I hadn’t been as excited about a game, genuinely, since the away leg of the play-offs against Fulham in 2017. Why though? I don’t know, to be honest. Just the general feeling around this group of players, the positivity around the club and from Pauno and the league position we occupied going into the game.
The fact that we are where we are would have been a far-fetched fantasy 12 months ago and the fact that we’ve done what we’ve done over the last few weeks with significant injuries shows the determination, quality and class of the current squad. So yeah, I was buzzing like a pensioner who was interested in ballroom dancing on a bus headed to Blackpool for the weekend.
I’ll be frank and say I had pre-match issues in the shape of my dinner. I’d got it into my head early on in the week that I should be feasting before the game on a bucket of hot wings from a popular fast-food chain that have a logo with a bespectacled chap on it. Instead, those plans/dreams were blown out of the water like a frog being targeted by a crude but effective air rifle (no frogs were hurt, this isn’t a reflection of my week or anything I’ve done or witnessed before the frog army (love that as a nickname!) get me or whatever). Sadly, I dined on sausages and mash which was palatable, even though I would have preferred the sausages to be veggie and the mash a little thicker.
Because of the aforementioned excitement for the game, I trimmed my beard, thoroughly cleansed my body (in the shower), washing all the areas and, upon exiting the shower and drying myself, I splashed my face with some cologne as if I was heading to The Turtle for some pre-match jars (easily one of my most favourite things to do, especially for those Friday night games).
I popped my training t-shirt on (which, incidentally, are currently 25% off in the online megastore), found a matching pair of blue running shorts, slipped on my sliders and headed downtown/stairs to occupy my place on the second sofa. What’s a second sofa, I hear you ask. Well, we have a room which is a kitchen, second living room/family space and dining room all rolled into one - a sort of mega room - and I was demoted to this area as my wife was on a zoom call with her friends in the living room (look, if you are confused by the layout of my downstairs, just DM me and I’ll draw you a picture (virtually) of the floor plan).
Due to the enormity of the game, I had pre-ordered some beer from the good folks at Double Barrelled which had been nestling in the fridge since their arrival on Wednesday. I grabbed one (Defying Gravity - an absurdly drinkable pale ale type liquid with monstrously refreshing notes of citrus) and settled in to the pre-match chattery on the tellybox. The team news was greeted with a fist punch from me, although Aluko I felt was a little unfortunate to drop out. I contemplated some snacks at this point, but felt it was a bit premature to dig in - it would be a long night after all and I needed to pace myself.
Sidenote - an apology: before we go any further, I just want to apologise for calling the online store the online megastore earlier: that was wrong of me. It’s actually the online fanstore, but I wasn’t wrong about their incredible prices on training wear (#ad).
The ale was going down quicker than Sheffield United (ooooooh, topical and pointed!), so I began sipping it more slowly- not because I’m a lightweight, this stuff is 4.5% after all - but because I only had three left in the fridge. Luckily, I had some West Berkshire Lager in the ice box (it’s what Americans call fridges) and had one of those to mix it up before KO.
Liam Moore was looking fabulous in the studio, almost like he had come straight from the set of a film located in a very nice and posh and exclusive area of the world. As the chat tumbled into actual football, it took the commentator literally seconds to remind everyone watching that if we didn’t get promoted, we’d get done for financial mismanagement. Thanks for that, thanks a lot.
We started well, but not outstandingly. Around the 10 minute mark, we kicked into gear a little bit more and were much more on the front foot. Andy Hinchcliffe tried to compare Joao with Solanke (YOU FOOL) and then the same Andy Hinchcliffe said that if you were playing as well as we were, you needed to score. And that is exactly what Josh Laurent, the coolest man in football, did. Mepham got his 6s mixed with his 7s and Josh picked up the pieces like a tired mother collecting bits of Lego from a Next rug.
Tom Mac, the babyfaced brickwall (trademark) made it 2 shortly after. And then things got silly. Joao bamboozled the defenders around him and slipped it past Begovic to make it 3. Three. One more than two and one less than four. 3-0. Without sounding like Pam from ‘Gavin & Stacey’, I was literally whispering “oh my Christ” to myself. What was this new devilry? What was happening five miles down the road at the South Reading Megadome? I needed another beer and a lie down.
I felt quite teary and emotional and reflective about all those times over the last few years when I’ve stormed out of the Dolan at the final whistle genuinely fuming at the crap I’d just witnessed. I reminisced about the footballing wasteland we’d been given as Reading fans. I thought back to 12 months ago when Our Saviour Mark Bowen was already talking about changes and clear-outs and redefining the mentality of the club and team. And then I just laughed heartily like a drunk pirate. We were 3-0 up against the pre-season favourites for the title. I collected another beer and gathered my thoughts and wiped my salty eyes and sat back down on the sofa.
I didn’t really watch the second half to be honest. I did, but it didn’t really sink in. It’s like when you read something but you don’t actually read it. I stood up and clapped when John Swift got subbed and applauded when Richards ran hundreds of yards (it wasn’t hundreds) to support Ejaria in the box. I scratched my head at why the visitors didn’t start with David Brooks (and then I remembered it’s because Jason Tindall is their manager - lols) and hoped for a fourth goal.
On evenings like this one, it’s hard not to be romantic about football. For all the utter rubbish that this club has churned out over the last few years and the absolute despondency that they’ve bought upon the fanbase, it’s impossible not to be completely overjoyed, over the top and overwhelmed by results like these. Every single player was phenomenal and I can’t thank them enough for the effort and performance that they put in. It was just amazing. And long may that feeling continue.
Until next time.