Traditionally, I’ve always hated games against the South Wales Mega Swans. The scars from previous battles haven’t healed and I panic when we come up against them. This game was no different given its physical and metaphorical importance, with a win almost certainly securing our status as a Championship team once again next season.
Despite the previous meetings between the sides visiting my memories like a low-budget, out-of-season ‘Christmas Carol’ throughout the morning of the game, I felt confident. So confident in fact that I squeezed in a cheeky visit pre-game to the tip, having spent the previous day sorting out one of our sheds (I don’t want to show off but I actually have three sheds). The tip always amazes me: firstly you have to book in advance, secondly you have to go through some sort of anti-address fraud-detection test, and thirdly, the stuff people chuck out amazes me. Not because it’s good stuff but because it’s bonkers stuff.
Tip run done and dusted, I headed back to base to prepare for the upcoming battle at the Berkshire Coliseum. I got to car park six around 1.30 and the place was deserted and as dry as a body part. Of course, then, it made sense for me to be parked in the only puddle in the entire car park. Upon exiting the vehicle (and without leaving myself open to some legal battle), it seemed (key word) to resemble sewage. I’m sure that wasn’t the case - I’m sure it was just water - but it looked and smelt like body ablutions.
A swift (pun intended) pint in the hotel bar and it was into the Dolan to watch our team make us all proud. Suns out, fun’s out, right?
A bizarre moment pre-match saw a chap emerge from the dugout five minutes before KO and stroll down to the away fans to give them a jolly good clap. At first, I thought it was a competition winner. And then I realised: it was Russell Martin.
Of course! I should have been able to smell his Joop from where I was in the Dolan. A man who I’m convinced that, if he were made of chocolate, he’d eat himself. A chap who looks like ASOS had been sick on him. I’m not his biggest fan, I’ll be honest. There are two looks for a manager (or coach): suit and tie or tracksuit, unless you are an up-and-coming German who likes width in his team, at which point you can where you want. Martin is not that, and therefore should have more respect.
We started deliciously well: a Lucas Joao 12-yard death kick was converted inside three minutes before all hell broke loose and the Swans knocked in two goals which would be worthy of a conception which celebrates great goals in either a monthly or annual format. At 3-1, the bacon and eggs were burnt and the coffee had gone cold because, privately, we were done for. However, I kept my counsel and made my HT tweet sort of positive (eg not referencing the score or that fact I wanted to go home or that we were beaten).
‘View from the Dolan’ @ the 45:— Ben Thomas (@mrblthomas) April 18, 2022
1. Good strikes for both goals, but far too easy in the build up.
2. Midfield has been completely overrun.
3. Fed up of playing Welsh teams wearing pink tbh.@TheTilehurstEnd #readingfc
There was some sort of egg-and-cutlery race at the interval, an idea I did not pitch to the club and therefore had not passed my very rigid “entertainment” check. A quick pit stop at the urinal, a ‘slash and dash’ if you will, and it was back to the fiery cauldron of crushed dreams for another 45 minutes on the Enjoyment Express.
At 4-1, I seriously contemplated going down to the concourse and starting the enormous task of counting up the POTS votes (brought to you by STAR), but resisted the temptation and stayed with the game.
4-2 arrived and with it, a glimmer of hope. At 4-3, I was sort of starting to believe we might/may/could scramble something from the game. After the third went in, I felt we missed our chance to pile more pressure on a tiring Swansea team and, as the seconds ticked down, the chance to salvage at least a point went to the dogs.
But then, the ‘Miracle of the Mad Stad’ (TM) occurred. The ‘Sensation of South Reading (also TM) materialised. Paul Ince’s Phenomenon let itself be known and entered all our hearts like a high cholesterol count: the baby-faced assassin Tom McIntyre popped up to smash the ball into the net and send the Select Car Leasing brand loyalists (and Reading fans in general) into absolute raptures.
Half a Mars bar was propelled into the air in the Dolan, some very vigorous clapping emanated from the Upper West and the stewards and special ops forces were sent into overdrive in the South Stand as a draw was snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The noise from the stadium when that goal hit and that millisecond it took for the ball to leave Joao’s perfectly formed head for it to fall to Tom before smashing it home will live with me for ages. Possibly forever. Who knows. But what a result.
I’ve wanted to be proud of this team this year. I’ve wanted to defend them, to believe in them, to see what they are capable of. I felt all of those things at full time. Resilience is something I’ve always felt has been synonymous with this club, either on or off the pitch. We haven’t seen that much in the last few seasons, least of all this one. But the last few weeks it’s been building and it’s culminated in this result.
We know this team has underachieved. We know Ince probably isn’t the popular choice. But we don’t do “Hollywood” at Reading Football Club. We do hard work, graft and desire. And I finally feel like we are getting that from this team. Long may it continue.
Until next time.