Many fans follow their club from a long distance. The necessities of work, relationships and our increasingly globalised world often mean football fans uproot from their hometown at some point during their life. With this scenario comes some logistical challenges for the fan: expensive and arduous travel for home games; flickering and questionably legal internet streams and the horror of being surrounded, encircled even, by supporters of another team.
These problems are heightened for the scores of students who hail from Reading, dispersed around the country and in some cases around the globe. What university does is take a big chunk of people aged 18, and scatter them to the four corners. The results of this are fairly striking. For instance, a student will often witness regular football arguments over supermarket brand pasta and cans of lager between fans from Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City – entertaining but not exactly conducive to a harmonious pre drinks. Being a supporter specifically of ‘little old Reading’ is not brilliant either – it is rare to find another one amongst the sea of Premier League cop outs. You are perennially faced with either patronising comments ("You did alright last year, considering") or blatant gloating ("7-5! You were 4-0 up as well!!").
All of that is bad enough, however that does not even take into account the problems on actual match day. If you cannot get to the game in Reading, at least the delights of Dellor are available. Not so in East Anglia or Northumbria. After a student fan has managed to scrape together enough pennies out of the student loan, he or she might head out and get pint of Fosters at the local to watch his or her team on the telly. Unfortunately, that person will always, without fail, walk into a bar chock full of opposing fans. This not being the 1980s, or a Danny Dyer film, it isn’t a huge problem. But it does make it pretty depressing when Reading inevitably concede 3 goals in the opening 20 minutes.
This, of course, assumes Reading FC are being featured by Sky Sports or BT, which, as we all know, is as rare as a clean tackle from a Neil Warnock team. Hence, you often don’t get the luxury of watching the game. The student follower may not even get Gillette Soccer Saturday/Final Score in their room because, unless they are very rich, the TV license is a bit out of reach.
So what does the fan do? If I have the time of day, I will head to the college bar or pub anyway, straining my ear for a mention of Reading amongst the usual banter between Jeff and Kammy on Soccer Saturday, and manically updating my phone. This, however, can be very frustrating, particularly as the official Club Twitter feed will often be directly contradicting what the person on the telly is saying. This makes actually knowing what is going on pretty difficult, and certainly does little to ease the nerves.
To be fair, I myself am much more used to this than I suspect some other students are. Being originally from Dublin, I have had the dubious pleasure of trying to follow the League of Ireland team Shamrock Rovers from Reading – a challenge indeed! At least Celtic gets some coverage on Sky Sports. Therefore, I probably have the art of combining live score updates and twitter comments perfected by now.
All of this, however, is dependent on the student having the time of day to follow Reading on a Saturday afternoon. In my case, what is much more likely is I have an impending essay crisis on match day – a horrific spectre looming on the near horizon. Thus, I will be secluded in the library; head buried in ‘English Historical Documents volume 2’, an industrial strength coffee by my side, typing furiously. Coming out hours later, squinting my eyes at the sun and yawning, I will be checking my phone and only just realising that Reading were playing away today, and swearing softly as I realise we lost 1-0....again.