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An Invasion Too Far?

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After a thrilling win which propelled Reading to Wembley, a number of fans took to the pitch. Was this the best course of action?

Reading fans celebrate on the pitch after the final whistle.
Reading fans celebrate on the pitch after the final whistle.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

I am sorry, but I’m going to talk about the pitch invasion after the final whistle.

I apologise because there is a case to be made that we should swiftly move on. According to this train of thought, we simply need to celebrate a comprehensive and thrilling 3-0 victory: one which catapults us into the semi-finals and on the way to Wembley.

Moreover, this game has thrown up several talking points, which means an exclusive focus on the invasion is questionable. For instance, the alleged racial abuse of McCleary, and the high profile and potentially incendiary policing of the game, both merit attention.

Finally, after the events of the Villa West Brom game, many of us are probably sick and tired of this kind of debate.

However, it is rare that the Reading fanbase is as divided over an issue as they seem to be over the events following the final whistle. Anybody who overheard conversations at the stadium, or who took even a cursory glance at social media, would quickly realise this. Striking disagreement suggests that we should begin a conversation.

Also, if we're going to be subject to scrutiny by the FA, we need to talk about this.

So, cards on the table. I did not invade the pitch last night. I did chant "Off. Off. Off". And I thought it was an embarrassment.

However, I did invade the pitch after our promotion to the Premier League – on that magical night of 17 April 2012. This was one of the best moments of my life.

Why the discrepancy? Well, it’s a bit complicated. Firstly, as TTE’s own RoyalHoops tweeted, pitch invasions for me should really be reserved for trophy victories and promotions. While reaching Wembley is wonderful, we have been there before.

Secondly, it scuppered a lap of honour. You may think these things are cheesy and contrived. I would tend to agree with you. But it might have been beneficial if the players could have received the full appreciation of a packed out Madejski Stadium after their heroic efforts in the previous 90 minutes.

However, both of these are fairly minor arguments. A botched pitch invasion, which only follows a quarter-final victory and ruins a club gimmick, is not a huge deal. Indeed, it can be quite funny. Reading fans are the champions of poor pitch invasions after all.

Yet, the story doesn’t end there. Here, I make a distinction. Two pitch invasions happened after the referee blew the whistle last night (regardless of the more comedic scenes earlier in the match). The first consisted of the Reading fans that sprinted towards the dugout, sang Que Sera Sera, and then, grinning sheepishly, slowly made their way back to the stands. This group were the archetypal examples of a harmless pitch invasion described above. They had a bit of fun, it was slightly silly, and everybody went home happy.

But a number of fans did not do this. As many of us know, as soon as they stepped onto the grass they surged towards the remaining Bradford fans. They then proceeded to goad the away fans, shouting over a line of riot police. Sporadic missiles began to fly back and forth. I’m pretty sure one even threw a flare into the Bradford fans.

Let’s just think about that one. If, after a thrilling victory which propels your team to the last stages of an historic tournament, your response is to throw pyrotechnics at the loyal fans of a League One club who had travelled hundreds of miles on a Monday night to support their team, then I don’t know what to do for you.

Two sets of fans chanting at each other during the game is one thing – and in my view should be encouraged. One set of fans throwing missiles and taunting the other after the game has finished, instead of celebrating with the rest of the stadium, is quite another.

For me, and I know for many others, it soured the post-match celebrations. Instead of applauding my team, I was chanting against some of my fellow Reading fans. But the invasion was harmful in more ways. Many were complaining at the start of the game about the heavy-handed police presence. It did appear over the top at the time. Indeed, it is not out of the realms of possibility that the sight of riot police may have been a factor in causing many of those fans to do what they did.

Still, if we want to argue against strong-armed policing, or divisive stewarding, then the actions of a few last night do not help our case. They harm it. If the fans or the club complain about the level of policing in future, then all the police need to do is play back the footage of hundreds of fans squaring off at each other on the pitch while missiles fly through the air.

This is why, for me, that invasion was wrong. It left a bitter taste at the end of what was a fantastic match, with an electric atmosphere, under the spotlights.

However, I am acutely aware that many people did take part in the invasion. Also, the issue is certainly not black-and-white. Just compare the varying coverage in the Metro and the Daily Mail on this, to see how wildly different views can be reached. I wonder whether my participation in the 2012 invasion, or my refusal to take part in this one, makes me a hypocrite. Any further thoughts and reflections in the comments below would be very welcome.