‘The best traditional Irish pub in Berkshire town’ is a centre point for local Irish life”
By Fiona Tomas
When Reading FC avoided relegation from England’s Championship tier last week, the team’s captain, Paul McShane, announced to his 27 thousand followers on Twitter that he’d be out drinking in The Gateway Pub in Reading’s town centre.
For a whole hour, the drinks would be on the 33-time capped Irish international. Lauded by many as the best traditional Irish pub in the Berkshire town, The Gateway has proved a hot favourite with past and present Irish internationals who have donned the royal blue and white strip over the years.
Those known to have frequent the pub include former players and brothers Noel Hunt, Stephen Hunt, while Shane Long and Kevin Doyle are also known to have graced the Greyfriars road venue during their time at the Madejski Stadium. But for many, The Gateway’s unwavering commitment to raising the profile of GAA westbound of the M4 transcends its likeable reputation as the place to bag a selfie with a few Reading FC stars.
In supporting Reading’s only GAA Club, St Anthony’s, the pub succeeds in intricately weaving all echelons of the Irish community in Reading who are determined to preserve their country’s national game outside the nucleus that is the London GAA. Alongside its London Irish and Celtic FC fan base, landlord Martin O’Sullivan is one of several St Anthony’s stalwarts who has played an instrumental role in financially aiding the club.
Those who pass through the pub’s doors are encouraged to buy a club ‘lotto ticket’ – where O’Sullivan’s venture with the club began. It seems fitting, therefore, in the year which recognised the centenary of some women first gaining the vote in Britain, that The Gateway hosted St Anthony’s official jersey presentation on Friday, May 11, where O’Sullivan said he was “proud and honoured” to be the ladies’ official club for the 2018-19 season.
Reading-based construction company Carney Construction will be the sponsor for the men’s outfit this year. The event saw St Anthony’s mens’ player Michael Laffey and ladies’ team captain, Grainne Riordan, receive jerseys from their respective sponsors for the upcoming campaign. It is Riordan herself who perhaps best epitomises the inclusive nature of St Anthony’s, which has been a cohesive force for those who have swapped the green of the Emerald Isle for the blue of the Royal County, albeit in the lighter shade of the St Anthony’s colours.
Riordan had never kicked a football back home in the modest environs of hometown New Inn, Co. Tipperary, but decided to join St Anthony’s soon after she arrived in Reading as a way of meeting new people.
Like most of the current crop of the ladies’ team, Riordan is a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. She juggles her football commitments with the demands of working in the hospital’s intensive care unit. After coming to the game at the age of 22, Riordan is now preparing for her maiden season as the side’s skipper, with the aim of doing the side’s sponsor proud in the London Ladies Junior Championship.
“We come in The Gateway most weekends, we just love having the craic with each other, but also because there’s a lovely older generation who come – Paddy Coffey is one of them,” she said. “It feels like home when you step through the doors – it’s like you’re not in Reading. It’s always very friendly and it’s nice to see new faces at the bar.
“We’re targeting everything this season, maybe a few cups, but definitely the championship.”
This isn’t the first time O’Sullivan has supported the women’s team and should history repeat itself, the ladies would be in for some ride this season. The Innishannon man from Co. Cork previously sponsored the ladies after the side gained official status upon entering the Junior Division in 2011, the year the team secured a remarkable treble – only a year and a half after they formed (winning the division, Junior Championship and Tom O’Connor Cup).
Among the first to be presented with a new jersey on Friday night was Alfie Linehan, son of the men’s former team manager and club hero the late Mick Linehan, whom O’Sullivan hailed for his Trojan efforts in keeping the club going in the days before modern technology.
O’Sullivan also presented a jersey to former Reading FC captain-turned BBC Radio Berkshire pundit, Ady Williams, the guest of honour for the evening, who spoke of the ‘incredible’ atmosphere he recalled when he watched the All- Ireland final in the pub last year. Williams followed McShane in taking to Twitter after the event to reaffirm his love for the Irish bar.
“What a great pub The Gateway Pub is,” he said. “Wonderful company, lovely people. If you haven’t, you should!” “It was something special to be presented with a St Anthony’s shirt, it was a complete surprise. “I’m so honoured and blessed. Coming here tonight means the world to me.”