Unsung Football Heroes Part 1 -Time to hang up the mouse

We take certain things for granted these days when we go to a match.   Pitch up at any Premier League stadium these days and you will not only get a large chunk of apathy, an overpriced burger and a programme that resembles a corporate sales brochure for a new housing estate but expect to be wowed by the big screens.  Ten years ago it was only a few clubs who had screens.  Strangely enough it was clubs like Wolves, West Ham and Reading that pioneered this means of communication.  Nowadays the production on some of these screens is as good as you will see on Channel 5.

But these things take considerable preparation as well as technical skills rarely seen outside of Redmond, Washington State (aka where Microsoft are based).  We’ve been lucky enough to know one such genius for the best part of a decade.  Adam Lloyd has run the PA room and screens at the Madejski since the stadium opened in 1998.  Last month he hung up his mouse for the last time after the friendly with Wolves, and we were on hand to get an exclusive interview before any of the tabloids could pounce.

You were the man behind the screen so to speak but that’s not as easy as it sounds is it?
I worked as part of the PA team, and  was responsible for pretty much everything you ever saw on the video screen/jumbotron/scoreboard/big screen, call it what you like – the big electronic thing perched between the Royals fans and the away fans in the south east corner at Madejski Stadium. So everything from sponsor logos and adverts, birthday requests, team line-ups and all the usual pre-match info that 90% of supporters usually ignore, but I spent hours during the week preparing for! Once the game got underway, it was then managing the live feed from our friends on the TV gantry, cueing up replays as appropriate whilst ensuring nothing deemed controversial was shown, as well of course keeping the score.

So you never had to pay to watch a Reading home game for twelve years.  How did you get that job?
I’ve been a lifelong Royals fan having lived almost on top of the old Elm Park ground for much of my childhood. A close family friend was also a member of the Vice President club around the time the decision was made to move to a new stadium. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had put my name forward for the job, which apparently was looking for “a fan who can work a computer for not much money” And yes I did fit the job description perfectly!

In 1998 the club appointed three of us to ‘work the scoreboard computer’ with each allocated a specific role – one to do the rugby (Richmond were then the tenants), one to do reserve side and one for first team matches. Well, the guy given the rugby games promptly left as he was only in it for football and hated egg-chasing. Then the Royals manager (Tommy Burns?) dissolved the reserve team so the other bloke left, leaving me as sole survivor and responsible for football and rugby ever since.

What was life like back then without the internet?
OK so you’re picking up on the age thing, yes I was around in the days of half times scores being paraded around the ground on a board, and when goal-line technology meant the groundsman tying a piece of string between the posts to paint a straight line. I think the biggest pain in the backside now is trawling through 80+ emails a game requesting birthday messages, the club should charge for this like they do in the US of A. $30 a message at Dodger Stadium you know. (I wonder if West Ham have thought of this?)

What bit of equipment could you not do without?
For me it was my trusty MacBook Pro laptop. It contained all the match day graphics, hi-res logos of every league club and hours of various video adverts. Trouble was of course that it was my personal computer too which meant when I missed a game, the graphical output on the screen went back to basics. Having now officially hung up my Magic Mouse, get set for a return to the wonderful wipes and animations of PowerPoint for the coming season Reading fans!

Technology and the human brain.  Together they work in perfect harmony for 99% of the time, but that other 1%? So biggest cock up?
I’ll take this question from the stance of the whole PA team as there’s been a few over the years. I’ll remind you of three of our most memorable. The biggest, although nothing to do with my graphical responsibilities, was probably one that didn’t help relations between the English FA and their Dutch counterparts.

August 14th, 2001. England U21 v Holland U21
It’s International night and the Madejski Stadium is playing host to an Under-21 friendly. Acutely aware of the need to get the national anthems correct for the pre-match presentations, the PA team methodically go through the procedures for playing the correct music. With the help of a Dutch speaking RFC official and a CD box set entitled ‘National Anthems of the World’, we all agreed on the correct music.

