Every season, there’s one game at 3pm on a Saturday that literally no one can be arsed with. It turns out that it was this game. No one could be bothered: the players, Club 1871, the away fans, the stewards (of which I saw one eating a KitKat on the 24-minute mark). I could go on, but you get my drift.
No one wanted to be there and, judging by the sparsely populated Whitley Bowl, Christmas festivities had taken a full hold of the Royal County as people swapped another 90 minutes of watching the Championship’s finest slug it out for festive sandwiches and shopping (probably in The Oracle, easily Berkshire’s premium shopping mall).
I’d spent the morning in Yattendon buying a Christmas tree; an event so stressful, time consuming and strenuous that led to me thank my lucky stars that it was only an annual event. As a result, I was ready for some lager and fine-quality football. As it turned out, the rest of the day gave me 50% of my wish list (it was lager, in case you were wondering). Prior to the tree shopping, I’d gone in search of my most favourite festive snack: the bubbly Santa from Marks and Sparks. This confectionery item is effectively a Santa-shaped chocolate, not dissimilar to an Aero. Alas, my local M&S (the BP on Tilehurst Road) had sold out. The writing was on the wall at this point.
A pre-match crawl of the Walkabout and The Monks in town confirmed to me that Christmas shoppers were people to be avoided and concerned about. In addition, the plethora of Brum fans in the town had led me to confirm my own suspicions that I needed subtitles to understand them with their semi-northern accents permeating a wonderful pre-match catch-up. A horrid accent from people with a bleak outlook on life.
After a sweaty bus journey and a swift round in the hotel (me: Amstel, my mates: Guinness and Heineken) it was game time. As well as my usual entourage (my dad and an Eastern European friend), I’d bought along a good friend who was eager to see how the Royals were doing this year. Sadly, this game showed no reflection on how the team had actually been performing or indeed, served any kind of indicator on the quality of the league this year.
To say the first half was dreadful would be reserved and restrained of me. It was beyond dreadful: I’m looking for a better word, but will settle with dross. It was a scrappy game that Reading failed to scrap in and basically did nothing of any note except cancel out a freak goal by Brum. Early on in the half, I saw one chap enter the Dolan with a bucket from KFC. I spent a good portion of the first 45 minutes guessing which dead bird part he’d select next (breast, thigh or leg) like some sort of awful farmyard-based roulette. From what I could gather/count, he’d treated himself to a 10 piece and the meal was heavily weighted in ‘leg’ favour.
As half time approached, my hunger set in. As we began descending the slippery, vitriol-covered (yes, there was some swearing during the first half) steps of B13, Meite popped up with a lovely header to equalise. My mood was instantly up as I headed straight to Vegivores, the vegan people. A cheeky little Mexican box, which contained rice, beans and crispy onions was washed down with another pint of Amstel. As a result, I headed back to my seat in good spirits and confident that we’d get at least a point against easily the most average side in the league.
The crowd were still flat, but the Royals had suddenly picked up their tempo. Mark Bowen became ever more frustrated and as Garath McCleary gave away a free kick (which wasn’t actually a free kick, but the referee gave anyway because he was a bit crap and useless), the mood around the home fans darkened further. Arms became crossed and brows began to furrow as Bela shaped up to hit a free kick, which nestled into the net in front of the Brum fans. Reading then huffed and puffed, but as the clouds overheard circled like a vulture eyeing up a carcass, it became clear we were heading for an L.
The referee (who was crap and useless) continued to get a hell of a verbal beating (“you’re an idiot” and “you’re rubbish” were my favourites) as he consistently gave in to the Blues’ time wasting and crude game plan. The chap in front of me, on 69 minutes, decided that now was the time for a mince pie which he carefully unwrapped from some noisy tin foil before carefully dismantling the festive treat. Gimenez completed the misery on 88 minutes, which saw the small attendance begin to stream out of the Mad Stad. A consolation was added by Lucas Joao, but the damage had been done by then.
As regular readers will know, I recently invested in an excellently made bobble hat, which had served to be a lucky charm. Sadly, because of the aforementioned engagement with a Christmas tree in West Berkshire, I’d left it at home. Was this the reason we lost? The answer to this will never be solved, but I would like to point out that I will be wearing it against Derby County, so I’m pretty sure we’ll win that. The issue facing Reading is that they can cope without one of John Swift and Ovie Ejaria, but not both. At least one of these needs to be in the team to force any sort of creativity. Both of them being out led the midfield to become a congealed mess of staleness and negativity which stunted the opportunities of the front two.
There was also a distinct lack of Christmas clothing at the game: no Santa hats, ear muffs, jumpers and the like. Thankfully, we have a game before the ‘big day’ and I can’t wait to see the eclectic mix of snacks and festive cheer that descends upon the Dolan in December. Hopefully everyone will be in better spirits by then and the players will be able to turn up to get three points on the board. Likewise, I’m hoping I’ll be able to snack on a bubbly Santa at half time and everything will be ok. We can only hope. Onwards and upwards.