I think as football fans, we do objectively weird things. Deciding to travel the nine-hour round trip to Huddersfield Town on a scorching Saturday might be one of them. Certainly, the looks I got from work colleagues deep into Friday afternoon suggested they thought as much.
Most people would prefer spending their August Bank Holiday weekend by the river or barbecuing with friends. Yet, 800 Reading fans who made the trip to Yorkshire would happily tell most people that they missed out on one of life’s great pleasures: The Victorious Away Day.
If you have any desire of hitting the 92 football league grounds in your lifetime, or simply just as many as possible, Reading have given you an incredible opportunity this season. When I googled Dai Yongge for this piece, just to spell check his name, I came across this article from October last year.
Written by Jonathan Low, it is an open letter to the Reading owner about the declining situation of the football club. Low notes that “fan apathy appears to be at an all-time high”. The comparison to Saturday could hardly be starker. This is no slight on the article - during the Paul Clement/Ron Gourlay era, there was little that the fans heard from owners.
I’m sure paying for free travel to the 15 furthest away games has not made a great impact in Dai Yongge’s bank account; the man is exceptionally wealthy. However, it makes a considerable difference to every Reading fan. He did not have to pay for free coaches, no other owners do. A return train fare to Huddersfield is £105. STAR’s coaches cost £30.
Considering that Huddersfield belong to the Leeds United and Fulham clique of charging an extortionate £30 for match tickets, free travel can be the deciding factor for many fans who decide to go. So, if you’re debating whether to go Middlesbrough, Swansea City or any away game this season, just go for it. Free travel and a fun team are not things that come along often. The coaches even have charging slots - what more do you people want?
Now back to Huddersfield. What a day. It all started at the West Street bus stop where the mood was one of buoyant optimism. These people were committing to travelling 191 miles to face a manager-less Yorkshire team in crisis and had the audacity to be confident of a Reading win? So quickly the mind can block out memories from three weeks prior.
Given that this is a travel review, I would be remiss to omit the actual travelling, but honestly, the best part about the journey was that it was uneventful. Woodall services had nice benches, I guess. If there is one minor drawback with the free coaches, it that they take away the opportunity to really see a new place. Some might argue that’s a positive thing for Huddersfield. Still, it can only add to the away day buzz to have a look around the town, find the pub on the way to the ground or start scrapping with the locals.
Yorkshire itself is strikingly green. That might sound obvious but even the buildings were overgrown with flora. So much so that, when the overhead sign (pictured) welcomed the southerners to the John Smith Stadium, it felt like Jurassic Park had gone British. Luckily, the only dinosaur in sight was a bald Scotsman on the Reading bench.
The John Smith Stadium is a curious one. It feels more like an American arena than an English stadium, with a lot of open space and grandiose architecture. Backed onto a forest on one side, you can imagine it’s pretty intimidating on a winter evening. As it was, the uninspiring views over the town reminded everyone this was still very much Huddersfield - not Huntsville, Alabama.
Mark Hudson’s Terriers took their cues from the summer heat and suffocated their southern visitors. The mood spread to the stands too. Huddersfield had as good a home support as I’ve heard in a long while, even if clappers should be ceremoniously burnt, Fahrenheit 451-style. Yet, as the afternoon simmered along, it was Andy Yiadom who sparked the fire in the away end. His shot cannoned off the bar and reinvigorated that pre-match optimism. From there, Reading only grew more in confidence before they stuck the first blade into the tiring Terriers.
If I had to explain the phenomenon that is Ovie Ejaria in full flight to an extra-terrestrial, I’d get this video of Bambi skating on ice. “Now imagine this”, I’d say, “but Ejaria is in full control of his limbs and has just drilled one bottom corner past Grabara”. Such grace and poise are simply a privilege to watch.
Ovie is undoubtedly a very popular arrival back in Berkshire, if the mobbing he got by his teammates were any indication. The loan system always seems a bit heartless - who wants to be moving home every 12 months? - so it’s great to see him enjoying his football. Ejaria’s post-match smile and wave after hearing his name sung is already a front-runner for heart-warming moment of the season.
It was fitting that Michael Morrison would have the last say. His introduction to the back line has coincided with one goal conceded in three games and a newfound solidarity. As much as I liked Tiago Ilori, he never had the Big Meaty Head that all great centre backs need. Morrison absolutely does not lack in that department. An all-round great contribution to the #limbs.
As seems customary nowadays, players came over at full time. Again, like with the owner, small gestures can make a massive difference. It was fantastic to see that Tom McIntyre just loves it all. He loves the sun too apparently; I’ve never seen a Scotsman so tanned.
Huddersfield was a mixed bag from a traveller’s point of view. I’m all in favour of planting a forest in Green Park to make the Madejski Stadium more menacing. Their atmosphere was worth taking back to Berkshire too. Regrettably, we did not get to see much of the town itself. Again, I’m not sure whether that was a blessing or a curse. The lack of pre-match pub goes down as A Bad Thing. Also, Yorkshire is a really long day trip, who knew?
However, these away days are naturally highly dependent on the match itself. Few would look back fondly at their Saturday if Reading had lost by two instead of winning. A gritty second win on the road in 22 attempts made it all worth it for 800 Royals. Scoring two late goals in front of the away stand doesn’t hurt either.
Side note, if you’re off to a game on your birthday, bringing chocolates is always, always, always the right thing to do. Hope you had a great birthday, Paul from Coach One.
Man of the match: John Swift. Rename it the John Swift Stadium. Scored or assisted six of Reading’s last eight goals. Please wrap him in cotton wool José.
Food court: 5/10. Hot dog wasn’t a rip-off, and that is the best thing that can be said for it. Distinct lack of Yorkshire puddings. Bog-standard football food.
The Huddersfield Experience: 8/10. A momentous win on a gorgeous Saturday.
Conclusion: This Reading team will not win the league and that is not a problem. They are bringing the fun back to supporting Reading FC and that means a hell of a lot.