Hard to beleive how different the outlook was the last time I wrote this fixtures piece. Back then we were pondering trips to The AMEX, London Road and The Den, now it's Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane.
By now we've all had time to digest the basics of the fixtures for the new season which will see us open at home to Stoke and finish with a trip to Upton Park to face West Ham. The official club site has done a great little key points article outlining some of the essential dates and what to look out for but I thought we'd take a look at some of the other impacts of the fixture list, including how far we'll have to travel and how much away match tickets are likely to cost.
Due to police advice we're never allowed to be at home over Reading Festival weekend (August 25/26) so with the opening date being the 18th, we were always likely to start at home and sure enough, Stoke City were revealed as our first home opponents back in the top division.
Our last league meeting with Stoke at the Madejski saw a Royals team who had already clinched the title run out easy 3-1 winners but since that day Stoke have gone onto secure five straight seasons in the Premier League as well as an FA Cup Final appearance and a spot in last season's Europa League. Despite four straight seasons of survival, Stoke have never had a great record away from home, winning just 13 of their 76 away games in the Premier League with 44 defeats in that time. They've also never won their opening away game in a Premier League season, with three defeats and one draw in the last four years, so a few reasons to be optimistic there.
However, Reading themselves haven't had too much joy in home openers with just two wins in our last seven attempts, though one of those did memorably come against Middlesbrough in our first ever Premier League game back in 2006.
From there it's a trip over the bank holiday weekend to the Stadium of Light to play Sunderland, a venue that hasn't treated us particularly well over the years. Reading have won just once in four visits, losing three times and shipping nine goals in the process, though two Dave Kitson goals did provide a rare bit of joy in a dreary end to the 2004/2005 season.
After those opening two games,six of the next seven games come against top ten sides, Chelsea (A), Spurs (H), West Brom (A), Newcastle (H), Liverpool (A) and Fulham (H) with just Swansea (A) finishing in that bottom half last season, so hardly a gentle welcome back to the league.
But if we do fail to pick up significant points during our opening nine how important is the first nine games to our survival? Here's the bottom three after 9 games over the past five seasons, their points totals and whether they surived (S) or were relegated (R)
2007/08: Fulham 9 (S) Bolton 5 (S) Derby 5 (R)
2008/09: Stoke 7 (S) Newcastle 6 (R) Tottenham 5 (S)
2009/10: Hull 7 (R) West Ham 5 (S) Portsmouth 3 (R)
2010/11: Liverpool 9 (S) Wolves 6 (S) West Ham 6 (R)
2011/12: Bolton 6 (R) Wigan 5 (S) Blackburn 5 (R)
If the above shows anything it's that Reading fans needn't panic if we suffer a slow start to the campaign, as less than half of the fifteen sides finding themselves in the drop zone after a quarter of the season have ended up relegated. West Ham have twice survived with two wins or less from their opening nine so we shouldn't place too much importance on that first section of the campaign, though a good start is always nice to calm the nerves!
Likewise, Reading have been notoriously slow starters in the past, usually due to squad changes, but Brian has always managed to mould a decent team by the Chtistmas period.
End of season scramble, or fun in the sun?
In our two previous Premier League seasons we've experienced both ends of the spectrum. Our first year saw us enjoying our run-in knowing we were pretty much safe in March, with the second seeing a slump that saw us tumble back to the Championship. If we again use nine games as a spell to lookat, our run-in is even more daunting on paper than the first nine.
Man Utd (A), Arsenal (A), Southampton (H), Liverpool (H), Norwich (A), QPR (H), Fulham (A), Man City (H), West Ham (A)
Again who know who'll be where by March but at first glance that's a minefield with five very, very tough games against European sides and trips to Norwich and Fulham that will also be tough. While QPR showed that you can't over-estimate the toughness of a run-in, it would certainly be nice to have significant points on the board before we visit Old Trafford on March 16th.
What about International breaks? One of Steve Coppell's biggest gripes was that we were always playing away after International breaks and that led to weaker performances. The club's OS has again got this one covered, with games away to Liverpool and Arsenal as well as a home game with Arsenal, so we've got a pretty kind time of it this year.
On The Road Again
last year, Reading fans had to clock up a mammoth 6,130.6 miles miles if they wanted to watch every away league game. This year that figure drops by a significant margin down to 5,356.4 miles due to the fact we've got 4 fewer away games, however, the average has also crept up despite a large number of London clubs in the Premier League, with our average round trip rising from 266 miles to around 282 miles... bummer
Figures are based on a round trip, taken from the Madejski Stadium using the AA Route Planner.
