It’s incredible how quickly you get back into the routine. My second game of the “season” and, although it’s sad in a way, I bloody love having only 2K at the Berkshire Stadium. The traffic is a dream, so much so that I knew I could leave Upper Tilehurst at 6.30pm, stop off at Waitrose (to get chocs), go to Costa and still be in my seat at 7.23pm.
In terms of Waitrose, I went with a Tony’s Choc bar. Don’t know why. Maybe because it was wrapped in paper, maybe because the wrapper was red (I’m very romantic) or maybe because there was a massive (wasn’t huge) sign next to it saying “introductory offer”. With Costa, the barista double cupped my cappuccino: I assume because he assumed I was going to the game because I had my RFC face covering on. Must remember to email them and say thank you, actually. First-class customer care.
Car park-wise, it’s incredible right now. An actual incredible experience. I don’t have to contend with massive craters in the ground or stressed attendants and I can wear whatever sneaks I want, safe in the knowledge that they won’t get dirty or savaged as the ground I currently park on is smooth and tarmacced (not sure that’s a word) and I’m happy about that. I’m not one to insight anarchy or riots (both are uncouth) but we could quite easily start tailgating like Americans do at sports with some tins and cooked meats (or peppers if you are vegan). Seriously, let’s make it happen. I think it would be bloody ace.
I’ve also worked out that the face mask (which is of course mandatory and punishable with a tut if you don’t wear one) provides a layer of warmth that is needed at this time of year. For the last game I wore a hat: it was too much for my face/head. And to be fair, the RFC mask is a dream as well! It fits perfectly, has a smooth material feel and is well ventilated. For only £5, it’s a quality purchase that also allows me to show off my “colours” when I’m wandering around a family discount store or, say, going to the vets. So, invest wisely and invest today in the navy blue RFC face mask (#ad).
One thing I can’t be doing with is buying tickets in advance, waiting for the postman to arrive with the ticket, taking the ticket out of the envelope and then remembering to take my ticket with me to the actual game. As I approached the turnstile, I took the ticket out of my wallet and had suddenly run out of hands, so went to the put the ticket in my mouth, which failed because I had my mask on already.
As the numbered piece of card fell to the ground, a portly steward gestured toward me: “how many times have you done that, mate?!” he saughed (that’s a cross between saying something and laughing about it). “Not many actually because this is only the second game I’ve come to in nine months because of a global pandemic which legally made it impossible for me attend any live football games” I said back, with my eyes.
I’d decided pretty early in the day that I’d chuck on my massive Reading coat. You remember that jacket that Arsene Wenger wore a few years ago that made him look like one of those inflatable men that wave in the wind and advertise used cars? Yeah, mine does the same. It’s massive. On the plus side, both fans and stewards confuse me with a member of staff, like a scout or someone on the technical side of the game for the club. As a result, I get a lot of knowing nods.
In fact, one of the stewards on the concourse asked me how the players had looked in training this week. “Fine” I mumbled. “Just fine” and then I walked off to my paid seat. Anyway, this thing has so many pockets I lose stuff. 15 mins before KO and I wanted to smash up my Tony’s bar. Could I find it? Could I heck! I was beginning to panic (genuinely panic) I’d left it in the boot of the car (where I keep all my secret and special items... mainly de-icer, emergency face masks and bottles of Smart water).
I’ve realised I’ve said absolutely nothing about football yet. So... the warm-up was good, really good. The players kicked the balls. The teams news happened, with both sides naming 11 players. Norwich had an awful pre-match uniform: purple, green and yellow. Yuck. Is that ok? Right, that’s the basics done. Back to the chocolate. I found it in a pocket I hadn’t checked and it was nice and I liked it so I’d probably buy another bar. Thanks, Tony.
The game: look, it was a bad mistake for the opening goal. The team were all over the place to begin with, just chasing shadows really. Alfa up front was an interesting one - pretty sure he never imagined that would happen when he joined in the summer. There was almost a ‘scramble’ formation between the front four players to begin with and that took time to settle.
To be fair, the one thing this team does very well, regardless of who’s playing, is respond. After the Canaries bagged the first goal, we were quick to respond and get back into the game. The main issue was that Gibson wasn’t pushing forward enough when we had the ball (same with Holmes on the other side) and was being too stand-offish when defending. Coupled with the fact that he was being left totally open in front as there was little to no regular cover meant that he wasn’t having a particularly enjoyable first half. That said, he was sticking at it.
The second half was much of a muchness. The tempo and intensity from both teams went out the window a bit. It wasn’t a pen IMO, but that’s the difference between experience and inexperience, with a Premier class striker to knock the winner in. I still think we were worthy of a draw and it’s a good learning curve for all involved. We needed to be more direct: we weren’t. We needed to play down the middle a bit more: we didn’t.
What was really, really frustrating was the attitude of some of the fans. We’ve just been let back in after a long lay off. We are pushing at the top end of the table when everyone predicted we’d just about stay up. Yeah, some of the passing wasn’t vintage. Of course, having no recognised striker on the pitch didn’t help. But my word, can you imagine the scenes if we didn’t have players trying their absolute best? Or not taking the league leaders all the way and making them fully work for the three points? Just have a day off, yeah? If you can’t get behind this current team, there is literally no hope for you.
Rant over. Negative lunatics aside, a thoroughly enjoyable game with some promising youngsters continuing to hone their craft.
And... #tailgateatthemadstad, let’s get it going!
Until next time.