The Reading team hasn’t stepped up to the plate recently but the Reading support certainly has. The Royals were backed by sizeable, noisy contingents of travelling fans at QPR and Bristol City in their last two games, while better is yet to come: the SCL is a sell-out for the Coventry City match.
Granted, each year we tend to take a large number of fans for QPR and Bristol City away, while an occasion as special as the 150th anniversary was always bound to draw a bigger crowd. But when you consider how shockingly bad Reading’s form has been recently, you couldn’t blame anyone for staying at home. As we all know, turning up on matchday on a regular basis requires an investment of time, money and mental energy that you don’t get back. We often put those in with little to no expectation of a return.
The last few weeks have been emotionally draining. It’s not just the fury and frustration of watching in real time as Reading lose again and put in a poor performance again, but the existential dread we get from realising where this club may be headed.
Set against the backdrop of a club that struggles to communicate honestly and openly with its fans, it’s entirely understandable and correct that supporters have become increasingly vocal in articulating their concern and anger. That was evident during games throughout January and on social media. It’ll reach a head in a protest held at 1pm before the Coventry game too.
But at the same time, I can’t fault the backing. Fans have got right behind the team throughout an intensely difficult period. Yes, there’s been no shortage of anger, jeers and booing. Those have been warranted.
But supporters have also made sure to roar the team on when it’s needed that extra lift - not least at Ashton Gate when it felt like Reading could have equalised through the raucous away end’s sheer willpower. The atmosphere in the closing stages on Wednesday night was electric, a joy to be part of first-hand, and something I’d dearly missed. Reading didn’t have enough on that occasion, but in the final 15 minutes or so the spirit in the stands was reciprocated by spirit on the pitch. Just as it should be.
If we’re to dig ourselves out of this season’s mess and avoid the looming threat of relegation, we need that backing to continue. Fans roaring the team on does a huge amount of good, it really does. Supporters being a 12th man is a tired cliche, but it’s an accurate one.
There won’t be many times of greater need for that support than the Coventry game. The short- and long-term significance of this match is clear: simultaneously a celebration of our proud 150-year history and a chance to make sure our immediate future is bright. For all the justified negativity and worry recently, the prospect of a full house being in attendance today fills me with excitement. The stage is set for a truly special day.
Wherever you’re stood or sat, be it Club 1871, The Sir John Madejski Stand, Eamonn Dolan Stand or West Stand, be loud and be proud. The team will need that extra lift to fire them up from the off and to get over the line if we’re to seal a positive result. Just as much though, if Reading do hit a setback - perhaps going behind or conceding at a worrying time - that little bit extra noise will help.
This doesn’t mean not having your voice heard, whether inside or outside the stadium, but there are better and worse times to do so. If you want to go to the pre-match protest, go. If you want to voice your discontent at half time and full time, go for it, and probably also when a match really is out of reach.
But for as long as the game’s in play, this teams needs all the support we can give it. Has it done enough in recent weeks to deserve such backing? Not at all. But we could just be the difference when it really matters.