role for the Royals in the 2002/03 season.
The now-retired centre-back played 15 games for Reading early in his career while on Arsenal’s books.
He was brought to Berkshire by manager Alan Pardew with the club looking to move out of Division One (what is now the Championship).
Upson had a disappointing start to his spell at Reading where he was part of a defense that conceded three times in a League Cup loss to Cambridge United on his full debut.
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However, he continued to assert himself in the team and in his 14 league appearances for Reading, the team conceded only four goals and won nine of those matches.
This saw him return to Arsenal at the end of the year before moving to Birmingham City on a permanent deal in January 2003.
He made his England debut at the end of that season and played 21 times for the Three Lions.
Looking back on his spell at Reading, Upson, who is considered by many Royals fans to be one of the club’s best ever loanees, exclusively says BerkshireLive: “I liked it. It was an interesting loan for me because Alan Pardew took me from Arsenal and I had been injured.
“I remember playing the first time for him at Cambridge in the League Cup and we were beaten 3-1 and I was horrible.
“He came up to me after the game and said, ‘I can’t play you on Saturday.’ And I said, “I wouldn’t play either, to be honest.”
“So I left, got together with his sports scientist and he just tore me apart for about a week or 10 days.
“I was on the bench for the first two league games and just got in shape.
“Once I had two or three games under my belt, I got into the rhythm of things and it all came back strong.”
Upson’s first league start for Reading came just over a week after the Cambridge disaster and ended in a 2-0 home defeat.
It was one of only two league defeats the Royals have suffered with Upson in the squad, as the defender made an incredible impact in the weeks and months to come.
Pardew’s side beat Wolves, Grimsby, Ipswich, Bradford, Millwall, Gillingham, Watford, Crystal Palace and Brighton in a run that saw them soar and sit in fifth place at the end of November when loan Upson’s three months has come to an end.
“It worked really well for both parties because it [Pardew] helped me a lot because I needed to play and get back on track and then I ended up performing well,” Upson added.
“We had a really good run, we got into playoff positions and I really wanted to stay and finish the season but my time at Arsenal was coming to an end and they had a permanent move to Birmingham which was a possibility so I left and moved in this January window.
“I really enjoyed my time at Reading and they are a great club.”
Upson’s last seven appearances on loan all ended in clean sheets as Pardew’s side ended up securing a play-off final that year.
However, they missed out on a Premier League spot after being beaten by Wolves in the semi-finals.
“The confidence it gives you [keeping clean sheet] as a group, it’s great to be this strong,” Upson said. “We had goals in the team.
“We had players like John Salko, Jamie Cureton and Nicky Forster who just scored a goal somewhere.
“It was a really good atmosphere. Alan Pardew was an interesting manager, so I really enjoyed it.
“You want a challenge. He might be a little bit different and challenge you or ask you a question in some way that you didn’t really like or weren’t really thinking about, but when you step back now you think it was really helpful. So it was a good time.”
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