The Preston North End game marked my first game ‘back’ since mid-August when we obliterated Cardiff City. The absence was down to a deadly combination of stag dos, weddings and down right lethargy to go, which resulted in the longest time away from not seeing games in my 27 years as a fan.
After the Cardiff game, I was quick to text friends and loved ones about the fact that we were “definitely going up” and that George Puscas was “100% the greatest player to ever play Championship/Division One football”. I already knew that Jose Gomes was the most handsome man in football, but I loved him even more after this downright annihilation of a fellow promotion chaser.
How delighted I was then when this theory collapsed like a warm Easter egg in the ensuing weeks, which saw us go from certain title winners to definite relegation candidates, leaving us (I say ‘us’, but I mean the board) no choice but to sack the man we all loved unconditionally and bring in our sporting director - surely a first for any club in England and probably any club that wasn’t from Italy.
Either way, the Preston game gave me a chance to rekindle the optimism, reset the clock and get back to my team. One of the best things to happen this season is the introduction of Blue Collar Food: a local company that have lots (and I mean lots) of different food options around the ground on match day. I find myself eagerly checking social media in the days leading up to home games for updates on the menu offerings rather than injured players and availability.
The Cardiff game allowed me to try something different in terms of matchday fare. I hadn’t bothered before then as it was too hot to eat, instead choosing a diet of mid-strength lager and crisps (God I love the summer). But Cardiff was on a Sunday and I felt I should mark it in some way. And how I marked it! I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoyed the best meal I’ve ever had at a football ground, possible ever. It was a vegan (so 2019!!) Buddha bowl, presented to me with a sustainable, wooden fork, lashings of guacamole (I’m soooo middle class) and a delightfully warming chilli sauce. It also had some beans, rice, spring onions and tortillas. Oh. My.
For Preston though, nothing took my fancy. I was preoccupied with Mark Bowen and what he’d be wearing. Would it be a full suit? A tracksuit and boots? Casual wear a la Pep? Would he have a stupidly long club coat on? To my delight, he seemed to be wearing a combo of two styles. This man.
So I settled for a coffee from easily the best coffee house in Reading, Anonymous Coffee, and a peanut butter and chocolate bar from a famous American confectionery giant which I won’t name here, bought from the garage on Berkeley Avenue en route.
To the game then. Reading seemed more direct, in the same way that trains are when travelling from station to station. Unlike the aforementioned trains, Reading lacked an end product and failed to break the deadlock of a very resilient, stubborn and Northern defence. They had chances, but didn’t take them. Preston’s ‘game management’ was being met with lots of tutting and shaking of heads from the home fans, something that no doubt didn’t go unnoticed among the more experienced Preston players who clearly thought they should tone it down in the second half for fear of a middle-class riot.
The ‘tactics’ from Preston only intensified in the second half and the tuts developed into ugly boos and a crescendo of moaning and complaining. Incredibly intimidating for the Preston players who I’m sure won’t experience a more hostile atmosphere until they travel to somewhere like Fulham with their ‘neutral’ stand.
As the second half wore on, I found myself regretting my catering choices. I was hungry. Not just for three points, but for a proper meal. I contemplated heading down to the concourse, but remembered the fare on offer down there. Pies, some sort of chicken burger and Haribo. Bloody Haribo. Who in their right mind goes to footie and asks for Haribo?
Editor’s note: I love Haribo.
I stuck it out, much like the Reading defence, and waited. As the game reached its climax, a whopping eight minutes was held aloft by the fourth official, an event met with polite applause, but also murmurings of the “car park will be awful” and “God sake, ‘You’ve Been Framed Gold’ is on at 5pm”.
Cue 98 minutes. Jordan Obita decided to strike the ball from 98 yards away which the Preston keeper did well to parry. The ball fell to the third best American to ever play for the Royals and smack: 1-0. Limbs from everyone. Except of course, the very fans that Miazga decided to go and see in the family section of the Eamonn Dolan Stand. From the replays this morning, you can very clearly see one gentleman mouthing to Miazga “please be careful, my son’s Nintendo Switch is in his Joules backpack on the floor right by your feet”. Luckily, Rafael arrived to drag everyone back on to the pitch and so catastrophe was avoided.
Three points in the bag, a dogged, more direct performance and a valuable lesson for me: always eat the Souvlaki at the game.