I think I speak for the vast majority of us when I say that we have already overachieved this season. I know a number of you felt at the start of the season, just like myself, that a comfortable mid-table finish with signs of footballing progress and a bit more of a team identity would have been very satisfactory. Ending up in the top half would definitely have been a success. Jaap was a gamble, albeit an exciting one. We had, bar a couple of lovely moments in the cup and an all too brief period under Steve Clarke (still think our demolition of Ipswich was the best Reading performance in a number of years) endured a pretty miserable couple of seasons. This campaign, then, has to be classed as a great success when put into that context, regardless of what happens at Wembley.
Are we ready?
However, there’s an elephant in the room and we need to talk about it. I have myself uttered these words, and have heard a number of others espouse similar opinions. Something along these lines… ‘I don’t really want us to go up’ or ‘I’m pretty ambivalent about getting promoted.’ The Premier League is a circus. There are still many, many questions to be answered about the intentions of the ownership, especially considering recent sagas. We’re simply not ready. It’s a brand new team, and they are clearly not the finished article in Stam’s image. You know the arguments.
To be fair, I’m sure in his dreams too we’re zipping it around a bit quicker. We’re worried club management will get carried away and sacrifice our future for trying to stay in the Premier League. I hear you. I hear you. In some ways, not going up will give us more time to continue laying the foundations that Tiger, Brian Tevreden, Stam himself, and many others at the club have started putting down over the last couple of years. The benefits, even if we were to go up and lose every game, are evident, particularly with financial future in mind, but if we don’t get promoted it really would not be a disaster. The presence of the playoffs gave us a concrete achievement to tout, and in reaching that, Stam could cement it into the ‘very good season’ category, whatever happens on the hallowed turf.
Whether you’ve been swept up in the tantalising promotion excitement of recent weeks or not, there is something more significant going on. The boys really captured the scenes at the away leg on the podcast. I don’t get to enough away games, I have to say, but the noise from our end was incredible, and the scenes when we scored will be talked about for years. Now part of it was the wild excitement of the sheer surprise of being ahead, and part of it was a roar of defiance, having been given no chance by all and sundry (the sky commentary was apparently horrendously biased). There was something more though. I’m going to call it belief. Not belief in the sense that we would win or could win, though that was definitely present, but belief in the team, as a team.
A Reading Way?
This is all a bit intangible, I’ll grant you, but let me explain. First, think back to the couple of seasons before this one, particularly under Adkins and the second half of Brian’s reign. You saw eleven players out there, who by and large didn’t seem to care about each other, or play for the shirt, with the one glittering exception of that cup run. At Craven Cottage, and back here, we saw the culmination of what they’ve been hinting at to a greater or lesser degree all season. Not only has Stam put a plan in place, but every single one of them believes in it, every single one of them is prepared to fulfil that role for the good of the team, every single one of them believes in each other’s ability. They are, to use a well-trodden phrase, a team once again.
The effect this has on the fans is a beautiful one. I think most fans would agree, that if they can see a team playing together, playing with intent, and every so often in an aesthetically pleasing way, whether they are winning does not matter nearly as much. Clearly, Stam’s style has its critics, which I can understand, but when the players are so committed, it really doesn’t matter, because as a fan you can believe they really are representing you. Hence the increase in noise and excitement, both away and at home.
Now, of course, if we don’t go up, we have to be aware that Stam might go, but Brian Tevreden has us travelling in a very positive direction anyway. He has built an identity around the club and, once again, we believe.
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