I’m a massive fan of tradition and consistency and things that are largely predictable. Not because I’m boring, I’m quite exciting actually, but because I like to know where I stand. Of those traditions and consistent things, my least favourite is our incredibly long streak of terrible games/performances/results against Stoke. So, you know, I was quite looking forward to watching Pauno’s men smash that one up, seeing as we’d just savaged one of the most expensively assembled teams in the league in our last outing. Could we do it?
OF COURSE WE COULDN’T! In a week in which we didn’t play, but still moved up the league and moved further away from the plebs in mid-table, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d run riot against a team that basically can’t score and is so bad they have both Steven Fletcher and James McClean playing for them. But this is the Championship, remember. The most inconsistent and least traditional thing on the planet.
All in all, it had been a pretty good week. The win against the Cherries, the squad staying intact (ie no one left), results went for us, Ben Howard released new music and my fantasy team smashed it in mid-week (105 points!!!). I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to the game, but it was another opportunity to get some points on the board.
I’d got it into my head that we were on Sky, so on the morning of the game, I checked to confirm the KO time. Huh. 3pm. Oh well. I had a few more hours before Pauno and the boys took apart another unsuspecting group of players. At 2.50 I switched on Sky Sports TV. But, there was no Reading. No Pauno (no party), no Lucas Joao. And then I realised: we were back on iFollow. FFS. My upper brow moistened with cold sweat and my palms became clammy. A whole 90 minutes of Tim and Mick. And (AND!) I had to bloody pay for it!
Calmly and professionally, I ran downstairs, jumped the last two steps, stormed into the kitchen, slapped open the cupboard door and snatched my wallet. I stormed back upstairs, aggressively typed in my password and card details (of which I will keep private) and paid for the game. I caught my breath and then realised something: there was silence. No nonsensical wittering from Berkshire-based lunatics. No reminders of obvious things (“ooh, the sky has clouds in it” “both teams are lining up with 11 men”). No commentary. Joy.
To say the first half was dull would be like saying that Jackie Weaver has no authority: it was and she does (#istandwithJackie). Steven Fletcher failed to overcome the goal-line scrimmage zone and his goal was ruled out. He stood flailing his gangly tattooed arms around, but we all knew the truth: his goal, hair and face were all rubbish and that’s why it wasn’t given. Tom Maldini (I mean McIntyre - I keep doing that) was looking as solid as an ASOS takeover of a high-street clothing shop and the game had 0-0 written all over it.
At half time, I approached the fridge. Inside was a singular lager. I’ve found myself drinking more this lockdown. It’s not serious and you don’t need to call my mum or anything, but just the odd gentle beer more frequently than perhaps in the first two lockdowns. So I had a beer. I also snaffled a bag of Snack-a-Jacks. If you’ve never had them, I wouldn’t bother. They claim to be tasty rice snacks, but in actual fact they are pieces of cardboard pretending to be mini rice cakes, which in turn are pretending to be crisps. Basically the snack equivalent of a government conspiracy.
The second half kicked off (as is the tradition in all types of football matches, be it professional, amateur or in The Scottish Premiership) and even the lines on the pitch were wishing they hadn’t turned up. The game was so bad that even the weather tried to make it entertaining: rain, snow, rain again, bit of sleet. By the 70-minute mark, even that had given up the ghost.
What amazed me in the second half was the fact that, for all the rules there are in modern footie, both keepers were wearing the same kit! How on earth is it legal and morally acceptable for the goalkeepers to wear, essentially, the same colour (save for the badges, sponsors, and in this case, the numbers on the back)? “Surely that’s a rule break”, I said to myself, hoping that the ref would spot it and cancel the game immediately. He didn’t and I (along with anyone else who was still watching) had to endure the rest of the game with a face as stoney as a craggy rock.
There was still time for Ovie to produce some death stares in the direction of Joao and for Pauno’s hair to begin to recover from the almighty downpour that had befallen it earlier. As the minutes towards freedom (I mean the end of the game) ticked down, I could feel myself thinking about another beer. I resisted the urge and clapped as the relief of the referee’s end-of-match klaxon reverberated around my ears like the sound of an ice cream van pulling into my road on a hot summer’s day.
I suppose the only positive is that if we do get promoted, we won’t have to play Stoke for a year. That’s one tradition I would happily flush down the toilet.
Until next time.