“Just ‘cause you feel it, it doesn’t mean it’s there” goes the line in one of my favourite Radiohead songs ever. That’s basically how I felt after being back in my living room watching us take on Birmingham City, having been at the Mad Stad for the win over Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Experiencing that feeling of watching live football again, being part of the atmosphere and watching the team on the flesh was a great thing that couldn’t have been replicated watching the team on TV. Once you’ve been there, it’s hard not to want it again soon after. At least I was warm, anyway.
Call me a nice guy, a hero of the people, a champion of men, but I elected not to get a ticket for this game. I didn’t think it was right having gone on Saturday and felt someone else should go instead of me. Whoever went in my place, you’re welcome.
I’m glad I didn’t go to be fair because the 7.45 KO time absolutely threw me. We’ve always been 8pm for mid-week games, always. And now we have fans back, it should be 8pm again, surely? Anyway, the change made me feel like I wanted a lie down. It also gave me indigestion because as I’d sat down to some risotto, my calendar alert went off telling me the game was in 10 minutes. I swallowed the Italian dish like a whale consuming a small fishing dinghy that had survived a major storm in the Atlantic Ocean, only to meet their destiny in the shape of the world’s largest mammal.
I entered the living room with my heart burning tremendously, switched on the TV and hit the red button smoothly and effectively. No iFollow for Benny for this game, oh no! It was quite a shock to see how sparsely populated the East Stand was as it felt a bit more packed on Saturday. Unless of course people were still outside the ground buying knock-off Blue Collar burgers (no, I will not let it go because I’m still very livid) or caught in traffic or were doing some late-night shopping at Reading’s second-best shopping estate.
The team was the same which was good because Pauno would have been a flipping nutter to have changed anything from the weekend. What is becoming annoying is that casual observers of our little club seem to believe we have only one player in Michael Olise. I would bet my collection of Welsh football shirts that most of these observers have never seen him play. He’s good, of course he is, but he’s not quite in Gylfi Sigurdsson territory yet.
Not that it was a surprise, but everyone in the stadium appeared to support the knee, a subject I had written on at length earlier in the week. A lot of our players had been vocal (and rightly so) about the awful scenes from the night before in the PSG game and I’m sure for them it was good to get out and play some football.
The lads in blue were hassling the visitors like a door-to-door charity worker pre-Covid. Although Brum had the ball plenty, the press from Pauno’s men was both intense and relentless. In the meantime, Hogan was doing his best to set the record for the quickest amount of offsides ever amassed in a game of football. Aside from having to watch this horrific brand of anti-football, I was quite happy in my little football bubble (oooh, political AND topical) until those chilling words drifted through the open door between the living room and the kitchen: “have you got any ideas for the elf tonight?”.
The f-ing elf. For those of you that don’t have a child/children, ‘The Elf’ is from a scheme which I think originated in corporate America, whereby the elf just visits for December and then leaves before Christmas to spend the rest of the year with Father Christmas. He is supposed to sit on a shelf, but never does because the adults who purchase him have to think of more elaborate and dangerous ways to display him each night.
I watched as mini marshmallows were hand toasted with a lighter, then placed on a wooden skewer and placed over a large candle (which I think was supposed to replicate the campfire). Then, some card was found to produce a tent for this bloody thing to sit in. Except, the tent made the elf look like he was having the world’s most primitive ultrasound. It was then placed on the table in front of me with a hearty huff and meant that I had to watch the game with it in my eyesight.
And then Birmingham scored. Thanks a lot Twinkle (the elf’s name). Once they’d taken the lead, you just knew that they’d spend the next 60 minutes (plus injury time) wasting every opportunity to not play football and be almost impossible to break down. And then they scored again. At that point, I felt like turning the TV off and going to bed, throwing the elf into the nearest rubbish receptacle as I went.
It was very clear that half time was going to be a big moment for Pauno and that he needed to get the rockets out and smash some tea cups and other delicate items designed to cause maximum noise when they were broken. I too had a big half time ahead of me as I continued to make sure the cat didn’t eat the elf’s marshmallows.
Half time seemed to drag forever. I said to myself “just let them come out and get on with it. I want to go home”. And then I realised I was home already! Oh how I lolled! In what was possibly the most random comment I’d heard this week, the commentator announced that we might hear bad language due to Covid. What?! So now we are blaming swearing on the virus, too?! Have a day off mate! I’m pretty sure I knew what he meant, but he got his words all face about arse.
We pulled a goal back through Meite (I saw a hilarious take on a classic Christmas song featuring his name on Twitter earlier this week - I’ll open my next article with the lyrics) and things seemed a little more hopeful for a few minutes after that. For the third game in a row, our opponents were shown a major felony card which resulted in a 12-yard death kick. Joao did the unthinkable and missed it, which gasted my flabber, I have to say.
The game was then reduced to watching two teams want to do two very different things: one to play football (us), one to hang on to the lead with any means necessary by playing the complete opposite to pro-football (them). The only redeeming positive was that we’d only have to play this lot once more in the league this season.
Despite how bad Birmingham were, we offered very little and deserved what we got. Yeah, we could have grabbed a point, but if I’m honest it’s not a point we really deserved. The positive vibes from the weekend had seemingly evaporated from both the players and fans and left us well and truly in the play-off mire, but not far off the promised land of the top two. Consistency is still lacking and this result was a genuine shock to the system.
Radiohead were right. We have to make sure we feel it AND make sure it’s there. Without it, we won’t continue to push at the higher end of the table.
Until next time.