I’d spent my TV time in the days leading up to Crimbo watching BBC One’s fabulous adaptation of ‘The Christmas Carol’. It led me to reflect on my own experiences of watching the ‘ding on Boxing Day over the years.
For the ghosts of Christmas past, nothing haunts me more than the 3-0 reverse we received at the hands of Wimbledon on Boxing Day 2003, effectively the worst game I have ever seen at the Mad Stad. Google it, but Wimbledon were atrocious that season and effectively went out of business soon after, but they still beat us. We were also well beaten by Palace at home just before Christmas that year, 3-0 once again. Horrid.
This game was of course my ‘present’ Christmas. QPhahahahahahaha. That utterly pointless team down the M4. I think because they ended spending a fortune on players they didn’t deserve during the Redknapp years, their fans have an overly inflated view of where they should be.
That said, their recent history draws more parallels with us than I care to admit: poor manager choices, spending beyond our means, dwindling attendances and inconsistent results are all factors that have led us both to dwell in the lower regions of the league in recent years. Their form going into this game had been patchy and that gave us a good opportunity to build on the home victory last time out against Derby.
According to some family members (my brother in law), I’d spent the afternoon snoring on the sofa in front in ‘The Lion King’. I’d like to point out that, although I did fall asleep during what I believe to be a decent re-working with CGI of a Disney classic, I didn’t snore and if he wants to take it further, I’ve already passed his details onto my lawyer. See you in court, mate!
A short taxi ride from the mother in law’s in east Reading saw us arrive at the hotel in good time for the bizarre KO time of 7.30. The hotel itself has recently been renamed and re-decorated, but still serves the same selection of continental lagers amid classy surroundings. I was delighted to see the tasteful Christmas decorations up and running and was particularly taken with the ‘light blankets’ that were set up around the balcony. A genuinely lovely touch.
A few Amstels whilst watching Leeds snatch a point set us up for a fiery and lively derby. Upon entering B13, it became apparent that Reading fans had come dressed as blue seats in some sort of bizarre fancy dress competition. Despite cheap tickets and a gambling company subsidising travel vehicles (buses), this was clearly not enough to persuade the Berkshire masses to leave their homes and venture out to watch the battle of the hoops. Food wise, I couldn’t eat anything. I’d eaten whipped cream for breakfast and inhaled two desserts after the turkey wellington lunch, so I was in no mood for any more cooked meat to be honest.
Bowen’s team selection seemed sensible given the absurd fixture list over the next week. What was a real surprise was his choice of outfit. The Welsh Pep was adorned in a lovely grey trouser and v neck combo, with a smart navy overcoat. Whether it was because Sky were in the house or he had had a particularly good haul from Father Christmas remains unclear, but the look was fitting of a man who was ready to stand on the touch line and stir another steaming pot of liquid football. The game started frenetically, which was reflected in the behaviour of the small birds flying overhead, swarming towards the fluorescent lights in search of their own insect-related feast.
Halfway through the first half, I experienced another haunting (not as dramatic as the one Scrooge received, but enough to cause me some mild panic): I’d gone through the wrong turnstile! What horrors would befall us as a result? Had I ruined our chances of three points against our deadliest of all London rivals? These thoughts tumbled around my mind like socks in a washing machine.
As I mulled over the consequences of my actions, the effects of the European lager ingested earlier took full hold and I needed to visit the facilities. As I entered the desolate concourse, I noticed the lights were on all four of the turnstiles of gate five. Were they mocking me? Were they reassuring me? Were they warning me of the health and safety risks that the piss-covered floors posed to me in the toilets?
Half time arrived and it was time for another lager. If I could make one change at the club, it would be to convince the catering staff to pre-pour the lagers. Everyone wants one, no one wants to queue, just get them poured. Simple as. They only serve four drinks in pint form, so even if they had 19 of each ready, they’d sell them. As we drank said lagers and watched the talking heads on Sky on the TV, the bins were being changed in the concourse. I was amazed by the speed, concentration and pride these people took in their jobs and if I’d had a pound in cash, I probably would have tipped them.
The second half warmed up a little on the pitch, as if both sets of players remembered that they were live in front of a national audience of probably thousands. An absolute peach of a net nugget from Swift led my QPR-supporting friend to WhatsApp me: “(deleted expletive) me. Was sat right behind that. What a goal”. I smirked to myself amid the realisation that he probably had to swallow a large chunk of pride to send that and also that I could use it evermore against him. Lovely.
A series of bizarre tweets from Reading fans were then shown on the scoreboard for the next 15 minutes, but because I sit in the Dolan and my eyes aren’t ideal, I couldn’t read them. Club 1871 did their best to keep the atmosphere going (love their work) whilst the Mad Stad was treated to a “to me, to you” as neither team felt like keeping the ball for a prolonged period of time. Reading pushed for the second goal and came close on a few occasions.
The Dolan was treated to an outrageous incident when Nakhi Wells began warming up on the pitch, which led to continuous cries of “get off the pitch”, “you are stupid” and “why are you doing this to us?”. Chilling. Shortly after, an absolute thunder strike from a chap wearing a mint-coloured shirt hit the crossbar and Rafael did well to parry the rebound. Some desperate defending from the real hoops followed as Reading weathered the storm.
Fans of both teams began leaving early, no doubt eager to get home to some cold dried meat and a stale mince pie. A hilarious little episode ensued when Club 1871 refused to give the ball back following a QPR corner (the tinkers) and, coupled with some robust and resolute defending from the back line, that saw the Royals hold out for the three points. Back-to-back wins at the Whitley Bowl have pushed us into 15th place and it’s a decent way to end the decade at home. The Sky crew rushed on to the pitch at full time to set up the man-of-the-match presentation as the Royals hugged each other in celebration of a job done.
As for the future Christmas spirit, if the next few Boxing Day games are as fruitful as this one, I’ll take it. Reading are in good form as they enter 2020 and with a winnable game away at Preston on Sunday, they may well head into the new year in a strong mid-table position. I still have no idea how good we are, such have been the inconsistencies in both results and performances, but they are on target to reach my pre-season prediction of finishing 14th.
I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and I hope you enjoy the rest of the holiday. See you next year and thank you for reading!