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It’s Been A Gruelling Season, On And Off The Pitch

Olly emotionally checks out of Reading’s exhausting campaign.

Reading v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

When the final whistle went at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday afternoon, consigning Reading 2-2 Swansea City into the history books and mathematically ending the Royals’ playoff hopes, I breathed a sigh of relief.

That’s not me saying I didn’t want Reading to get into the top six or that I didn’t want Reading to win the game. But that final whistle was my cue to emotionally check out from this exhausting season.

Officially, there are two games left. But they will mean about as much to Reading as football fans do to Florentino Perez. Materially, the season is over.

Really, the season has been over since, well, take your pick. Some supporters declared the campaign done as early as the defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in February. Most of the fans were on the same page after the draw with Cardiff City 10 days ago.

In between, there have been moments when the season has been written off, but also moments where it all seemed possible again. Even after the Cardiff draw, Barnsley’s loss to Coventry was an injection of hope that actually just prolonged the pain.

That is what has made 2020/21 so agonising. Without having the release of being able to go to matches, the emotional willpower needed to follow from home has been titanic; particularly when there are so many games in quick succession with more midweek fixtures than ever before.

Since the home match against Bournemouth at the end of January, pretty much every game has been described as ‘the biggest of the season’. That has left us more on edge every time a ball is kicked and given the impression that some matches matter more than they do.

Don’t get me wrong, it has been fantastic to be involved in the race for the play-offs this season. It certainly makes a change from three seasons towards the wrong end of the table and, for the most part, I have enjoyed it.

Preston North End v Reading - Sky Bet Championship
We feel you, Pauno.
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But such a rollercoaster, when your hopes are raised and then quickly dashed over and over, takes its toll. Even if you’re the world’s biggest fan of Nemesis Inferno, even you start to feel a bit sick after four or five goes in quick succession.

In the absence of the East Stand fanzone, the concourse or that bloke who sits behind you in Y22, social media has this season become the only way to discuss matches. This is great, and really it’s what social media should be all about: an online community where like-minded people express views on a shared passion.

But inevitably, given the way Reading have collapsed, it’s become slightly toxic. There is no other way to show discontent. You can’t boo or yell at the ref (well you can and probably have, but the only one who can hear is your neighbour), so anger and frustration is evident on social media more than ever.

Equally, this season has provided the opportunity to react to games as they happen. If you’re at the match, dodgy 4G or the car drive home may prevent you from pressing send on that irate tweet, giving time for more considered thoughts later on. At home, there is no such calming mechanism.

Again, I’m all for opinions and understand that emotions run high because we all love the football club, but that doesn’t mean it’s an enjoyable experience to scroll through Twitter after a game. It’s not a particularly nice place to be.

The way this season has panned out has been tough to take, and not just because of the disappointment on the pitch. The emphatic start to the campaign looked to have finally united the fanbase - particularly on the matter of a Purple Turtle promotion party - and there was a real positive vibe.

To say we’ve lost that, with the hostile, snide nature of social media returning, is disheartening. It’s certainly not as bad as it has been in the past, but an air of negativity is creeping in. English football’s three-day social media blackout this weekend may come at just the right time.

Beyond that, I hope a restriction-free summer consumed with international football will serve as an opportunity for a recharge and a refresh, leaving us ready to back the boys in person come August.

Promotion bids needs everyone on the same page - on and off the pitch.