Well well well, look who’s back! (It’s me, I’m back). After an enforced absence of family events and then the catching of a global airborne disease, I was finally able to attend a game in the flesh without having to… well, improvise watching them.
A lot has happened since last we spoke - mainly the fact that we are almost (almost) safe from falling through the trapdoor marked “League One”. The team has also shown in recent weeks that they aren’t complete nincompoops and do have some game management in them. Unbeaten in four, facing a Cardiff City side out of form, confidence and fully signed up to the end of season campaign labelled “going nowhere very quickly”, what could possible go wrong for our heroes in hoops?! Turns out a fair bit, actually…
On the morning of the game I was fizzing with excitement like a giant Alka Seltzer in a massive glass of water. The weather was fine, the coffee was flowing and I had good feeling about the 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) ahead of me.
I caught the train from Upper Tilehurst to central Reading to meet my gang of thieves (they aren’t thieves, actually, but that just sounded good). Brewdog was the first stop on our liquid journey, followed up by a visit to Blue Collar Corner which, if I’m honest, is just what the town ordered.
We got talking about the whole match-day experience and one of the lads I was with hasn’t been to many games this season. He made some really good points in light of the areas the club is lacking in. It just confirmed what I knew already really: that I’m passionate about trying to change certain things on match day, getting the input of our fans to move things forward and to begin creating more of an “experience” of game day for regulars and non-regulars alike.
As a final note on this, I hope the club seriously listen to the suggestions I’ve already put to them regarding half time as a starting point. And for all those people who have got in touch and offered their services to move this forward, this for me is what makes the club’s fanbase so special.
After exiting Blue Collar in an orderly fashion, we hailed a cab (sooooo London) and asked the driver to take us to the Berkshire Coliseum. Well, that blew his mind! I tried my other names: The South Reading Arena, The Berkshire Bowl, The Mad Leasing Stadium. None of them stuck. In the end, I mimed kicking a football, which was stupid as he could speak English perfectly well. He then twigged and we were soon off to the county’s premium sporting venue.
Upon entering the Dolan, a sudden icy chill ran down my spinal column as the scene before gave me “morning-after vibes”. And then I remembered: I’d been at the stadium less than 24 hours prior to put out clappers on every single person’s seat in the stand. WHAT HAD I DONE?! The noise was persistent, deafening and unnecessary. I watched as 30-something-year-old-men clapped the corrugated cardboard between their hands. Great for the kids, not a good look for the adults.
I then told my dad about how I’d had to take one elastic band off every clapper, leaving one on to keep them together. He made a comment about the birds eating the discarded bands and how would I feel about that. And at that point, I just wanted to go home.
The first half was probably the most enjoyable half of football I’d witnessed in a long time. Nothing overly dominant but definitely solid and workmanlike. We scored very early on in the half, which should have opened the floodgates on a very weak and much-changed Cardiff side. John Swift had the best opportunity to double the lead which he fluffed and we went in at the break 1-0 to the good.
Now, what I am about to share with you is both mind-blowing and secretive, but will only be of use if you sit in the Dolan and drink beer at half time. After 24 years of sitting in the same stand and spending most of those half-time sessions queuing for something, a radical idea crept over my dad and, to be honest, I don’t think I will ever look back.
Nipping downstairs just before half time is an art in timing in itself and if you get it wrong you are trapped in human traffic. This game was the tipping point for my dad. He explained he was fed up of queuing and was going to get beer from the hotel. Exiting the stadium is easy as they open the big blue doors bang on half time at gate five. You can then walk round to the hotel bar which is deserted, order a lager (or cider), watch the half times and then leave the hotel and head back to gate five, where the doors are still open and then head back up to your seat. Revolutionary!
Of course, this little joyous moment was a prelude to what I’d class as a collapse on the pitch. For the first goal, it was a blatant foul on Lucas Joao but we switched off and allowed them to slot home. The second was much worse and proved to me that old habits die new (or young or something) and the game management, tactical nous and confidence we’d started to see in the last few games deserted us like a frog leaving a dry pond.
The Bluebirds (should be bluetits, really, if we are using proper, scientific names for birds) were able to collect all three points and head back down the M4.
The points buffer is still there and yet again we’ve been given a pass by the other teams below us dropping points. The positives are that we are one step closer to this season ending and we have games coming thick and fast over the Easter period. But, much like the narrative of this campaign, we have to take care of ourselves and yesterday was another opportunity to do that which we didn’t take. I fully expect the team, management and club to look very different next season and the start of 2022/23 can’t come soon enough right now.
Until next time.