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View From The Dolan: Mince Pies And Rainy Chaos

Ben’s latest offbeat look at the Mad Stad atmosphere, this time from a thoroughly enjoyable home win.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading v Middlesbrough - Madejski Stadium

I like Christmas. I welcome it. It’s pleasant. What isn’t pleasant is when organisations that aren’t shops or churches get involved in trying to make things ‘Christmassy’. Imagine my chagrin then when I discovered that the club were offering free dodgems and mince pies to everyone......OUTSIDE THE DOLAN!!

On approach to the ground, I could hear the garage music and see the neon lights. As I walked past the stale mince pies that were being dished out, I felt sorry for the people who’d been taken in by the offer and wished their stomachs a speedy recovery upon eating the freebie. Any mince pie that’s free isn’t worth having, trust me. With that rant out of the way, I shall begin.

Regular readers will know that I attributed the loss to Brum to two things: my missing bobble hat and the lack of bubbly Santa chocolates from M&S. Both of these elements were back in play for this fixture and after reading the article from our friends at Derby County Blog in the week, I was 99% sure we’d win. And what a win! Aside from the fact that Derby have been utterly shambolic both on and off the field this season, Reading deserved the three points.

Tom Lawrence should be nowhere near a football pitch right now and their performance spoke volumes about the current malaise at the Midlands club. On a wider scale, clubs need to be more diligent about how to deal with issues faced by their players and the drink-driving scandal is no different. They handled it poorly and are paying the price.

Back to us. Reading were given an early Christmas present in the shape of a sending-off and a converted 12-yard death kick to take the lead within five minutes. Adults and children alike were still shuffling into their seats at this point and the Dolan was in a state of flux. Nothing amuses me more than watching a football fan having to choose whether to continue eating his (or her) pie or celebrate a goal. I saw at least three people face this problem and I chuckled to myself as I tucked into the easily consumed Bubbly Santa.

Reading v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
Death kick converted
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Two minutes after the goal, stability was resumed and the hum of Christmas chat and weather grumblings hung in the air once again. Derby hit the crossbar and Charlie Adam turned the game into a ‘look at me’ contest by spraying balls around left, right and centre. He loves a long-range pass does Charlie. Half time approached and with that, a quick snack of a nut-based chocolate bar that used to be named after a sporting event was hastily consumed. No alcohol for me during the break as I had a mild hangover from the previous night. I also felt sick because of said alcohol consumption, so no other solid goods were taken in, said for the previously mentioned confectionery item.

The second half began in earnest and Reading doubled their lead shortly after. Things on the pitch became spicy with the Derby players beginning to throw their toys out of the pram. Off the pitch, chaos ensued when the heavens opened which led to the first 10 rows taking part in what I like to call “the stewards’ nightmare”. Picture the scene: rain + plastic seats + literally tens of people moving at speed = health and safety carnage.

One of the stewards actually removed himself from his stool to oversee the people moving towards dryness and the safety of the upper tier of the Dolan. In the chaos, one chap actually left his brolly on the floor and several programmes were left to their watery grave, the image of Matt Miazga (the cover star) gently melting into the concrete as the liquid weather lashed the Mad Stad.

Back on the pitch and if VAR had been involved in this game, they would have had an absolute field day. Tackles were flying in, penalty appeals were turned down and players began pushing each other in non-festive ways. The Derby fans did their best to get themselves a night in one of Berkshire’s premium police stations when baiting Swifty after an altercation that led to plenty of handbags from everyone in the scoreboard corner.

Another 12-yard death kick ensued shortly after, which should have really led to a red card too. The awarded penalty led my Dad to say “wonder who will miss this” reasonably loudly, which led to some chortles and knowing nods from those around us. Meite (yours and mine) stepped up to make it 3-0 and push the Royals further up the table. Naysayers will say that we won because Derby were awful, but a great man (Sir Steve Coppell) once said that you still have to beat what’s in front of you.

A couple of players are really solidifying their places in the fans’ hearts. Rafael is performing admirably and largely going under the radar. Likewise Pele, who came on and was really solid (and isn’t on a reported 10k a week and didn’t used to play for Stoke or Blackpool) and made crunching tackles where needed. Another consistent showing from Gunter meant that the comments from Tim Dellor from last week were thrown back at him in the best possible way and confirmed the increasing arrogance creeping into the pundits on BBC Berks.

Bowen is continuing to grind out results and push the team forward and for the first time in a while, there is genuine competition for places up front. A reasonably kind fixture list over the festive period could see the Royals reach the heady heights of mid-table and the change in kick-off time for the game against QPhahahaha will see very few attend the Whitley Bowl. I for one can’t wait: 7.30 is around the time ‘Eastenders’ gets put on at the mother-in-law’s and for once, I have a legitimate reason to not be there. Merry Christmas to me!