The first away game of the season saw me take a trip to Stamford Bridge, and experience easily the best atmosphere from Reading fans all season in the Premier League. We were even top of the table for over half an hour, something not many teams can brag about this season. I unfortunately couldn’t get to the Fulham game, but I am convinced that that was the best I have personally seen us play away from home all season in the league, and probably in the cup too. I even got to have a picture with a foreign Chelsea fan’s wife and daughter because they had never seen our ‘jerseys’ before. I still stand by my statement that I love tourists.
I travelled to most grounds this season by car just because of convenience (and getting into Birmingham from Shropshire is horrendous; Arriva Trains Wales never let you down for a good delay). I found that traffic around most of the grounds was very well organised, and most car parks were very reasonably priced. The worst traffic I experienced was at the closest game I went to all season; West Brom. The games I did get to on the tube were not as smooth getting out of (with the exception of Chelsea), with my boyfriend and I seemingly walking around in circles trying to find the Emirates after walking out of the wrong entrance at Finsbury Park, then doing it again trying to find a tube station after the game.
I have noticed from travelling around the Premier League grounds that the stewarding of away fans has been a lot harsher than what you expect in the Championship. At some grounds it’s almost as though they anticipate that there’s always going to be trouble, which is an unfair view the majority of the time. After being sat in the home and the away end this season at West Brom, I was easily able to see the differences relating to how home and away fans are treated. Even though the tighter stewarding can be a nuisance (especially on a cold February day when I was told to remove my warm woolly hat at Stoke, revealing my lovely hat hair as well as making my ears cold), I have done plenty of research into the changes of policing and stewarding football matches, as my dissertation covered the issue of social factors which contributed to the change in trends of football hooliganism. One of the three football league clubs I looked at was Stoke (the other two were Reading and Peterborough), and although their stewarding was easily the most forceful of all that I experienced this season, it is obvious that it has made a significant impact to ‘clean up’ their reputation. Getting a tour of the Britannia Stadium and a meeting with their Safety Officer was definitely an eye opener, although I fear I will now be going to football games analysing their style of managing fans and boring the hell out of my mum and my boyfriend!
In terms of non-footballing entertainment on the pitch, the Premier League has been slightly disappointing. I remember going to Preston about five years ago (with an announcer sounding exactly like Peter Kay) a man won a hoover after some kind of penalty shoot-out and seemed ecstatic. Nothing has quite lived up to that since. The closest I got to that this season was fans being able to win a house at West Brom. However, everyone who took part chickened out and went for the lesser prize of £1000; and they still missed. There was, however, a lovely gesture at Stoke to mark 150 years of theirs and the FA’s existence. A commemorative tile was presented in front of the away fans to Reading to represent their links with the potteries and football, which was a replica of a tile from a bigger mosaic. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to history, and it’s always nice to see when clubs and fans want to remember where our beautiful game has come from.
Even though I have enjoyed going to these massive and spectacular arenas such as Old Trafford and the Emirates, I can’t deny that I’ve missed a good old away day going to places like Barnsley or Burnley. There’s just something about grounds like that which makes the game seem more like a proper game of football with players fighting for the cause, rather than just a display of talent from multi-million pound individuals for the cameras and those fans seeking continuous glory. Wigan partly satisfied my craving for this kind of away day (minus the result), with a pub for away fans in a function room which can only be described as a scene out of Phoenix Nights, with worn down tables and chairs, and a wonky projector screen showing the early kick off game. Everyone seems a lot friendlier at those kinds of grounds too, with Wigan Stewards definitely being the friendliest all season. I just think it genuinely makes the whole day more enjoyable.
Some of the most bizarre fans I have come across were on both trips to Merseyside. After a trademark Suarez dive at Anfield, the whole of the stadium stood up and applauded. Not just a quick clap though, a genuine round of applause for over a minute. Not only was it bizarre, it was horrendously embarrassing. However, fast forward five months and scoot across Stanley Park, a certain Everton fan took extreme offence to a certain song about benefits. The song personally makes me cringe, but this bloke tried to take on all of the away fans by proclaiming colourfully that we were speaking a load of rubbish and that he does, in fact, work.
So there we have it. I can’t say I haven’t felt miserable, angry and gutted for the majority of the time I have watched Reading FC during the 2012/13 season, but it makes me happy to think that things really can’t get any worse, and we have the basics in place to build a very strong championship team. I’m looking forward to my 10 weeks of rest from the stresses of following the Royals, but I am quietly optimistic that we can have a promising season next time round. Oakwell can guarantee to see at least one Reading fan again next season...