Hopefully you're all enjoying the shiny new front page of The Tilehurst End. It's hard to believe how much the site has changed in the six years since we started in 2011, a year that also marked our last trip to Wembley for a play-off final!
Across the SB Nation network today, sites are helping share stories of just why we became supporters of our teams, with plenty of great tales on show, so I very much encourage you to go check those out. So as well as sharing my story, it's a great time to stress just why this website exists and what we hope to do going forward.
How I Became A Reading Fan
January 7th, 1995 in an FA Cup Third Round tie at Elm Park against Oldham was the first game I saw live. It shouldn't have been my first game, as Wimb Snr had bought seats for us for the Derby fixture a few weeks later (the day that saw Uri Gellar try and fail to use psychic powers on the Norfolk Road Stand...). Yet I was so excited to get involved that after much nagging, Dad allowed me to come along early and make my first trip to the hallowed concrete.
The Tilehurst End terrace was our destination, with £5 the cost of entry for eight-year-old me. I still remember how big everything seemed as we walked up the slope behind the terrace to emerge at the top overlooking a resplendent pitch (it was probably far from resplendent but that's how I remember it). I don't remember much of the game itself, other than celebrating Scott Taylor's goal. We ended up losing 3-1 but I was happily wandering about the front of a half-empty terrace, sitting on the wall at the front and continually being distracted by the wandering food vendor, selling a variety of sweets and crisps from a tray.
The result really didn't matter, I enjoyed myself enough to come back for the Derby game, and plenty more after that over the following 22-years. The key question is why did I get hooked and why do I still follow the club all those years later?
So Why Come Back?
I guess the best way to describe it, is that it's a form of emotional gambling that leads you to feelings you struggle to get anywhere else. Take Manchester United fans, or those who follow City, Arsenal or Liverpool. Their emotional investment into their team is low risk but also low reward. Sure they'll have lots to celebrate but as fans of a club with millions of supporters world wide and a long history of near constant success, I always wonder what they really get out of it when they don't have the bad times to compare it with.
Of course much like gambling itself, if you really invest big, you have a lot to gain and lose. Those fans of big clubs that watch every minute, follow every shred of news and spend thousands of pounds watching their teams ride the roller coaster almost as much as we do. I have plenty of respect for fans across the world who dedicate their time and energy into their team, no matter how big or small. Yet fans of big clubs never have to go through the real total despair or experience the delirious highs that we do as fans of a team who still haven't settled into a proper resting place in the pyramid.
In those 22 years I've witnessed three promotions, three relegations, six play-off campaigns, numerous cup quarter-finals and one semi-final (that I didn't actually get to watch thanks to my wedding... may have mentioned that once or twice?). It's often said that you can only really appreciate the good times if you've been there through the bad and while that's all relative to every club and individual fan, it's fair to say Reading have experienced both ends of the scale over the past 22 years. The highs of the 106 and 2012 promotion campaigns felt so much sweeter because I'd stood on a cold lump of concrete watching us lose 2-0 at home to Grimsby. That cup run to Wembley was all the better because I'd witnessed losing at home to Chesterfield in front of 8,000 fans at a pretty empty Mad Stad, or seen us cheated at Elm Park in the 1998 Coca-Cola Cup Quarter Final against Middlesbrough.
You can't hold it against a modern fan that's never seen those bad moments. After all, I never had to live through fourth tier football or the possibility of the Thames Valley Royals. Likewise, I'm not going to belittle a Reading fan who's biggest pain was Derby 2008 or even Wembley 2011.
I love Reading Football Club, no matter how much they can sometimes drive me nuts, or leave me frustrated beyond words. All of that pain is worth it for the good times, not just on the pitch but when the club itself does something to really show they've got a heart. Ryan's Royals, the honouring of Eamonn Dolan, the Reading Players Wives charity, Sir John's walk to Wembley, the STAR Hall of Fame, the club's Community Trust, all fantastic stories that show how Reading FC are more than just a football team.
Yes you despair at the greed of Zingarevich, the wasted money on the Drenthe's, Pogrebnyak's and others, but when you've got 'Bush Watch' to look forward to, the rage soon subsides.
Speaking of which, this football team has helped me to meet some truly wonderful people, many of whom I'm proud to call friends. Football bonds people together in a way few other things can . No matter what you're doing or where you are it's a topic that can break the ice, provide a distraction or bring people together.
How You Can Get Involved With The Tilehurst End
Turning up to that game with Oldham and standing on the Tilehurst End also eventually led to the founding of this very website, something else which has provided some wonderful opportunities and experiences over the years for not just myself, but others we've been lucky to call our writers. Our TTE Podcast has seen us interview some real Reading legends and I'm excited where we'll be going next with our YouTube Channel.
Above all us, our goal since day one has been and will continue to be, providing a place for Reading fans to share their views and explore opinions on the club. We've yet to turn down an article based on its opinion or view and as long as it's vaguely coherent and not something that'll get us sued, that's a policy that won't change. You can find out how to get involved here but if you have any questions please just drop us an email to email@example.com.
Or why not use the fanpost feature? That's your chance to just put up quick thoughts, ideas or opinions directly to TTE readers.
We've inevitably made a few mistakes on the way over the past six years but overall I hope you've enjoyed what we've created here and will help us move forward in the future, either simply by reading and responding, or donating via our Patreon campaign. We're by the fans for the fans and while we're happy to have developed a good relationship with the club itself and plenty of other groups around football, we'll always do our very best to present fair, and balanced debate on the team.
Ultimately, however you ended up a Reading fan, why not let us know below? Whatever the result in the Play-Off Final, I'm happy we've got a club to be proud of and one that's backed by so many rather awesome folk.