I can’t sit here and say that I’d be happy if we missed the playoffs. A few weeks back, I would probably have been. But it’s gone too far now. We’ve gone through a bad spell and we are still, as Sunday league managers across the country would say, “in the mixer”. Yeah, at some point this season I’ve probably been of the thinking that this season is much better than last, therefore that equals a good season.
And it does, to an extent. It really does. But this team, this manager, the fanbase, the whole damn club has come too far down the road to pull into the Little Chef and have an Olympic Breakfast whilst the other teams head down to the coast (Wembley) and have a great day out playing in the sand (the pitch at Wembley).
Now, if you disagree, I’m chill with that. I really am. Everyone has their opinion and I respect that. Of course, we all know where we’ve been the last few years and this season, for a number of reasons, pails into significance. But I don’t think any Reading fan could argue that not getting in the top six would be a major, major disappointment (and if you don’t think that, I’m not doubting you as a fan or anything, so don’t tweet me and accuse me that I’ve said that, yeah?).
However... without hugely contradicting myself here, the one thing I am most proud of is the likeability of this team. Indeed, better writers than me (Sim) have written lengthier, meatier (or plant-based if you a are vegan) articles on this, to which I can guarantee he will have inserted a hyperlink to here because he’s a cheeky so and so.
Editor’s note: you know me too well, Ben.
But, they are. They are bloody likeable. Even when they’ve been at their absolute worst (Brum home and away, Bournemouth away - second half), I don’t think I’ve done the usual “that’s it, I’m done, they are all idiots and I hate them” speech. Well, maybe a bit, but I got over it more quickly.
There has been so much wrong with the club over the last five, six, seven years. I visited the training ground late in the season in 2016 when big Brian was in charge during his second spell at the club, shortly before the end of the season when he was removed once again. I enjoyed a very long chat with him and his main message was that the club needed hard-working, honest players and stability.
He maintained that the only way the club would move forward is if they had these elements in place. You know, a team that the fans believed in and who weren’t there for the pay cheque or free cars from the plethora of dealerships on Rose Kiln Lane.
Regular readers of my column (View From The Dolan which, to be honest, has been almost impossible to write this season) will know how I feel/felt about Brian (FYI, I love him) and that chat has stayed with me ever since. He was right: we needed the fans onside and the team had to give a stuff about trying to be authentic. This team does that in absolute spades.
For me, there is not one player on the current roster (oooh, I’ve gone American!) that I would drive to another club. Genuinely, I love them all because they care and they bother to chase hopeless balls and they have skill and nice haircuts. But seriously, there have been times over the last few years when everything with the club has been wrong: the ownership, the management and the players, who at their lowest ebb have shown utter contempt to a fanbase that only wants them and the club to do well. I don’t see that now with this current crop. And that, for me, is progress.
Of course, the ultimate example of progress would be promotion. It’s pointless for me to predict where we’ll end up at the end of the season. Anything could happen, there will be twists and turns and we’ll all vomit through fear at least once before the season is out. I have never wanted a Reading team to succeed more than I do this one. They have all the components to be excellent. It will be hugely disappointing not to end in the top six, but even if we don’t end up in the playoffs, I will still like them. And I suppose, that’s the key.
Buckle up, breathe deeply and get behind the lads. Because this likeable team is going to take it to the wire.
Come on URZZZZZZ!