League leaders, live on Sky, playing another team nicknamed after a fruit, 8pm KO - what could possible go wrong? Well, turns out a fair bit actually.
I don’t like this time of year particularly: it’s getting colder, it’s getting darker, it’s getting scarier (and that’s just following Reading - wahey!) and, in football terms, long-standing issues tend to start coming to the boil. For us, it’s the injury list and the names of absentees that are beginning to damage not just the squad and starting 11, but our long-term prospects in this league.
8pm is a right old pain in the chest, it really is. I can accept a 5.30pm kick-off or a midday kick-off, but 8pm on a Saturday is normally reserved for some delicious food and watching something which doesn’t resemble medium celebrities dancing on TV. But no, here I was, battling my way through the hordes of drunk middle-aged 20-year-olds acting like they’d “been away” for the day.
I left the house at around 5ish, a time when I’d normally be getting back from a 3pm kick off and made my way, via bus, into town with my neighbour and good friend who would be attending his first game for a year or so. As the bus rolled through the concrete jungle into town, it was clear there were loads of “adults” dressed up to take part in the annual idiot festival known as Halloween, a tradition which started out as a group of American farmers who used to gather in a field to sing to their vegetables in order for them to grow every October and then developed into a celebration which allowed adults to behave like children by “dressing up” and being scary.
So yeah, there were loads of idiots in costumes bought from their local supermarkets littered around the town like dropped chips on a British beach. We headed straight to Brewdog because a) I still had a voucher to use there and b) because they have a zero-tolerance policy to anything silly and c) because they sometimes let dogs in to have a drink (the four-legged kind). Some pints of pale ale and some nose bag later and we were all set to get back out on the street and dodge the zombies/people dressed up as zombies.
Because we are both mid-30-something professionals, we made the decision there and then and there to get a cab instead of travel on another carriage of grime and despair (a bus) to the Reading Arena. Except our cab driver didn’t get the memo/wasn’t a regular reader of my column and as such, was unfamiliar with the names I give the ground:
“Hi mate, can we go to the Reading Arena?”
“The Berkshire Dome?”
“Reading’s premium entertainment venue?”
“No, no not there. The South Reading Coliseum?”
“The Mad Stad?”
“Oh… the Select Car Leasing (Limited) Stadium?”
And with that, we were on our way. Pre-game, I’d agreed to meet some of Reading’s premium Twitterati. Sadly, after having purchased 10 jars of continental lager for us all, it became clear that they were, what youngsters call, “gaslighting me”. I won’t mention names because I don’t want to give them the satisfaction, but @MaffRoyal, @SimfromBucks, @MattJoy96 and @BobbinsRoyale, thanks - thanks a lot.
They didn’t show up and chose something called the fanzone (never heard of it) instead. To be fair, the ambience in the hotel bar was freckled with respect as fans of both clubs mingled happily over their various drinks. It was warm and pleasant and we seriously contemplated staying in the warm and comfort to watch the game.
As it turned out, we didn’t. Upon entering the seated the bowl, an awful feeling crept over me like the shadow of a swan creeping over a fish in a pond (must check if swans eat fish, actually - I feel like they should?): it was the remembrance game and I didn’t want to get caught on the stairs mid-silence. Climbing at least 10 flights of stairs is no mean feat for a chap with a slight cough (it’s viral, not Covid) and I spent the next few minutes catching my breath and wheezing.
We startled brightly and with purpose, Puscas coming closest to breaking his duck/fixing his goose than he had previously. If he’d scored THAT volley, then Swift would have been in line for assist of the year, such was the fluency of the play leading up to that chance. As the interim whistle approached, I made my way down to the concourse to collect some alcohol. Of course, I was able to witness on the TV Bournemouth take the lead through some pretty iffy defending and my internal organs sank: I knew then it was unlikely we’d get anything out of the game.
The second half was slow and sluggish, gone was the sprightly endeavour we’d shown in the early period of the first half. The visitors scored again and that was it. Frustration clearly reached a tipping point over in Y26 with fans fighting each other and then the stewards. I looked up to the control room and wondered what they were seeing and felt sorry for the stewards having to deal with it over in the stand. Just go to the game, have a biscuit and a giggle and go home, it’s that simple.
Back on the pitch and we showed no signs of life or getting remotely back into the game. The match dwindled out like an unattended fire at a Cub camp and so it proved that a third loss in a row was confirmed.
Our season won’t be defined by playing teams like Bournemouth. The frustration from the game stems back to the loss against Blackpool and, until we get another win on the board, that will continue to be the case. The fanbase appears to be split between the “he needs to do something” versus “there’s nothing he can do”. We’ve all got our “favourite” young player who “should be given a chance”, but the reality is that the injuries are hurting us. We are already reaching the dog days of this season and we are only just coming into November. There are no selection headaches, no question marks over the team: the 11 picks itself and there are players who desperately need a rest, but can’t take one as there is no one else to come in right now.
It’s getting colder, it’s getting darker, it’s getting scarier: until we get some more players back, this will be the mood around RG2 and with that in mind, I personally can’t fault the players or manager at the moment.
Until next time.