Perhaps one of the most memorable footballing quotes of this year is "that one" belonging to Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson. You know the one he made during the "Wayne Rooney Contract Saga".

Initially, he appeared to bemuse the press and the public, but within this statement, I believe he was completely forthright in his opinion of modern player (and perhaps agent) attitudes in the game today.

He said, "“Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in the field. It’s a fact, right, and it never really works out that way. It’s probably the same cow and it’s not as good as your own cow. Some players like to think there’s a better world somewhere else. It never really works.”

With just three weeks to go until the Reds kick-off their FA Cup campaign at West Ham United, do you reflect on the campaign of 2007/08 like me? Sir Alex had got me thinking.

There will always be one outstanding player from that particular run; and no I'm not referring to Kayode Odejayi, although the goal against Chelsea will always deserve recognition. Unfortunately, that memory though will always be blighted by the sitter he missed at Wembley.


No, I refer to the former Reds captain Brian Howard. Now with Championship rivals Reading FC, via a detour which took him to and away from Sheffield United, very few column inches ever seem to refer to the one-time Barnsley FC talisman anymore.

With this in mind, I contacted Lanterne Rouge (his pen name, I can assure you) from the popular blog The Two Unfortunates; to gain an idea how BH's career was going at the Madejski Stadium and by reply, received an interesting profile on our former favourite.

At the end of the August 2009 transfer window, Brian Howard won a poll run by Championship blog, The Two Unfortunates designed to predict which of the last minute deals would prove to be the best of that season. An all purpose midfielder with a bit of yin and yang, at the time it seemed like a profitable swap deal for the Royals: club legend James Harper passed Howard on the M1 and despite the departing man’s involvement in the club’s most successful years, most Berkshire folk welcomed the exchange.

Hailing from the decidedly non-footballing city of Winchester, Howard began at local club Southampton although he failed to make an appearance in an era where the Saints were riding high and even pretending to Cup Finals. The restricted opportunities saw him cross Wessex that same summer of 2003; the result, a highly promising two seasons for the Wiltshire's Swindon Town.

But it was his next move to Barnsley that saw Howard’s beacon shine most brightly. A veritable fulcrum in the team that made it to a Wembley semi final, Howard was integral in the never to be forgotten victories at Anfield and at home against Chelsea. At the time, that wise sage Andy Townsend remarked how much that Tykes side relied on the Hampshire man: the play seemed to continually funnel through him and he was ever willing to take on possession.

But the cup exploits merely masked lessening fortunes on the pitch and the slow disintegration of the Simon Davey regime. As the plot’s leading man, Howard would never be short of offers and he crossed South Yorkshire to join big city neighbours Sheffield United just a few short months after the final, initially on loan.

Having scored the winner against Nottingham Forest and generally impressed as a man for hire, Howard secured a full time contract at Bramall Lane in January 2009; the fee, half a million pounds. But, like so many loan deals made permanent, his form seemed to desert him almost as soon as pen was put to paper. Blades, top heavy in terms of squad numbers, lurched into the play offs, but failed miserably against Burnley on a May day; Howard making way for Arturo Lupoli on eighty two minutes.

United fans were split on the midfielder’s attributes. To many, his spell at the club was disappointing and fond memories of a similar, albeit more combative midfielder in Michael Brown led to unfavourable comparisons; but others acknowledged that the anti-football that sometimes seem congenital to Sheffield United Football Club was anathema to a cultured performer who likes the ball on the floor.

Hence, Brendan Rodgers swooped to bring him to Reading. Howard’s best spell in hoops came in the stunning run in to the 2009-10 campaign; the Royals dragging themselves out of the bottom three to a position just below the play offs.

But if Howard had been the alpha male in that Barnsley cup side, here he often seemed the spare part that slowed things down. As Jimmy Kebe, Jobi McAnuff and Gylfi Sigurdsson all attained top form, the ex-Blade appeared to have difficulty keeping up. The fast paced style encouraged by new boss Brian McDermott ill suited him and his hurried movements when in possession often led to the ball flying out of touch. His cultured left foot engineered a key FA Cup goal at the Hawthorns as Reading enjoyed a run to the last eight, but too often his attempts would go soaring into the crowd.

If Howard had at least commenced his Reading career as part of a successful side, this season has been less successful. With Sigurdsson leaving for Hoffenheim, greater responsibility has been placed on his shoulders, but a straight red in a miserable defeat at Middlesbrough, a rashly conceded penalty at QPR and more misplaced passes have started to test the patience of the Royals support. Despite fighting his way back into the side after suspension and his unwarranted tendency to hog the ball at free kicks having been alleviated by the capture of Ian Harte from Carlisle, his performance in the televised match with Norwich was met with howls of message board derision and was his last appearance in a Reading shirt until Saturday’s freezathon at Derby.

(Howard appeared as a Substitute on 82 minutes as Reading FC recorded an away win at Derby County, 2-1)

Lanterne Rouge is a Reading fan exiled in London. His formative memory was a rainstorm as Robin Friday and company put paid to Swindon in 1976. A keen follower of football at all levels; he can jump up and down with the best of them but disbelieves in mindless antagonism of opposing clubs and fans; although Jose Mourinho has stretched his patience in the past.
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