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View From The Dolan: All Things In Perspective

Ben recaps the defeat to Sheffield United, a game overshadowed by a serious medical incident for John Fleck.

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Winter is here. I know this because I have to seriously consider what I’ll wear to games now to keep warm, especially given that this game was mid-week, at the end of the month, featuring a team that have fallen so far from grace that they are almost irrelevant (Sheffield United, not us…).

The Berkshire Coliseum is chilly at the best of times, but with a balmy 3 degrees scheduled to be the temperature at KO, it was positively arctic. With that, I put two pairs of socks on and dug out the old scarf. I made way down the stairs but then remembered I hadn’t kissed the cat so made my way back upstairs to do that and then left.

I was all ready to let my soundtrack to South Reading be Jimmy Eat World’s latest album, but an angry call from someone who shall remain nameless arrived via phone to remind that our children were listening to Spotify for their bed-time story on the Alexa. I calmly replied that maybe that person should get their own Spotify account, which was not met with a positive response. I put the phone down/hung up and made a mental note about how much I hate being middle class and how, one day, I’d write a book about it all.

For anyone who lives in the Reading area, you’ll know the roads are death. Actual death. Not real death, but death in terms of roadworks and expecting to get anywhere quickly and without drama. Surprisingly, the roads were clear and traffic-free. The council did their best to troll everyone by suggesting that there would “be delays” on their LED signs, but the roads were as barren as a pumpkin farm in February.

As I pulled into the car park and digitally handed over my tenner, I rued my luck that I didn’t live in Nottingham and that I couldn’t pay £5 to park and that I didn’t get the chance to walk along a beautiful river. It really did grate on me, I have to say (if you know, you know). After the video of the weekend with the chap moaning in the car park, it did make me think how easy it is for us as a club to wind up other fanbases. With effortless ease, I have to say.

I popped into the fanstore before the game to make sure I hadn’t missed any Dark Friday deals, but alas there was nothing new of note and in any case, all the sizes were either too big or too small. I gave another knowing glance towards the biscuits and left with all my money still firmly in my money pouch/wallet.

My mood heading into the game was upbeat and therefore, I felt it only appropriate to snaffle a lager and order a sausage roll (bonkers, I know). The last time I ordered said hot food item, they were “out of stock”. Much to my pleasure, they had them this time. And by gawd they were good: thick, meaty sausage meat was encased in adequately crisp puff pastry, with no grease or dryness present in the hand held meal. I would say it was slightly too hot and a tad browned at one end, but all in all a good, hearty snack. 7/10.

Talking of scores, I’d volunteered to do the player ratings for the game. I’d never done them before and so felt I had to concentrate extra hard on everything everyone was doing. The problem was that I was getting easily distracted by things everywhere else: pigeons, other people’s snacking habits, my cold nose. My concentration was waning quickly, not helped by the turgid fare on offer on the pitch.

At half time, I headed back down to the concourse to eat something, anything, to break up the boredom. I went for a Mars bar and forgot how genuinely sickly a whole one is. I nearly didn’t go back out for the second half, a bit like a sixth-former who’s used their free period to go up town and then not fancied going back to their business studies lesson. The weather app stated there was “haze” which basically translated as semi-freezing mist. Honestly, if there’s one thing I hate more than below-par football on a Tuesday night in late November, it’s being cold.

Of course, the night was to get worse in a completely unexpected and horrendous turn of events midway through the second half. John Fleck, the United midfielder, appeared to go down quickly. I had watched the flight of the ball instead of the player but suddenly saw players surround the fallen Scotsman and begin gesturing furiously to the bench. And then it became apparent that something was seriously wrong.

An eerie hush fell around the ground and it’s something that will stay with me for a long time. After lengthy treatment, he appeared to be OK, thankfully. After that, my concentration had completely gone and I just wanted to go home. Had I not been doing the ratings, I would have, but I stayed until the end of regulation and then extended injury time. It looked like we finished the game with four up front but I couldn’t really tell. My mind was elsewhere.

It’s weird. In those situations your first response is to worry about the human affected, naturally, but then your mind very quickly wanders to that of your own health and the health of your loved ones. In an instant, it can all go downhill.

Suddenly, us losing the game or me being cold didn’t really matter. Not really. And I guess this is why we go to football, because it takes us out of the real world. When those two combine though, it distorts expectations a little. There will always be another game, but it’s sobering to remind ourselves that other things can be taken away in an instant.

Take care of yourselves.

Until next time.