QPR 76.4 miles
Fulham 78.4 miles
Chelsea 80.2 miles
Arsenal 92.6 miles
Southampton 92.8 miles
Tottenham 103 miles
West Ham 103.8 miles
Aston Villa 237.4 miles
West Brom 247.8 miles
Swansea 299.6 miles
Stoke 321 miles
Norwich 331.8 miles
Manchester Utd 394.2 miles
Wigan 411.6 miles
Manchester City 416.8 miles
Liverpool 427.8 miles
Everton 428.4 miles
Sunderland 602 miles
Newcastle 610.8 miles
TOTAL = 5,356.4 miles
QPR is the shortest trip this season, with a distance of just under eighty miles, though both Fulham and Chelsea are also right around that figure. Arsenal, Southampton, Tottenham and West Ham are also under or around the 100 mile mark so there's plenty of opportunity for fans who don't want a mammoth day of travelling to see some away games.
However, this season also sees seven trips of around 400 miles or more, with five clubs in and around the North West as well as 600+ mile treks to see the Sunderland and Newcastle games.
Obviously these dates are subject to changes by the TV companies but at the time of writing we only have two away games in midweek and one of those is a New Years Day trip to Tottenham. The other is a visit to Villa Park on Tuesday November 27th.
Counting The Cost
The one downside of promotion is the enevitable rise in prices. This isn't just for us as away fans but Reading themselves are also putting up prices. Matchday tickets are now £32 or £40 for adults depending on the opposition and £15 or £20 for concessions , a rise of around 35%-45% on last year, so these price rises aren't just something other teams are guilty of.
Ticket prices are taken from the excellent Football Grounds Guide and maybe subject to change, I'm assuming we'll be a lower category ticket for most teams, so when possible I've listed those prices. I've also listed the usual allocation. Prices from lowest to highest.
Chelsea (3,000): £55 adults £23.50 Over 65's & U16's
Manchester City (3,000): £48/£38 Adults £39/£32 Over 65's £25/£20 U16's
West Ham (2,200): £45-35 Adults £22.50-£17.50 Over 65's £25.50-£17 U16's
Manchester Utd (3,000): £43 Adults £24 Over 65's & U18's £15 U16's
Liverpool (2,000): £42 Adults £31.50 Over 65's £15 U16's
Tottenham (2,900): £40/£36 Adults (normally no concessions available)
Aston Villa (3,000): £37 adults £32 Students & Armed Forces £26 Over 65's & U21's £21 U16's
Arsenal (3,000): £35 adults £25.50 Over 65's Under 16's
Swansea (2,000): £35 Adults £17.50 Over 65's & U16's
QPR (2,500): £35/30 Adults £30/25 Over 60's £17/£15 U16's
Everton (1700-3000): £31 adults £19.50 over 66's £15.50 U16's
Fulham (3,000): £30 Adults £20 Over 65's & 17-21 £10 U17's
Norwich (2,500): £30 Adults £20 Over 65's £15 U16's £10 U12's
Sunderland (3,000): £29 Adults £18 Over 65's £13 U16's
West Brom (3,000): £29 Adults £19 Concessions
Newcastle (3,000): £26 Adults £21 Over 65's & Students £18 U18's
Stoke (2,800): £25 Adults £24 Over 65's £15 U17's
Wigan (5,400!): £25 Adults £18 Concessions
Southampton (3,200) No PL Prices available as yet
So if you wanted to watch every Reading away game this season, as a full paying adult you'll be shelling out around roughly £670 pounds (if we take Southampton as about £30), a number that could go up or down roughly £100 depending on what category different clubs view us as.
To be honest, if we are in these lower categories then the prices aren't quite as horrific as I thought they might. Half the league charge £30 or under, and it's only really, Liverpool, Manchester United, West Ham, Manchester City and especially Chelsea where you think 'owffff that's pricy'. Again other prices might be a bit higher with band changes but an average of roughly £35 isn't that nasty and is about what we'll be charging our own fans.
So those are just a full rough thoughts about the season ahead fixture wise. If you're one of those fans that's spending £670 and doing those nearly 5,000 miles then I salute you and your name might be Paul Black... but anyone else doing that over the course of the season deserves a round of applause.
But what do you make of the fixture list and the season ahead? Which journeys are you looking forward too and where do you really not want to venture? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @TheTilehurstEnd
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