After living in Reading for 50 years before moving to West Sussex in 2014, my visit to the Amex Stadium on Saturday was always going to be traumatic. To add tension to the occasion I took my eight-year-old granddaughter and seven-year-old grandson to experience their first ever professional football match.
Both had been born and brought up in the Seagulls' catchment area but up to that point had expressed no allegiance to any team (and why would they?). My granddaughter decided that she would become a Brighton fan, while my grandson, bless him, rooted for the Royals in line with a tradition established by both his grandfathers.
What he was forced to witness was not likely to turn him into a lifelong fan. Apart from the fact that viewing was limited, with most of the play taking place at the far end of the pitch to where the Royals fans were seated, (as Brighton dominated the first half and Reading the second) there was a distinct absence of anything to celebrate.
Where was the excitement? Where was that feeling of joy and euphoria at the scoring of a goal or even some thrilling attacking? The only time I jumped out of my seat in happiness was when Glen Murray's 'goal' was disallowed for offside. And that was about the extent of it.
Instead we had to endure a Reading team displaying all the weaknesses that regular supporters know only too well - a lack of sharpness in attack, a ponderousness in midfield and a vulnerability at the back that good teams will invariably exploit.
What was always going to be a difficult week turned out as badly as we feared with successive defeats to promotion rivals Huddersfield and Brighton casting a large question mark over the Royals play-off credentials.
Top Six Ambitions
It's too early to starting writing off their chances but the next few weeks are going to be a testing time for the players, supporters and the manager. All need to keep the faith and rise to the challenge if the season is not to disappear into a puff of unfulfilled dreams .
What we don't need is for key players to go AWOL. We don't need the likes of Garath McCleary, arguably the team's star man, to lose form and play so badly that he gets dragged off at a crucial stage of the game. We need Chris Gunter to find the kind of inspiration that helped Wales reach the European Championship semi-finals (some hope, his critics, will, no doubt, say). We need the January signings to make an impact, which they have singularly failed to do so far, and, in reality, do not look like doing.
Jaap's Part To Play
We also need the manager to lift the team and come up with a winning formula. Saturday's failure left plenty of questions unanswered about Jaap Stam's selection and tactics. Why for example does he insist on playing square pegs in round holes? Why was Tyler Blackett, who had been playing well at centre-back switched to left wing-back to replace Jordan Obita, who, by all accounts, had played well in the position at Huddersfield? Why was George Evans - back in the starting line-up by popular demand - deployed in the back three instead of his usual midfield role? And why, as a consequence, did Reading play with a back five with neither of two full-backs/wing-backs adding much to the attack?
So we were treated to the familiar sight of opponents playing a tight defence , waiting for the inevitable mistake from the Royals' pass-pass, going-nowhere style before pouncing to score the goals which brought a comfortable victory. Afterwards Stam insisted his team must 'learn and adapt'. But isn't this true of the manager, too?
As we walked from the ground with the singing of the Brighton fans ringing in my ears (and the prospect of plenty of taunting from my neighbours in the weeks/months/years ahead) I asked my grandson whether he'd enjoyed his first trip to a game. 'No, not really', he admitted.
I didn't have the heart to tell him that this is the life of a football fan. I was reminded of the quote from a Leicester supporter lamenting the departure of Ranieri, who said: 'Most of my life following the Foxes I've been miserable - but Claudio made me happy.'
Can Jaap do the same for us? On Saturday's evidence I wouldn't like my life on it.