Dunno about you, but this week has aged me terribly. A stonking win against Fulham was followed up by the sobering reality of a very likely points deduction, helping everyone to get off cloud nine and fall despairingly into the puddle of minus numbers (or something).
The most baffling thing about all of this though was that there were people genuinely upset that the win against the Cottagers “wasn’t a complete performance”. Well, no. Playing with no striker and a 50% makeshift centre back pairing against the top of the table, free-scoring West London demons might leave a fan of a struggling team uncomfortable for large portions of the 90-minute clock.
I don’t know mountains about the situation or reasoning behind us receiving a points deduction as I’m not a football analyst (sorry if that’s dull) but I do have this opinion on the matter. I’ll share that with you now: it would appear our owner wants to spend his own money (and I’m sorry if you are in the ‘Dai Yongge out’ camp - you won’t get that from me as I’m not into scaremongering and hysteria), we’ve made an effort to cut spending (in more ways than one) and have had the EFL sign off on all our transfer dealings. I mean, we’ve been under embargos for the last two years, so chucking in a points deduction seems like kicking a cow whilst it’s bending down to drink from a trough. Whatever the punishment is/shall be, let’s just get on with it.
This game marked the first league start for my son. He’d been to some friendlies with me before, but he’s now six and needs to come of age. After all, I was that age when I was taken/dragged to my first game at Elm Park in August 1992. This game seemed like a decent bet as it was an early KO (always makes me laugh how these games mess up the body clock of fans) against a team who were fair to middling and with the decimation of our back line, might lead to some goals and/or a win for us.
Of course, planning to take myself to footie is so much easier in comparison to taking myself and a six-year-old boy who just wants to see the “bear” (Kingsley, God rest his soul). I broke the news early on in the day that, due to Covid restrictions and payroll scrutiny, the lion bear thing wouldn’t be there. This news was taken well as a blueberry muffin from Costa was thrown into the mix as a break weight. A bottle of water and a personal tube of Pringles sealed the deal and the news of the absent mammal was long forgotten.
Of course, my rundown of Reading’s best petrol stations a few weeks back now seems like a chilling prelude to the fuel carnage we now find ourselves in. Sadly for me, I have to pass many of these establishments on the way to the South Reading Stadium and it added at least 15 minutes onto the 20-minute journey as I weaved in and out of the nutcases filling up. I felt like beeping my horn continuously but didn’t as I was setting a good example to my son and heir, who was nestled in the back seat, oblivious to road trauma around us.
Because of his excitement to get there, we ended up parking at 11am. We made the walk up to the stadium talking about Match Attax cards. The question I’d been avoiding all week suddenly arose like a shark leaping out of South African water to savage a cape fur seal: why weren’t Reading on the cards themselves? I took a deep breath, looked at him, took another deep breath, looked away and then said softly: “because… because Reading... don’t play in Europe”. At that point, I turned away, salty tears gently rolling down my stubbled face. “Oh, ok” he said. We walked the rest of the way in silence.
A visit to the megastore (sorry, fanstore) was clearly essential. Anyone with children will know that you end up bargaining over things in shops you never planned to buy. A training shirt later (not having the goalie kit as requested, that’s a Father Christmas job I think) and it was into the hotel to meet my dad and mate Milan. Quite frankly, the hotel is proper pants these days. Don’t have an issue with queuing, that’s fine. I’m a good queuer, pretty patient and respectful.
It was 11.30ish and far too early for continental lager for both of us, so I ordered an orange juice (him) and a flat white (me). “Sorry, I’m not doing coffee” came the response. “Oh right, but the machine is just there” I calmly pointed out. He glanced to his right. “Yeah, I’m just not doing it”. “Right, why’s that?” I was frustrated now. “They are doing coffee out of the urn” he replied, nonchalantly. “I DON’T WANT COFFEE FROM AN URN” I whispered. “I want a flat white”. He wasn’t budging. I would have asked to see his manager, but I had an awful feeling he was the manager. Voco Hotels, you should be ashamed of yourselves you cretins.
My dad arrived to placate me with a sausage bap, which looked alright to be fair, but I was so annoyed I couldn’t eat. He shared it with his grandson while I sat and sulked. What was decent about this bap was that it came with a personal glass jar of ketchup - a nice touch from a terrible hotel chain who cannot provide coffee even though their machine was in full working order and was able to worked by fully qualified baristas. Jokers.
A small walk round to gate five and we were in, accompanied by a fresh batch of snacks purchased at the now-open food bar by B13 (who says the media don’t have power - perhaps they’d read my pieces previously). I went about trying to explain everything and anything to the little boy perched next to me, but then just thought I’d shut up and let him take it all in on his own time.
The line-up was interesting: must be the only professional team in the history of association football to not play a recognised centre back or striker. I still felt confident of the win and settled into another 90 minutes at Berkshire’s premium outdoor sporting theatre.
Tetek needed a bit of chat and cajoling as he began the game like a a middle-aged chap after a morning in a Wetherspoons - shakily. Luckily, Drinkwater was on hand to do just that and (spoiler alert) he was really good all game. We looked alright throughout the park and went into the break at 0-0. I had to explain that even though we’d just watched “a lot of football” and that the muffin had been eaten, we still had another 45 minutes of regulation time to play, as per FA rules, so it wasn’t home time just yet.
A quick toilet stop and half the tube of Pringles and it was back to it. Midway through the second half however and tragedy struck: my dad asked Toby to pass the Pringles, which he did (he’s a better man than I am). Then, the sound no parent or crisp connoisseur wants to hear: the sound of a Pringles tube collapsing onto a concrete floor and the contents spilling out in all their starchy goodness, scattering like ants from a destroyed nest. Both of them looked at me. I looked at the floor. There was no rescuing them. They were gone and we all had move on with our lives.
Luckily, Halilovic sensed this on the pitch and bundled home the opener to distract us all, a well-worked goal which was richly deserved. Pandemonium in the Dolan which saw some vigorous clapping, a couple of “come ons” said higher than a whisper and some over-exuberant air punches. Textbook celebrations.
With the snacks gone/destroyed, the Lego comic was cracked open as the game dwindled into overtime. The physio did his best to wind up the Boro defence after a major felony card had knocked the visitors down to 10 men. Warnock was flapping his arms around like an old lady who’d just won top prize at a village bingo night and the lads in hoops were able to see the game out. Really lovely stuff.
I’ll stick my head out of the pulpit here and say that the result was better than last week, all things considered. In a dark week off the pitch for the club it was good to end it with another +3 on the board. The players did everything they needed to to grab the win and it was heartily deserved. The ball in transition was very good, there was a pace to the play and everyone stuck to their task impeccably. Of course, any win is always welcome but if the points deduction comes to pass sooner rather than later, we need as many on the board as we can to make sure we don’t get dragged into the relegation mire. A good win and now onto a televised fixture in midweek against the Rams.
As we left, Toby asked if he could come again. “We’ll see” I said “We’ll see”, giving him a knowing nod in the process. Something tells me he’ll hold me to that.
Until next time.