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View (Not) From The Dolan: Directions Are Funny Things

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With the 2019/20 season now over, Ben wonders what direction Reading are now heading in.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading v Middlesbrough - Madejski Stadium

Directions are funny things. At times, very straightforward, at others completely ambiguous. The only direction I wanted to head in before this game was away from the laptop and any kind of social media.

Had this been an actual live game where actual fans were allowed in the actual stadium, I probably wouldn’t have actually gone. Sad to admit I know, but these are the times we currently find ourselves in as Reading fans. I’m not even sure if I paid to watch it last night, such were the many different offers from the club in terms of refunds, credit notes, donations etc regarding season tickets. It effectively sums up years of mismanagement both on and off the pitch.

Yesterday was technically the first official day of my holiday and, all day, I was plagued by a sense of foreboding doom regarding the 7.30ko. I have no issues with Swansea: even when we lost the play-off final all those years ago, I couldn’t be angry or hold any malice against them as a club. What troubled me was the lack of performance I was expecting from us and the thought of finishing the season with three losses on the bounce made me want to physically vomit. What pushed this feeling on further was the sight of the SeaSwans’ mental warm-up kit: a bizarre collection of colours and shapes that made me diagnose myself with a migraine.

The other thing that troubled was the lack of Sam Baldock. After his comments at the weekend, I convinced myself there and then that our owners had disposed of him after he spoke in code in his interview up at Blackburn. There’s no smoke without fire and what he said had rankled with me in the days after - a feeling I can only compare to driving down a road of never ending pot holes. In essence, a little bit like how the club has been run.

What fans, players, hell, probably even staff who work at the club need is transparency. Who is this person, what do they do? Which area of the team does this fella coach? What’s the marketing drive and why? How are we recruiting players? I find it hilarious that in previous years, fans would go “oooooh, I’m sick of the ‘Reading Way’. It’s boring, soulless and cheap”. Yeah? Well those big fat badgers have come home to nest because now, not even the players can tell you what the ‘Reading Way’ is, mate.

As the game started, I settled down with a bowl of bacon-flavoured crisps (no, they weren’t bloody frazzles - I know what I’m about and I’m not about frazzles, so just leave it) and two bottles of Heineken 0%. And yeah, I am naming them because this column is yet to be sponsored and I’m in no mood to hide my favourite things. You’ll note I said two bottles: you’ll recall that I missed both of Boro’s goals in the last home game gathering an ice cream and answering the door, so I wasn’t making the same mistake twice, no way. I shut myself in the kitchen and got to work on my own personal demons - watching Reading play for the last time this season.

Plenty of players were on show who probably never would be again for us and I was chill with that. I’ve liked those players (well some of them) but I’m happy for a fresh start. I’m a big Chris Gunter fan (not because he’s a right dish) but because he’s Welsh, he tries and he was always pretty much fit to play and he averaged 6/7 out of 10. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’ve become used to mediocrity from my football club.

I don’t settle for it in any other areas of my life. Take my baked bean choices: it’s always Heinz, never supermarket brands. Or my chocolate for example: has to be Green & Black’s or Lindt. Mineral water: always branded, never not. I’ve realised I’ve said “areas of my life”, but I’ve only mentioned food and drink. You know what I mean. Pens! I only use a Uniball Eye, fine nib pen. Or a black Sharpie. None of this biro rubbish. Either way, in summary, I’d gotten used to watching average players play for our club and I don’t like it.

The game itself was engaging if not rewarding. A major felony card was shown to Yaks, a 12-yard death kick was converted by George and the first 45 finished 1-1. Two things about the first half struck me:

  1. Rino won another penalty - he loves that more advanced role.
  2. Our shots on target number was up.
  3. Tim Dellor and, to a lesser extent Mick Gooding, really need a holiday/some media training.
Reading v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The second half didn’t really seem to show that we were a man down. We were playing some ok stuff, the game was open and the team looked comfortable. So much so that I tweeted that the game was ok. And then of course the floodgates opened, with Swansea running riot and also getting wind that they needed one more goal to get in the play-offs. Suffice to say they scored another, they did get in the play-offs and our season fizzled out into absolute nothingness.

As a football fan, you get days and matches when you feel like you can’t be bothered. It’s been the whole season for me, save Cardiff and QPR at home. The players feel it, the fans know it, Bowen clearly is aware of it. We are a mess really and it needs a good, thorough assessment in order for us to move forward next year and the year after. Staying up is good, but the season hurts more when you consider the optimism we all felt heading into the season in August and the amount of money we’d spent on players, both transfer and salary wise.

I’m not one to support a manager or player: I support the club and I always will do. As long as there is a football club to watch and I’m allowed in (thanks Covid), I’ll be there. But all I’m asking for is transparency, openness and faces to be shown. Not this mediocre (that word again) mess that lurches from manager to owner to loan deal to relegation scrap.

Mark Bowen clearly knows the direction he wants to go in. Whether he’s allowed to do so is another thing altogether.

I’ll see you next season, whatever that looks like. Thank you for reading this column over the last 10 months. Have a great summer and stay safe.

Until next time.