Over 100 days had passed since I (and every single Reading fan) had been able to wake up on a Saturday and call the day ‘match day’. It was definitely a better feeling than waking up on an Easter Sunday, equal to a birthday and not as good as Christmas Day. But still, the feeling was pleasant and I liked it. The thought that the team would actually play in a meaningful and purposeful competition was really quite exciting and gave the team an opportunity to pick up where they left off all those months ago after beating Birmingham City in the league.
In the days leading up to the game, the main focus was for everyone to get set up on iFollow (and if you don’t know what that is, I’m not explaining it to you) in order to watch the game from “the comfort of their own homes”. Indeed, such was the urge for fans not to turn up to stadiums that the EFL produced a really awful and badly edited ‘advert’ telling supporters to do exactly that. Football currently is a changed world and it has taken some time to get used to the reality of not taking part in the match day experience.
On top of that, the game coincided with Father’s Day weekend, so the plan was for me to travel to the outskirts of Newbury to watch the game in my dad’s garden from a socially acceptable distance. By now, you will realise that I’m not actually in the Dolan, regardless of what the article is called, because that would make me a criminal and a lunatic and that’s just not me.
In theory, the plan was bulletproof: drive down the M4, get off at J13, replace the Dolan with my dad’s house, watch the game and have a beer, then go home. It became clear however that once my children got wind of this idea, there was no way I was travelling solo, the thought of going to Gramps’ house too much to pass up. And then of course, my wife got involved...
We’d agreed (I say “we’d” but actually I’d demanded) to leave at 2.30 and no later in order to get there for kick off. But of course, anyone reading this who has kids, a wife and any sort of other human in their life that they cohabit with who isn’t interested in football, will know that setting time limits or “unreasonable deadlines” (UNREASONABLE DEADLINES!!) is never, ever going to happen, such is the complete disregard for how important our “hobby” (HOBBY!) actually is.
In the 10 minutes before 2.30, I sweated like I’d not done for a while, charging around the house looking for cuddly toys, dog leads (for a cuddly toy), getting bikes into the boot, filling up water bottles and physically dragging people out of the house (it wasn’t violent) and into the car.
My wife drove, which made matters worse (and before I get done by the PC police, it’s not because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s a conservative driver) and I watched in horror as the time sped up towards 3pm but the speedometer stayed within legal limits. On top of that, my dad lives in the country (little village called Boxford) and the lanes are filled with overweight, lycra-clad 50-year-old males on their bikes. You can picture the scene: until they move out of the middle of the road, you can’t get past.
The only thing that made the journey bearable was reading the virtual match day programme (and yes I will print it off and put it in the box, thank you very much). As we approached the house, my wife decided to slow down to look at the Shetland ponies in the field and it was at that point I just lost it. I didn’t swear, I should have, but I was cross. I couldn’t even watch it on my phone as there was no signal to get on bloody iFollow. FOR GOD SAKE! I’d waited over 100 days for this and I was missing the kick off. Hideous.
And then of course, it quickly transpired that iFollow wasn’t working, to the surprise of literally no one, for anyone. What a massive pile of rubbish. Of course, we had to score in the time it was down. Joao apparently. No one knows how it ended up in the onion bag, but it did. When we were finally able to get into it, 10 minutes had gone. Let me put that into perspective: a whole ninth of the game had disappeared as quickly as the purple chocolates (the ones with the nut in the middle) in a box/tin of Quality Street.
It’s ok though, because they were sure to put a replay on. But they didn’t. Tim Dellor cheerfully explained that if we were just joining, Reading were already 1-0 up. Yeah, thanks Tim you flipping idiot. We’re just joining because iFollow is an absolute shambles of a platform that’s reminiscent in success of ITV Digital, which collapsed like a poorly made tower made out of a popular plastic building brick originating from Denmark. Even at the first drinks break (need that when it’s 16 degrees...) iFollow seemed intent on showing a fairly innocuous Stoke shot instead of the actual goal in the actual game because clearly they are actual sadists who get a kick out of upsetting actual fans.
I seriously toyed with the idea of getting my face on one of those cardboard cutout things that go in the stand and, to be honest, I wished I had. More fans than I thought ‘turned up’, happy to fork out £20 to be in the stand, but the stadium itself just looked a bit odd without anyone there.
Cynical, negative humans would say that Reading don’t have much of a crowd anyway, but the echoey sound of shouting, swearing and shrill whistles bounced around the ground offensively. I’m still on the fence about the crowd noise being piped into the ground and I’m not sure if the players can hear it or not. Either way, I need more time to decide whether I like it, which I think I’m entitled to.
Reading looked bright and busy and Joao looked like a new signing. And then of course, like any new signing on their “debut” he got injured. You had to feel for him after being out for so long and it will be a big blow moving forward as he will be missing for a while if it’s a hamstring. To compound this misery, the ref seemed quite happy to overlook the absolute savagery of the Stoke players’ tackles and refused to show a minor (or major) felony card.
Half time arrived and we had to listen to the commentary team prattle on about horse racing and where Stoke were having their team talk and social distancing, and how funny it all was. To compound matters, I was promised a coffee and a Twix to replicate the match day experience, but they didn’t transpire.
During the early stages of the second half, Morrison was manhandled in the area and should have been awarded a 12-yard death kick. Shortly after, my personal player of the season, Swift, hit the undercarriage of the crossbar. We were threatening heavily against Stoke’s absolute anti-football. On 61 minutes, the referee handed out his first minor felony card, much to Mick Gooding’s glee.
The coffee and Twix still failed to materialise and my stomach began vying with my ears for which personal organ of mine was the most annoyed (my ears because of Dellor and co). The commentating reached a precipice of stupidity when Tim began talking about the type of clouds in the sky. I gave my biggest eye roll since I’d watched ‘The Last Jedi’ (I had such high hopes for that film). I mean, I didn’t pay (or rather the club didn’t pay on my behalf) to listen to this nonsense and I’m not sure how I will cope in the last eight games. Maybe I’ll turn the sound off but, as a season ticket holder, I shouldn’t be put in that position (and yeah, I can play the season ticket holder card when I want to).
Reading continued to be the only team intent on playing what I’d class as football in the game, even though a few players were being carried (Meite, Obita, Ejaria). On 83 minutes there was a double swap with Adam and GMac coming on, and my coffee and cake (NOT a Twix!) finally arrived. And what a cake! Effectively a homemade Victoria sponge, the density of the top and bottom layers were even and well rounded. Sometimes with a Vicky sponge, you can overdo the cream and jam ratio. Not this one! All really well balanced and easy to eat.
No sooner had I finished it than Stoke scored. For God’s sake. Absolute robbery, it really was. Objectively, it was a terrible goal to concede, badly defended and misjudged by a host of those in blue and white shirts. Bowen seemed absolutely furious and I have to say, the goal was wholeheartedly undeserved. But then, how many times have I said that this season? The players switched off, the ref was on work experience, but we should be seeing the game out.
In all honesty, I will probably watch the next game on my own, maybe in the garage, with a plethora of Twix bars nearby. That way, I can avoid travelling across the county with the whole Thomas brood in tow. I will probably mute the sound too, as I can’t be arsed with BBC Berkshire chatting to me.
But putting all these little (but actually quite big) annoyances to one side, I am beyond delighted that we have football back, something to mull over and analyse, and that the remaining eight games can be viewed easily (mega lols) online. And if we play like we did against Stoke, I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t be another 100 days until we win again. And above all, I’m grateful there are eight more days in quick succession where I can wake up in the morning and say “yeah, it’s match day”.
Until next time.