Where do you want me start? Genuinely, what do you want to know? I could tell you all about the travel chaos, the proper pubs, the excellent stewarding, the first-class performance or how good our fans were. I could also just say that we went away to the top of the table team and beat them 2-1 and just leave it at that. Because ultimately, that’s all that matters, right?
I could just end the column with the above paragraph, but that would be lazy and immature and I’m not going to do that, so grab a coffee or a beer or some squash if you are under 18 and settle in, because what I’m about to describe might sound like the most perfect away day ever…
To say the travel plans of all involved to get to the game were chaotic would be a huge understatement. Fulham away is popular for two reasons:
1. Because it’s next to a river.
2. It’s local (ish).
The nearest tube station was shut, part of the M4 was closed and there seemed to be a real desire to keep Reading fans from attending the game (because it’s all about us and nothing else, regardless of any road or train works accidentally clashing with the game). I don’t think I’ve ever spent as long as planning, then checking, then changing, then planning again a route to an away game - not in London anyway.
I won’t bore you with the details but what I will say is that I jumped on the train from Reading at 11.09 to get to Clapham Junction for 12.23. This train was a real who’s who of Berkshire and like that scene in The Office when Brent rolls off all the places he could go and work at.
Then, I left Clapham Junction at 12.25 to get to Putney for around 12.31. I then had to get out and eventually make my way to the ground, walking along pavements, over bridges, through skateparks and then residential roads to finally, finally end up in P6 of the Putney End stand. As I said, I won’t dwell on the details, but it seemed like a flipping faff to me.
I was due to meet one of my best-ever friends in the shape of a chap called Sam at a quaint little pub called the ‘Coat and Badge’ in Putney. If you’ve never been, it has a good selection of overpriced ales and lagers (£6.50 a pint?! Shut your face!) and is the kind of boozer that wouldn’t look out of place in Ted Lasso.
I don’t like London as a general life rule, even more so post-pandemic, but this part of the world is tolerable, not least because its residents seem intent on outdoing each other with the size of their dogs (they are all really, really small). I don’t wear “colours” when I go away so we went untroubled for a good two hours as we sipped some pale ales from a Cornish brewery.
As the liquid settled and the convo flowed, I began to become confident that we’d win (and if you don’t believe me, look at the time I did a tweet thing to our very own Adam Jones - it was like a premonition or something).
As we made our way out of the pub and into the streaming sunlight, we joined the throngs of people making their journey to Craven Cottage (some might have been shopping, but I can’t be bothered to list/don’t remember the shops on the street... there might have been a Poundland?!) and the feeling of us getting something from the game only intensified as we strolled through the park and along the river bank.
What I find odd about CC is that you end up going through the same turnstiles as home fans to get right down the end of the stand closest to the river. Of course, this area is heavily stewarded by staff who, I have to say, were excellent throughout the game. As we made our way up the concourse, I clocked that the beer of choice on offer was Sam Miguel... at £6 a vessel. £6. For fizzy Spanish liquid. Get out!
The atmosphere generated by the fans was first class. Balloons filled the air like eco-friendly confetti at a church wedding and the singing was loud and clear and jolly and mostly respectful. Both stands were full and I didn’t hear anyone say they wished the game was being beamed back for those fans stuck in Berkshire… We were pretty packed in and I made the decision there and then to do a Covid test when I got home because although my hands were clean (ish) I couldn’t keep my space like that chap Boris told me to do ages ago.
Fulham had some early chances but it was clear we hadn’t read the script and Ovie popped up on 19 minutes to a) put us in the lead and b) send the fans into absolute delirium. There was hugging, kissing, jumping, grabbing, more kissing and some screaming. It was pandemonium for at least 45 seconds. Some chaps near me started singing some things about Mitrovic which were potentially legally untrue and we continued to be in fine voice as the half wore on.
I noticed Tom McIntyre in the rows behind me and approached him for a photo mid-game, which he kindly obliged. Lovely, lovely guy.
View from the Dolan / P6 at the interval:@Tom5Mc & me. Obvs I look like a competition winner/have superimposed myself here. Tom looks great, of course he does, because he’s brilliant. Up the ding!@TheTilehurstEnd #readingfc pic.twitter.com/Y7dOdfOhBj— Ben Thomas (@mrblthomas) September 18, 2021
Sam nipped down before the half was out to grab some beer (I wasn’t going to pay that, sorry) and as I made my way down to the concourse, a chap I’d never met before shouted “Ben! Oi! Ben! You doing an article on this?” I gave him the thumbs up (he was above the doorway I was walking through) and went down below. The mass of humanity that greeted me was, well, massive. It was like a scene from Africa when all those wildebeests run together in a massive group, except these weren’t wild animals, they were beered-up Reading fans being carefully and respectfully managed by the ever-excellent stewards.
As we finished the last sips of the warm alcohol (wasn’t wasting it, mate!) we made our way back up to watch the second half which had already commenced. Ovie stuck another one in on 53 minutes and it really was party time. There were of course anxious moments in the game, not least when Fulham scored with four minutes left on the regulation clock and the fourth official decided to pretend it was April Fool’s Day by declaring six minutes of overtime.
Shouts of “you are really silly” and “oh my god are you trying to break all our hearts” and “whilst I respectfully disagree with your clock-keeping skills, I’ll defend to the death your right to practice these skills” went up around the away stand. We were able to hold on and secure three imperious points to take back to the Royal County. Pauno and all the players loved it post match and rightly so.
After the game, we ventured back up the high street to a jolly little pub called, well, The Jolly Gardener. A few more lager-based drinks there and it was off to the Southbank (we had tickets to a gig). I got home about 1am and fell asleep on the sofa, drifting off with a heavy grin on my face and stomach full of alcoholic memories.
There is nothing I can fault about the day, at all. I haven’t even mentioned that I was able to buy a physical programme to physically read. I don’t want to overreact and it might be just a good result in isolation, but what the team did yesterday, from game management, to decision making, to positioning, to application was first class and cannot be questioned. Huge congratulations to Pauno and the team on a win that will serve to be a huge morale and confidence booster.
Until next time.