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How Bon Jovi Relegated Reading

Looking at a calendar and reflecting on the events of last season for Reading, a thought struck me. We all know about the theory of cause and effect, how small events cause big things to happen, and how those end results just can't be predicted beforehand but can be seen clearly after the event - the apocryphal "flap of a butterfly's wing that causes a hurricane somewhere else across the globe." On that theme, I'd like to expound my theory of how New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi played a major part in Reading's relegation last season. It sounds a ludicrous idea, but please bear with me ladies and gentlemen as I explain.....

Streeter Lecka

You may like to recall how last season started. First, on 18th August, there was a promising one-all draw with Stoke at the MadStad, where Reading looked the match of the visitors and, but for a Federici blunder, would have picked up all three points. Then, just three days later, came a visit to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea. This match, originally scheduled for 1st September, was brought forward twelve days due to Chelsea's European Supercup match. Leading at half-time, and playing well, this is a game that Reading felt they should have won, since the crucial turning point in this match came from a "goal" scored by Fernando Torres from an offside position. But, although they came home without the points, Reading heads were held high as they had impressed with their performance against the Champions League winners, and so psychologically they would have been in great shape going into match at Sunderland the following Saturday. 

But, of course, that match never happened. Torrential rain on Wearside meant a very late postponement due to a waterlogged pitch. And this is where it gets interesting... 

Although no-one at Sunderland will ever admit it or put it in writing, and the results of a Premier League investigation into the postponement were never made public, it's clear to everyone who's dug around a bit (literally or metaphorically) that the underlying issue that day was one a problem with the drainage system. Yes, it tipped down that day, but a Premier League team's pitch should be able to cope with downpours like that, as many have before and many have afterwards. No,it's pretty common knowledge that there was an actual problem - to put it bluntly, someone had botched the installation of Sunderland's new pitch, which had been laid in the weeks before the start of the new season, and had damaged the drainage system.

And that botched job was almost certainly a result of doing things in a hurry, as is so often the case. For Sunderland left the laying of the new pitch until the last possible moment in order to accommodate - you've guessed it - a Bon Jovi concert in mid-June. Without this, the pitch-layers at Sunderland would have had all summer to do the job properly and at a leisurely pace, so it's a fair bet that they'd not have made the calamitous mistakes that ended up with a pitch that didn't drain. Or, if they had, they'd have been more likely to notice and rectify the problems in what was a very wet summer. But doing the job on a Bon Jovi-inspired "just in time" basis denied them this opportunity. 

So, having established a link between Bon Jovi and the postponement of this match, how does that lead to Reading's eventually relegation? Well, I'm convinced that if the match had been played that day, Reading would have won it. As we've seen,they were full of confidence after their performance against Chelsea, whilst Sunderland were on a low - they were ravaged by injuries and suspensions, and their only recognised striker, Steven Fletcher, had only been bought the day before the game, along with midfielder Adam Johnson. All in all, that day was the best possible one on which to play the Black Cats, and the relief about this postponement was palpable amongst Sunderland fans of my acquaintance - I feel sure Reading would have won if it had been played. 

But apart from the obvious advantage of having an extra three points, winning that day would have meant Reading's season would have panned out quite differently in a number of potentially crucial ways. For instance, they'd have gone into the following break from football on a winning high, full of confidence. Because of the change to the Chelsea fixture and an international break, they already faced two weekends without a match - this postponement changed that to three weekends. There's a substantial difference to the mindset of a team that goes 20 days without a game, on the back of a win, to one which goes 25 days without a game on the back of a defeat. That even longer break meant they effectively had to start the season again, and with an early win under their belts I'm sure a lot of the nerves of the early months of the season, and the millstone of chasing their first win, would have evaporated and the season would have panned out quite differently. 

But there's another compelling argument, too. For me the low point of the season, the point where Reading really established themselves as relegation certainties, was the replayed match at Sunderland in early December. Quite apart from the dire performance, this was, you probably recall, the match which effectively ended Danny Guthrie's participation in Reading's season, as he declined to travel that day, with his head "not in the right place." The season might well have have ended on a much more positive note without all that unpleasantness in December.

So whilst there's obviously no way of proving it, and whilst I'm aware that it's pointless speculation just for the fun of it, I do remain convinced that in an alternative past where Sunderland had not delayed their pitch-laying because of Bon Jovi, Reading's season would not have been so calamitous and with an early win and confidence-boost they would have avoided relegation.