If lockdown taught us one thing about football, it’d be how important the game really is in our lives.
The saying is true: it isn’t just a game. It’s a way of life, an escape, a distraction and a passion. In mid-March when games started to be postponed, I was at the sports desk at the Express, wondering how it would feel to have no football. Of course, there’s not a lot of football in the summer with pre-season - but this was different. Born in 2000 with a then-fresh-faced Tony Blair as Prime Minister, it was certainly the first real footballing disruption in my lifetime.
Usually, my former manager at the Express would come up to me and shake my hand before we took a gentle stroll to the office. Not on this mid-March shift; he summoned me from a distance away, and at that point, you knew something big was happening.
When it comes to using data, I’m as tight as a fly’s backside and like to save as much as possible for when I need it - so I was unaware of what was happening at that point on the train journey there.
As soon as I got to the sports desk, you could hear the footballing world crumbling around us. Postponements and speculation galore, one notable thought was going through my mind that day. How would people cope without football?
Amid all the tragic deaths caused by the ghastly Covid-19, what about the other implications on people’s mental well-being? This isn’t and wasn’t a one-issue virus (in fact, there were probably more issues involved with this virus than the last general election) - and although I felt lockdown was completely necessary, it was going to be a gruelling time for a lot of people without our love-hate relationship of football (especially the latter when Reading are involved).
As promised, football did eventually return, albeit without supporters in the stadium. A new CEO and a new manager later, we now sit at the top of the Championship table, even after three consecutive defeats. Regardless of these losses, it’s given us what we were desperately craving during the first national lockdown: talking points about the club we love.
We may get back to the form we were in at the start of the season, we may not. I’m praying for the former because promotion to the Premier League would mean so much to us both as supporters and financially for the club. I have to say I’m not expecting us to be promoted at the end of the season, especially after the past few seasons, but Veljko Paunovic has done a great job so far and long may that continue.
As long as football continues, supporters of all clubs can get the escape some so desperately need with the trials and tribulations life can bring, especially at this difficult time. Mental health problems will not just disappear post-pandemic - but I hope this strange time can help to get people talking again.
TTE’s own columnist Johnny Hunt has been breaking down the stigma of discussing mental health for years now - and I hope football fans can get together, socially distanced of course, and talk about how their feeling. Regardless of who you are, it’s important to speak out at a time of need.
I know the fact we can’t get back in to the Madejski is affecting a lot of Reading fans at the moment. Who would have thought that after last season’s dire home form?! In all seriousness though, we will be able to return at some point, even though it may seem like a long way away yet.
Keep talking, keep in touch with your friends and family and if you are in need of help straight away, please call the Samaritans on 116 123.
I can’t wait to be back in the Mad Stad sipping tea, whilst 2-0 down to a Neil Warnock side on a miserable Tuesday night - how about you?