I'm in two long distance relationships. One with my wonderful boyfriend who lives in ‘the promised land' of Wolverhampton; his words not mine. The other one is with Reading Football Club. My actual relationship is very equal in terms of feelings (even if he is a Wolves fan), we both put a lot of effort in to making it work and considering the distance we actually see each other really regularly. The Reading relationship can be particularly one sided, with me putting in a lot of time, effort and money to often end up frustrated and annoyed, but I carry on hanging on because I'm loyal and all the good times always outweigh the bad ones.
Big shout out to everyone who is in a similar situation to me. Granted my journey isn't so bad now being in West Sussex, but my Mum still does a 310 mile round trip for every home game from Shropshire and I did that for 7 years with her before I moved in 2013. She, and everyone else who has that kind of dedication to the team are definitely pretty awesome.
Here's some of the best and worst things about supporting Reading FC away from Berkshire.
Football becomes a proper day out
Away days are always a full day out but even home games are too. I spent a year living in Surrey which was only half an hour from the Madejski, but it just didn't feel the same for me. Moving closer to the south coast and going back to having to travel is something that I'm comfortable with, even having to contend with the M25 car park. I like the excitement to build whilst I'm travelling to the game, and also I find the journey home a good way to reflect on what I've just watched. I can get pretty grumpy if we've had a bad result so it's probably best that I have that time on my own!
Like I've also said in previous blogs, it's a great way for my Mum and I to spend time together, and we've had the same match day routine pretty much since I was 14. We park in the same place, walk the same way round the ground before we go through the same turnstiles and have sat in the same seats for 10 years. I'd like to think I'll be doing a similar thing when I have a family of my own.
In the same sense, it does take up a hell of a lot of time. It gets to a point where my social life revolves around the football. Thankfully I have a very forgiving group of friends, boyfriend and Dad who have now just accepted that they're very lucky if they get to see me on a Saturday between August and May.
Away games can often be closer than home games
When I was living in Shropshire, a vast majority of the away games were actually closer than the home ones. It's great when you get credit from the club and other fans alike, looking like a hardy individual that's made a long trip midweek somewhere like Barnsley, when in actual fact it's about 60 miles closer to Mum's than Reading is to hers!
I've also had the opportunity to go to some fantastic games, some of which I may not have necessarily gone to had I been living closer to Reading. I was there to when Shane Long scored a 100th minute winner in front of the Kop to knock Liverpool out of the FA cup in 2010 and its one of my favourite ever Reading goals. I was back on Merseyside a year late to see a single Matt Mills goal knock Everton out of the cup in 2011. I've even managed Scunthorpe and Rotherham on a Tuesday night. Glamourous, I know.
It's always a talking point
There's not many of us Reading fans let's be honest, especially outside of Berkshire. It's almost like when you tell someone you support Reading it's an enchanted land that they've never heard of. It offers all kind of questions and statements; 'why do you support them?', 'do you support anyone else or are they your only team?', 'someone's got to do it I guess'.
Sadly, that's the extent of the conversation 80-90% of the time. It's not necessarily because people don't want to talk about Reading, just people don't have much need to know about us. From an outsider's point of view, we're a half decent championship club which has had a few seasons recently in the Premier League. I'm always impressed when people can vaguely describe or even name a Reading player, but that tends to be because they now play for their team or they remember them scoring a decent goal a while ago.
There's only a handful of teams I actually get to talk about living where I am; Brighton, Crystal Palace and the usual Premier League teams you'd imagine. I often feel hard done by. Why should I have to know about Lewis Dunk or James Tomkins when the majority of those I spend talking with couldn't tell me a single thing about Joey Van Den Berg or Jordan Obita? It was bordering on heart-breaking when Paul McShane did a beautiful scoop turn against Huddersfield but no one else appreciated it.
However, it's always exciting when you find another Reading fan, being the somewhat mystical creatures we are. It's a nice realisation knowing that you're not the only one who supports from afar or travels a fair distance to games. When it happens at work if I see a passenger sporting Reading related attire I usually collar them and have a chat about football. They're probably desperate to get off on their holiday but it literally makes my day being able to talk to someone who understands me completely.
I know there are probably so many other things I could use annual leave for. Time away, just general relaxation and time away from work, but I really like to be busy and that craving to go and watch football is just too much of a temptation to make me stay away.
Zoom in on my empty purse
Football is a really expensive hobby anyway, let alone supporting from a distance and still wanting to go to games. Being in West Sussex also makes everything 32456735671974 miles away and every away game involves a lot of planning and usually a lot of money as well. Let's break it down how much it cost me to get to Newcastle in August:
Return flight from Heathrow - £107
3 days parking at the Airport - £60
2 nights in a hotel (halves with my Mum) - £45
Match ticket - £24
Match programme - £3
That's £239 before I've even taken into account food, drink and any other activities we did for the days we were up there. Putting that into perspective, I got flights to Berlin with that orange airline and 2 nights in a hotel in July for £130.
I know the amount I spend on football is ridiculous and people often like to point this out. But for now, I'm 24 and I work hard for what I earn and I have no commitments in terms of weddings, house buying, children and/or any other adulty kind of things you can think of. Therefore, I will continue to enjoy my hobby before other important stuff takes over my life.
Okay so Newcastle might be a bit of an extreme example, but my Mum spends roughly £40 per home game just in petrol. She does more home games than I do due to our work patterns, but over the course of the season and adding that to the price of the season ticket, it ends up being quite a hefty bill all for the love of the game.
We rely heavily on the media
I do get to quite a lot of games, but with everyone, life really gets in the way. In today's World you can get any information you want on the internet, and getting updates about a football game is no exception. However, it often doesn't fill the gap for a number of reasons.
To start with, there's so many people on varying different social media sites with 1001 different opinions on one incident in the game. It's hard to be able to picture it yourself what's gone on. 9/10 you'll never know either because it'd have to be something pretty special to make it onto the highlights shows.
Secondly, if I'm too busy to go to a game then I'm probably too busy to sit and listen or read about a game for 90 minutes. If there's a few weekends where I can't attend any football then I start to get withdrawal symptoms and feel really out of the loop of what's going on.
Finally, it really just doesn't fill the void of not being at a game. I was in Vienna whilst Reading were competing in the penalty shoot-out against MK Dons. Even though I was in such a beautiful European city (go there if you haven't, it's amazing) and it was only the 2nd round of the EFL cup, I was still desperate to be there and listening to BBC Berks from the hotel just wasn't the same.
Despite some of these annoyances, I bloody love supporting Reading from afar and everything that comes with it. I literally wouldn't have it any other way. I've just got to keep my fingers crossed that my family, friends and boyfriend carry on being as patient as they have been for a little while longer.