I’d imagine that for some of you, this game was kind of like going back to work after a longish holiday or an ancient religious holiday or something. Not for me. I was buzzing for this.
I was looking forward to this game more than one of Tom Skinner’s breakfasts (oh, if you don’t know, he’s a chap who has a heart as big as a bin lid and cheers everyone up by eating proper dinners at breakfast - Google or Twitter him, he’s ace). Honestly, there was nowhere else I’d rather be. Except maybe Mauritius. Or somewhere that was so hot that you’d sweat buying crisps from a supermarket. Or maybe in bed. But apart from those three places, I was buzzing to be at the SCL once again.
From what I could gather, there was another game that followed ours (WC QF or something) and as a result, the KO was shifted one hour to 2pm to allow everyone to get home and order their kebabs before watching France play. On top of that, this was won of those community grassroots games (bloody love communities and grassroots, me), so the possible attendance was debatable. Chuck in the fact that it was -22 when I woke up in Tilehurst and, ultimately, you had a real sweepstake in for the final number through the turnstiles.
I wasn’t hugely hungry pre-game so just had two coffees, half a pint of milk, three croissants, a bowl of cereal, an orange and a singular piece of toast (with peanut butter on it). The icy roads of doom in the neighbourhood made leaving the hill I live on a dangerous (but never boring) experience which, if I’m honest, I’d forgotten about since the last frost.
We got to the ground early as my son was doing the flag waving pre-game (communities, innit). Once the makeshift tickets had been collected, we headed for the warmth of the hotel for banter, lager and general merriment among fellow fans. Except of course, there were no fans. At exactly 12.36pm, I counted seven hardy souls in the upstairs bar of the hotel (not including us), the sort of number that would make any Reading FC official begin twitching furiously at the disparity between “proposed attendance” and “actual attendance”.
Upon entering the seated bowl, it was evident no one was going to be there. I stopped for a dramatic pause, just to take in the sight of the chilly pitch, the colours, the smells and all that stuff because, honestly, I’d missed it. Of course I’d been busy during the break watching Wales be un-Wales-like and writing a special edition of this column, but getting back to the ground and watching the team play was something I’d been looking forward to.
Team news was fairly standard (as in both teams fielded 11 players in traditional positions) and the seats were slowly beginning to fill. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Dolan is the coldest place I’ve ever been. No idea why, it’s just abhorrently freezing in the winter.
We started a little bit like we were still in the ‘Rife. Coventry didn’t get going, neither did we and the extra 5,000 people (shut up!) who came through the gates must have been wondering when they could leave the ground. A classic it was not.
The second half picked up a little, but neither team was looking like they actually wanted to be there or that they were capable of actually scoring a goal. However… we were able to break the deadlock with a well worked goal. Man of the moment Mbengue got the final touch to send the chilly Royals into as much delirium as their frozen bodies would allow.
At that point, we did look a little more comfortable than we had been and the game-management button was very firmly switched on. A couple of those clap banner things floated down the Dolan in the shape of really badly made planes. A few people felt physically able to move from their seats before the final whistle but most stayed to lap up the applause of the players and make the most of that extra hour.
Was it a good performance? No, not really. But ultimately winning our home games is still as vital as it was before the eyes of the world turned to Qatar. With a fairly sensible schedule over the Christmas period, you’d hope we have set ourselves up to collect more points heading into the new year. But with this club, you never know.
Have a great time over the next few weeks, stay safe and enjoy the last few days of the World Cup.
Until next time.