At the appropriate moment the music is played. What we fail to notice, and fail to look for, are the blank, almost shamed expressions of the Dutch team as the airwaves are filled with the ‘Dutch’ national anthem. Only it wasn’t.

Dutch FA officials hit the roof. The FA hit the roof. The wrong version has been played. We played ignorant and knew nothing of this, other that the aforementioned CD which included a long and short version of their anthem. Officials from all sides complain. Nobody takes the full blame, it is just another day in the lives of the PA team!

The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Telegraph all took great delight in reporting the cock up in the following morning’s match summary, Thankfully that encounter didn’t put paid to holding future internationals at the stadium, indeed who could forgot the wonderful England versus Germany friendly a few years later….with Boris Johnson and that tackle (in fact check that clip on YouTube and you’ll even see me behind Gazza pitch side as the cameras cut to the dugout).

Wednesday November 11th, 1998. Reading v Wigan Athletic
The scoreboard was still in its infancy and I was enjoying a night off as a match sponsor. The stand-in at the time was doing his best but it all went horribly wrong after 10 minutes. Reading were playing awful and to make matters worse Wigan won a penalty and promptly scored from the spot. 1-0 Wigan. Or so you would think.

As soon as the ball hit the net, the scoreboard updated to read “Reading 1 Wigan 0”. A huge cheer went up from the crowd. Panic then set in as the the mistake was realised – he had pressed the wrong button! The screen then went blank for a good 10 minutes until I eventually left the padded seats to put things right.

Reading eventually lost by that only goal and most fans agreed that the brightest thing on display that night was the scoreboard. It’s no surprise that it wasn’t long after this game that the stand-in decided that his days were over as junior scoreboard operator and left!

May 1999
It’s a Charity match at the Madejski with celebrity 5 a sides; former international stars and a local band looking to publicise their new music. More stinging than a record company rebuke, the band Ruff Driverz, three local Spice Girl look-a likes, have their career brutally butchered as their performance is undermined by the PA staff playing the wrong record.

Instead of their new hit, which I have no recollection of, the girls are treated to a blast of Gold by Spandau Ballet! Totally flummoxed and unable to mime along, their hopes of pop stardom disappear. The red faced PA crew apologise, but the damage was done. A laughing crowd hear nothing of their debut song and the career of Ruff Driverz rests in peace at the Madejski Stadium.

The PA room is like an island in the middle of a spectator ocean.  Whilst you could see what was going on you could not hear a thing from outside (so a bit like watching an Arsenal game then!) Did you miss the atmosphere whilst in the sound proof room?
No not really. If you’ve ever watched Sky’s Fanzone commentary on the red button, you’ll find a very similar scenario unfolding in the PA room during the match. Things can get very animated in that room and of course the air can turn blue but without fear of upsetting anyone sat in the Upper West stand. That said we have had the occasional visit from the boys in blue who were concerned following a plethora of screams and foul language as they passed our room in the corridor. Fearing that someone needed help, they came in the door only to see myself and the rest of the PA team venting our anger at the referee – and promptly stayed to watch the rest of the match with us joining in the banter!

Of course being behind soundproof glass meant we had no real idea of just how loud the music is that was played. Every match we would get complaints that music and announcements were either inaudible or off the scale with women and small children running for cover. This season will see a behaviour change though, certainly for the guys in the room as the stadium have now fitted a sliding glass section to the window. But they can’t complain though as we had been asking for air conditioning in the room for over 10 years!

As you said earlier, one of the most time consuming requests is going through the emails to sort out the announcements that spectators want to be read out.  You must have seen some classics over the years so what has been the most unusual request?
Not really a request as such, but prior to one particular game Sky’s Mr Unbelievable and friend of ours Chris Kamara was only too pleased to give us a signed copy of an album in which he and other legendary stars of the game had recorded. Kammy’s solo track was Van Morrisson’s Brown Eyed Girl. So, not having a clue what we were about to do while he did his piece to camera at half-time, we played his song. At full volume! Not sure if Jeff and the Soccer Saturday team could make it out, but Kammy certainly did and told them with great excitement that it was his song blaring round the stadium. It made his day and left us in hysterics.

