Reading’s start to season has been absolutely sensational. Four games, four wins, seven goals scored and just one conceded. It’s more than we could have ever imagined after the turmoil that we endured during the summer break.
However, among my joy and excitement for what this team could possibly achieve, lies a huge amount of sadness and frustration that we haven’t been able to be in the stadium to witness our perfect start to the campaign.
I completely understand that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and the health of the general public should be the top priority of course. But I think now is the time, and I know I’m not alone in this, to start putting the motions in action of getting fans back into stadiums - and here’s why...
Firstly, fans’ mental health. That might sound strange for people who don't know football, and the term ‘it’s just a game’ is banded around an awful lot. But trust me, it is not just a game. People who aren’t interested in football and don’t watch it will never, ever understand the passion and the love that us fans have for our clubs - and just football in general. It’s 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon when literally nothing else matters.
Fans use games as a release from whatever may be happening in their day-to-day life. And to go without a release as strong and as powerful as this for seven months now can be, and is, extremely tough.
Obviously, I am not saying that this is a matter of choosing between a person’s physical wellbeing and mental health. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think there were a safe way of getting fans back into stadiums. If the government is urging people to go to the cinema, then surely there’s scope to get fans back into open-air stadiums, at a social distance, watching the thing they adore the most.
At this stage, all we want is to watch our team play. I want to be stood in the concourse, with my Dad, eating a Chicken Balti pie and sipping a pint of Heineken. And then after that, I want to go and watch Ovie Ejaria absolutely embarrass another Championship full back. I don’t care if I’m five, six, seven, eight seats away from the next fan at this point - I just want to be in the stadium. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
Secondly, looking at football as a bigger picture rather than solely from a Reading point of view, if this goes on for too much longer, clubs up and down the country are going to die.
Like I said earlier on, the last game we were allowed into was played on March 7, which means it’s been seven months since any clubs received proper gate receipts from ticket sales. The lower-league clubs cannot stay sustainable in that situation.
As Reading fans, we are fortunate. We will stay afloat, and we have been able to not only do so but also spend money on new signings and also recently complete the launch of Bearwood (which looks absolutely sensational by the way). Other clubs will not share the same fate.
We saw it with Wigan Athletic towards the end of last season, who I believe are still looking for owners, and then if you go further towards grassroots level, the picture gets even bleaker. Only last week Macclesfield Town were forced to wind up as a football club.
If fans aren't allowed in then more and more clubs, I fear, will end up going down the same harrowing road as Macclesfield. That may not mean much to many people, which may be fair enough as I'm sure there are a lot of fans only worrying about the state of their own club at this point in time, but as a pure football fan, I don't want to see any club die.
I know, for the first few weeks at least, it would only be a small few who would get the chance to go to the Mad Stad again. But at least that would be progress, and a huge step in the right direction. It would give not only the lucky fans who get access to the game a lift, but also every other football fan in the country as it would be another leap towards normality - which is ultimately what every fan is craving so badly.
I would honestly give my right arm to watch us get trampled 4-0 at home to Oxford United right now. And as much as you, my fellow Loyal Royals, might try and deny it - I know you would too.
So, I know it’s a huge long shot, but if anyone even remotely close to the decision-making process of getting fans back into stadiums happens to stumble across this piece from a fan-run website for little old Reading - then I hope you read it, and I hope you see how much this means to not only me, but all of us. As I know I’m writing this on behalf of every other Reading fan, and every other football fan.