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View From The Dolan: Angry, Embarrassed And Upset, But Not Surprised

Ben’s take on a second humbling horror show for Reading in a matter of days.

PA Images via Getty Images

I seriously considered just putting all of my recent tweets together to make this piece and then I realised that would be lazy and the six people who regularly read this column deserve better…

Heading into this game, it was tricky to determine the mood of the fanbase... SAID NO ONE EVER! Honestly, social media has been a melting pot of opinions, hysteria and downright anger. It’s fair/accurate to say Saturday was the most embarrassing result in the club’s history. Good luck to Kidderminster (still not entirely sure where that is) but honestly, I’ve had better days as a Reading fan.

To say I was in two minds about going to the game wouldn’t be true. I did want to go, I just wasn’t sure if I had the stomach for it. There were other reasons too: I heard someone say the word “cottage” on the day of the game, a road I normally use to drive to the SCL was closed, my new wrestling DVD had arrived (Survivor Series 2021, actually), I had to stop at two red lights, I realised I didn’t want to go. You know, stuff like that.

These thoughts tumbled around my head like a solitary sock in a washing machine. And before I knew it, I was handing over (digitally) a £10 note and parking in a puddle. Just like that, it had sucked me back in again. As I watched the car park stewards park cars (who I was not judging about their ability to park vehicles and who I respect deeply), I did consider going home.

But I didn’t. I took a breath, turned the engine off, took another breath, opened my car door, made my way to the boot, stepped over another, smaller puddle, sighed deeply, opened the boat, took out my jacket, put on my jacket, shut the boot, avoided the puddle again, muttered under my breath, locked the car, walked off, made my way back to the car to check it was locked and then carried on up the slope towards the well-lit stadium of doom.

I just bowled straight in to be honest. Didn’t hang around. Showed my Covid pass. Said hello to a steward I recognised.

Steward: Good Christmas?

Me: Yeah, yours?

Steward: Great thanks. I heard you are coming to do some shadowing in a few weeks (of the stewards)

Me: I am yeah

Steward: Great - terrible result Saturday

Me: Right, see ya later

And off I went. I ordered Amstel as I was driving (weakest lager they sell) but realised it was flat. Normally, I’d have given the catering team a hefty portion of my mind, but I realised I told people earlier in the day not to lose it with them. So I kept my counsel, drank it and got on with my life.

Of course, I wished I had got on with my life somewhere else. Anywhere, actually, that wasn’t RG2 (no offence to anyone who lives there). I should have really known that it was going to be a night of epically embarrassing proportions when the first goal came from Josh Laurent doing exactly what youth players are told not to do. The official club account recorded it as “Wilson picking off a pass”. It wasn’t a pass, it was stupidity and Josh knew instantly it was dreadful play.

Carroll scored two goals that were technically brilliant but were both disallowed and then Fulham got their second through a 12-yard death kick. Half time arrived and I watched as both the club and Papa John’s gave free pizza to a row which contained no actual human beings - ace.

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

There was a third and fourth goal early into the second half, nicely bookended by Carroll moaning at everyone and anything. At the point the fourth goal hit the net, I left. On reflection, I’m not sure if it was embarrassment, anger or just hopelessness, but I just instinctively got up and went. As I made my way through the aisle, I looked over my shoulder and took one last look at Pauno, before having the big blue doors personally opened for me, like I was leaving an awful nightclub after too many Stellas.

I drove home in silence and upon arriving at my driveway, was informed by my phone that the score was now 7 (seven). 7-0. Which is proof, if any were needed, that the players have now stopped buying into what Pauno is doing and the collapse is complete.

I’ve been to plenty of those “pinnacle” games over the years. The 6-0 Bristol Rovers, the Premier League Pompey one, Spurs away, the Arsenal cup game. You know, the heavy losses that I’ve learned to look back on as like a badge of honour. The problem with this one is that it has a different meaning.

I’ve spoken to lots of people over the past few days who are currently connected with the club in some capacity and they all say the same thing: the culture is wrong. How the fuck can you have - when you total up the first team, under-23s and scholars - 40 players out of contract at the end of a season? How can you expect the playing staff to be bothered? If people who work for the club can’t explain the f*cking mission statement or don’t even know where to find it, what hope is there?

I keep hearing the word “reset” used. As a word in this context, it means nothing to me. There’s nothing to reset. You do that when something has gone slightly wrong. That may have been needed four/five years ago at this club but now, we need a bulldozer to sort this out.

I’m angry, embarrassed and upset. But the worst part, the very worst part, is that I’m not surprised by this in the slightest.