I take massive umbrage to Bristol. The place specifically, more on the team later. Here’s some things I often hear people say about the city itself:
- It’s got a red brick university
- There’s an excellent craft beer scene
- It’s accessible from a major motorway
- There’s a lovely zoo (which is actually true)
- David Walliams studied drama there
- House prices are reasonable
- The transport links are very convenient
Yeah? Well so’s Reading mate! (Apart from the zoo and Walliams, obviously). What people don’t recognise is that it’s full of middle-class Prosecco drinkers who just want to be liked. No, when it comes to Bristol, I have a rather large fried potato on my shoulder. As for the team, they seem to be the equivalent of a wasp at a picnic: always there, hanging around uninvited and bothering you when you least expect it. To prove this fact, I’d like to remind all Royals fans that they cost Jose his job in October. Well, it wasn’t them specifically, but it was his last game in charge of the club.
Mid-week games are always a funny one. The temptation to behave like it’s the weekend is always there, but you know it’s a school night. Likewise, the 8pm kick off always tends to knock the natural football clock out of sync. I chose to drive to the game to make things easier and give me a chance to whack on a Spotify play list on the drive from Upper Tilehurst to the Whitley Stadium. A couple of songs in and I was really enjoying myself: Bombay Bicycle Club, followed by Circa Waves, followed by Local Natives, followed by - to my absolute horror - Wet Wet Wet! WTF, as the kids would say! Two wholly unpleasant thoughts arrived in my mind as to the reason for this utterly awful musical travesty: 1) That my wife had been playing havoc with my Spotify account, a system she doesn’t really understand or 2) I’d been hacked.
As I approached the old greyhound stadium car park, I had to sideline these thoughts because a new terror awaited me in the darkness: the car park money-taking process had gone contactless. “This will be a nightmare when we get into the Prem” I muttered to myself. The ironic thing about contactless is that it is only as quick as the person using the machine. Literally tens of cars were queued up behind me as I waited for the vehicle in front to finish their transaction. To really mess things up and prove that I’m no one’s ‘yes man’, I paid in cash. As I dodged the puddles the size of reservoirs and eased effortlessly into a double space, I couldn’t help but feel smug about my actions. And then Wet Wet Wet reappeared on the bloody playlist and I turned my engine off in disgust.
The short stroll up the hill allowed me to catch up on the match preview. Lee Johnson’s comments before the game about us spending lots of money on the team irked me. I don’t like him to be honest, I think he acts like a car salesman and has a habit of winding teams up. Additionally, I think his tactics and coat choices are questionable at best. Finally, I am continually delighted when his team hang around the play-offs like a bad smell all season and then fall at the final hurdle.
Anyway, enough about Lee and back to me. I had deliberately not dined at home as I was sold on Vegivores for the evening. Yep, that was what I was going to have. But as I approached the black-tarpaulin-covered eatery, something changed in me. A young chap walked past me with some chips. But these weren’t just chips. They seemed to be covered in a delicious looking sauce.
“Where did you get them?” I asked. “Chipsmyth bruv” was his response as he part-sprayed me with his newly purchased potato product. Game changer! I hurried along to their tent, placed my order (dirty fries) and paid with cash (again). And to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. These chips had Parmesan cheese, hot sauce, bacon flakes, ranch dressing, rock salt and chives. Honestly, if I’d been sure CCTV wasn’t working, I’d have gone and ordered the same again. They were quite, quite delicious.
I was fortunate (or not) to be in the ground earlier than usual and proceeded to watch the team warm up. The energy was there, as was the swagger and confidence. Finishing wise, the lads were in fine fettle. But my attention was drawn to some cheering and merriment from Club 1871. Back together again after their association-imposed hiatus at the weekend, they were cheering/mocking/jeering the City players’ shots on the warm up goal. Truly great banter and banter, I hoped, would unsettle the players before the match itself began. As for the team sheets, it was a bold choice to leave out Sam Baldock. Leaving Michael Olise in made sense and the rest of the team picked itself. The punters trickled in slowly and effectively, taking their seats in the freezing (it wasn’t freezing) conditions.
What struck me most about the first half was the City keeper. Daniel Bentley is a name familiar to most who have watched football at this level for a while, but his bizarre series of shouts throughout the first 45 made the whole thing almost unbearable. He continued to cry “oooot” like an owl in mating season. It was one of those things where, once you became aware of it, you couldn’t not focus on it. He even moved his arms like a night creature, crying “ooooot” all the while. Really unsavoury stuff.
Reading were by far the better team, threatening the owl keeper’s goal regularly. Jordan Obita was having plenty of joy down the flank and John Swift created something out of nothing by shooting from long range which Bentley did well to flap away (another bird reference). Half time approached and I made the conscious decision to stay in the seated bowl and cast my eyes over the matchday programme. I noticed that this game was designated a ‘mates rates’ game, which was bloody ironic as I couldn’t give my spare ticket away for the game. Even more ironic was the fact that I was one of only four other people in my row in B13, the Dolan sparsely populated and in essence, effectively barren.
The second half saw my knees give up the ghost and effectively become useless, the cold settling into the joints perfectly and restricting my leg movement to an absolute minimum. Reading looked a little more proactive going forward but a sucker punch against the run of play from the Robins stunned both the players and the fans. Bristol then calmed themselves and played the game sensibly, time wasting at every opportunity and frustrating the creativity of the wide players.
Mark Bowen gambled and used all three subs in quick succession, Yakou Meite having the most impact with a couple of half chances towards the end of the game. It was to no avail as the visitors managed to hold on to take all three points back down the M4 to their over-rated and over-hyped city. Upon leaving the ground, I could hear the away fans singing joyfully at the result. It’s a sound that really does carry and is dreadfully upsetting, like finger nails on a chalk board. I imagined Lee Johnson being Lee Johnson and celebrating like he’d just been invited out for a shandy with Harry Redknapp or something.
The loss makes the play-offs incredibly difficult now. This was a game that needed to be won in order to keep up with the chasing pack for those coveted four spots. Furthermore, the attacking options look bare as the players available are woefully out of form and lacking goals. The club have a matter of days left to address this but we seem to say that every window, don’t we?
Having said that, the result was tempered slightly by the memory of my fantastic pre-match meal and the realisation that, regardless of the next few results, we probably won’t get relegated now. I didn’t listen to any music on the way home for fear of discovering another random track from a crappy 90s band that had snuck into one of my playlists. I still don’t know where that song came from and I may never know. What I do know is that the lyrics to said song are scarily in line with being a football fan and that Reading, regardless of the result, can always depend on my love. Sing it with me...
Until next time.