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View From The Dolan: Dressed As Plastic Seats

A very empty stadium for a very empty performance.

PA Images via Getty Images

Been another quiet week really, hasn’t it? No real dramas to note at the club. Of course, they are doing all their work quietly in the background, making full use of the scouting network that has worked so well over the past few years. What is it, only 11 days until the transfer window gently closes? Plenty of time…

I suppose the lion in the cupboard this week (this week! Imagine supporting a club that doesn’t lurch from disaster to disaster on and off the pitch, from week to week, hour to hour even!) has been split between Liam Moore and that Guardian piece. On the latter, I was actually interviewed for at least 54 minutes about all things Reading and not one of my quotes made it into the final cut. Granted, I just talked about the parking, the lack of shirts in the shop, the catering, the need to repaint various parts of the stadium - you know, the important nuggets. And to think that the journalist didn’t think any of that was valuable. Honestly.

All jokes aside, it told us nothing we didn’t already know. If you weren’t aware that a chap who shares his name with a car brand which is popular with portly middle aged dads wasn’t a problem at the club before this article, then you are stupid. Sorry, but you are. It would appear the fanbase en masse (bit of Latin for you…) have woken up to this now.

I was desperately hoping the game would be called off. Anything would do, really. Covid, freezing fog, lack of a suitable captain in our team (political AND topical, that), puddles the size of small swamps in the car park… anything. Alas, it was not to be, so off I trudged (I drove), leaving a warm, well-insulated house behind me as I prepared myself for another misery fest at the Whitley Bowl.

As I made my way along the concrete carpets of Berkshire’s finest town, I noticed that even the digital boards on the sides of the roads had begun trolling our once proud club. “Match at the SCL - expect delays.” Delays?! Got more chance of being delayed at the checkouts of TK Maxx, mate! Delays, honestly. There was due to be around 6,000 home fans in the seated bowl come 8pm. 6,000! That’s around 18,000 less than capacity.

Getting out of the car at the newly named ‘car park six’, I was hit in the face by the whiff. Not the old fanzine, that would be weird, but the whiff from the dump. It was horrid, really horrid. Was this a smelly omen for the fare on the pitch to come? I couldn’t answer, so instead turned my attention to the moon which filled the sky like a fat sausage on a buffet plate. Approaching the ground, it was clear no one could be arsed. Even the buses didn’t turn up (wahey!) and those that did parked themselves in jaunty angles like they were performing their own sort of motorised protest.

A little gander in the shop proved fruitless and pointless so it was off to the concourse for a chilled lager and a savoury pastry item. Now, I’ve seen the concourse under the Dolan pretty empty before, but I can’t recall ever walking up to the kiosk without anyone in front of me, placing and then receiving my order exactly as stated, in under three minutes. A sign of the times maybe. Who knows? I didn’t care - I was content with my purchase (balti pie, Amstel) and my quiet solitude perched on a silver shelf, just under the belly of B13.

I overheard some youths (in the Dolan?!) talking about the STAR meeting on Friday. They were drinking cider and, had I been a policeman or jobsworth, I would have asked to see their ID. I didn’t and let them carry on enjoying their sweet beverages while listening to them chat about how important it was (the meeting, not the cider).

Upon entering the seated bowl, it was clear that our fans had come dressed as plastic seats. With 30 minutes to KO, it was quite a disturbing scene to behold: just rows and rows of empty… well, rows. Entire blocks just left to rot like New York City in that film ‘I Am Legend’ (which I last watched at the start of lockdown one and made me not sleep for a few nights). But that’s where we are I guess.

With the waft of cheap aftershave in the air (not mine) and the stench of terrible, low-budget coffee (again, not mine) I settled down to another 90 minutes of probable torture with the other brave souls who had ventured out for reasons only known to themselves.

Of course, these 6,147 brave souls were rewarded with the most toothless, lifeless half of football I’ve seen. We had two, maybe three minutes of actual football and the other 42/43 showcased a collection of chaps that behaved as if they’d just met each other in the car park of the ‘Dog & Squirrel’ pub for a Sunday league game. I went down to the concourse and treated myself to a cubicle toilet experience (it was only a wee) but there’s a heated pipe in there and it was nice to be in its presence for a bit.

Sadly, the second half began. And it was trash. I left around the 78-minute mark as I just couldn’t bear it any more. I drove home with a face like a man who’d just turned up to McDonald’s at 11.01am. I soundtracked the journey with my Death Cab for Cutie playlist (one of my fave bands ever, FYI). Some people called the low attendance a protest: it was nothing of the sort. Let’s not mistake it with apathy, which is what the 18,000 empty seats was. Last week I was embarrassed, this week I was just sad.

I got home to find the cat fast asleep on my pillow. Incredible that something so innocent yet feisty could capitalise on a single chance and show some desire when 11 chaps couldn’t. Fair play to her. Maybe we’ll show those traits one day as a club, but I can’t see that happening for a good while yet.

Until next time.