So you used to turn up a 2.55pm every Saturday and flick a switch right?  Or am I being a bit harsh.  So what was the normal matchday routine?
I was always the first of the PA team to arrive at the Madstad around 10am for a 3pm kick-off and started the day with switching the TV on for SoccerAM before the essential but awful vending machine tea. We had a kitchen along the corridor but very rarely contained fresh milk, or cups, or tea in fact!

With an empty stadium at that time of day, the clubs own technical team plug in the iPod and test the music play out and walk the perimeter checking audio levels. This in itself can lead to a bit of fun as I remember once James Harper having a fitness test and running around on a miserable wet morning. A quick change of music and he was soon dancing around the pitch to the tune of Singing in the Rain – much to the amusement of the groundsman who were painting the lines on the pitch.

The first two or three hours were spent updating all the required graphics for the screen – next match, ticket info, birthday etc. Around midday the rest of the PA team arrive, Stuart on music and announcements; Paul and Tom, my budding young apprentices and finally Paul, the on-pitch announcer. By this time also we get the nod from the hacks down in the media room that the catering has arrived. Since Waitrose started sponsoring the team, the fayre served up now is top quality pies and sandwiches.

The next milestone of the day to reach is the team news which involves following Paul’s reading of the team sheet with graphics/photos of the players on the screen. Normally goes without a hitch until we realise he’s been informed of a last minute change to the line-up. Cue wrong player shown on the screen!

During the match, it’s a case of having your eyes on the live feed shown on the video screen most of the time. Those lovely chaps at Sky, the heady days of Reading’s Premiership stint, have a habit of throwing in a few surprise replays of off-the-ball incidents and contentious decisions. That’s my cue to cut to a holding slide. Sometimes! Well, being a fan you can very easily be drawn into the game and take your eye off the ball as it were.

Half time signals a few mandatory sponsor videos followed by a round up of the half time scores on screen which have been updated throughout the first half courtesy of Jeff Stelling. Still raises a smile and cheer from crowd when we used to announce these, in particular the ‘lower echelons of the league’ and Oxford United losing to Barrow.

Full time and the job is done, pack up the laptop and head into the post match press conference to hear the managers differing view of the game. Occasionally we strike gold with news of a couple of cheese and onion pasties still on the warming rack. Perfect end to the day.

We should remember that you are a fan first and were a club employee second.  You even helped set up the Back the Boys website which was Alan Pardew’s favourite.  So best moment as a Reading fan?
Without doubt it was winning the Championship with a record of 106 points and a place in the sacred land of the Premier League. It was an amazing season which saw some brutal attacking displays and scoring goals for fun. The final day win over QPR with a penalty from then Royals captain Graeme Murty will live long in my memory.

What followed in the two subsequent seasons remains a surreal blur etched in my life. An inaugural Premier League first day win over Middlesbrough coming from behind, a walloping 6-0 win over West Ham – the only time I’ve seen aways fans do the conga celebrating a home goal – the first ever win in history over a ‘top 4’ side by thumping Liverpool 3-1, those 76 games in the top flight will be forever remembered in the Lloyd household.

So finally, twelve years of memories but what was your proudest moment in the role?
Now, if you were to ask my Mum this question, she’ll probably say it was the day that she went with her friends to watch a concert at the Madejski Stadium when, as the lights went down, my voice boomed over the PA system “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr Elton John!” She was so proud of me and even now still tells everyone that her son once introduced Elton John on stage.

For me to grow up supporting your local team and then grow up even more and work for them with full access behind the scenes, meeting players you’d usually only ever see on TV, going into the dressing room pre-match to record video, every moment I experienced was magical. To be associated with the club during their most successful period in history makes me very proud.

Wow – quite an insight there and having sat in the control room with Adam on numerous occasions I can vouch for how manic things can get at times.  His work, not only at Reading games at the Madejski but also on some of the biggest screens in sport (he regularly produces material and runs the show at Twickenham, Croke Park and the Millennium Stadium) will be missed by literally hundreds of thousands.  I just wonder if he realises the cost of paying to watch football these days !

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