One of football’s age-old cliches is very relevant when trying to sum up this season. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster hasn’t it? But not one of those really fun, entertaining rollercoasters full of ups and downs, twist and turns and loop-the-loops. More like one of those rollercoasters that has a little bit of a climb at the start and then an endless drop, full of perpetual fear.
Trying to find my top three moments from this season was very tricky because, as we all know, there weren’t very many good moments. Trying to find my worst three of the season was just as difficult, but for the complete opposite reason - there was a depressingly large amount to pick from.
However, I gave it my best shot, and it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on your best and worst moments too. Let’s start with my top three shall we...
Fulham 1-2 Reading
By the time September 18 rolled around, ourselves and eventual league winners Fulham had gone through very differing starts to the season. The hosts found themselves top of the league with 16 points from their opening seven games, and we had only just won our first game of the season three days before at home to Peterborough United.
Fulham’s squad was jam-packed with Premier League quality and had the best striker in the league up front. We were missing captain Liam Moore, Lucas Joao, Yakou Meite, Andy Rinomhota and Tom McIntyre among many. Surely, surely, this was only going to go one way?
Not if Ovie Ejaria had anything to do with it.
What followed next was the perfect Championship away performance. We defended like absolute warriors (particularly makeshift centre-half pairing Michael Morrison and Josh Laurent), counter attacked with a menace and Ejaria popped up with two special goals to seal us all three points.
A beautiful early Autumn afternoon on the bank of the Thames watching Ovie take the mick for 90 minutes. *Chef’s kiss*.
Sheffield United 1-2 Reading
Not just my favourite day of this season, but arguably my favourite day following this club since the Premier League era. That’s an incredible thing to say when, on the whole, it’s been up there as the worst season in the history of the club.
The day shares a lot of similarities with the aforementioned win at Fulham. It was a lovely day, we won 2-1 away from home, we played really, really well and were donning our splendid yellow away kit.
However, this match was better (for me anyway) because it was one of those days that reignited my love for the club. Earlier in the season, which we’ll get on to later, my love for Reading was at its lowest. I had to drag myself to games, it was a depressing cycle.
But on Good Friday, Tom McIntyre made me fall in love with the club all over again. A hopeful free kick into the box, a nod down from Morro and there was TMc to poke home and spark the best scenes I’ve ever seen in a Reading away end. Surely we’d never see anything like that ever again, right? Wrong...
Reading 4-4 Swansea City
The fans came into this game buoyed from the scenes at Bramall Lane two days prior. Full of confidence for another positive result, where a win more than likely would seal our Championship survival for another year.
The enthusiasm we all came to the game with though had disappeared by the time the clock had ticked past the 58-minute mark and Michael Obafemi had just put the Swans 4-1 up.
It was an all too familiar 60 minutes for us fans. We had completely crumbled and capitulated. We were staring down the barrel of another utter humiliation (again, we’ll get on to more of these in a little while). What we saw in the next 30 minutes though was nothing short of a miracle.
First Ince Jr got one back, then Lucas Joao bundled home his second of the game after a pinball in the box and it was 4-3. Surely not?
The clock ticked on and the visitors were looking like, despite our best efforts, they were going to see out all three points. But then stepped forward, yep you guessed it, Sir Thomas Peter McIntyre. He only went and did it again. Can you imagine scoring two last-gasp goals in back-to-back games for your boyhood club to secure their survival? The stuff dreams are made of, and we got to witness it first hand.
The not so good
Huddersfield Town 4-0 Reading
God, this feels like an absolute lifetime ago now.
In our third away trip of the season, we made the mammoth trek up to Huddersfield. We’ve had some pretty decent results there in recent seasons - winning both of our previous visits to the John Smiths Stadium. But that wasn’t to be.
Pauno put a huge emphasis after the game on the fact the squad was ‘incomplete’ - which I completely get. But it makes my three worst moments because, looking back, I think it was a bigger warning sign than we thought it was at the time.
We got into a decent run of form not long after this game, but the soft centre and lack of fight, commitment and desire we saw on that August afternoon became a running theme throughout the campaign. It was a horrendous day.
It wasn't made much better by the fact that, midway through the game, my phone ran out of charge and I had to try and navigate myself out of Huddersfield without the use of a sat-nav (first world problems, I know).
Kidderminster Harriers 2-1 Reading
Fortunately, two or three days before this game I came down with Covid, so couldn’t make the game. But even when sitting on my sofa at home watching the updates come in, I sunk to a place I have never been too while supporting this club.
I can (just about) take losing to Kidderminster. Cup upsets happen every season - Newcastle lost to Cambridge United on the same weekend.
What I absolutely could not take is the whimper that we went down with. We crumbled. We completely crumbled against a team plying their trade in the 6th (SIXTH) tier of English football.
George Puscas played, Rafael played, Danny Drinkwater played, Josh Laurent played, Tom Holmes played, Alen Halilovic played, Tom-Dele Bashiru played. A team containing those players should not wilt at the feet of a semi-professional team.
They out-battled us, out-fought us and deserved to beat us. It was one of the worst results in the club’s 150-year history, and a day that sparked the worst few months I can remember. A horrible, horrible day. But it got a lot, lot, lot worse before it got any better...
Reading 0-7 Fulham
This was the game. This was the match I remember driving back to my home just outside Birmingham from, ringing my Dad and saying “I don’t even want to go and watch anymore”. Why should I bother driving 200 miles on a Tuesday night if the players can’t even bother running for 90 minutes?
Fulham are a good team, of course they are. They cantered to the league title and will be playing Premier League football next season. Hell, they even won two other games 7-0. So, again, I can take losing to them.
But what we will never forgive as fans is watching the team give up in front of us. And on this horrible January night, they gave up.
They downed tools, they stopped fighting and, combine that with a severe lack of confidence and quality, they got absolutely humiliated.
It was a dark day to be stood in the stands. The atmosphere hadn't been great for a long time, but we crossed a line into the unknown against Fulham. We’ve had some toxic times in recent seasons, but this was a whole new realm. This game was the catalyst for the most depressing few months I’ve ever had following Reading.
A game that will always be there, in the back of your mind, rumbling on. I fell in love with a team that left everything out on the pitch every game, that fought for each other and fought for the fans - this was so far removed from that.
So, there we have it, my top three and my worst three moments of the season.
I think you always need to take the rough with the smooth, but that’s been hard to do this campaign as there hasn’t been a lot of smooth and there’s been a hell of a lot of rough.
Don’t let the fact I picked three in each category deceive you. I don’t think this season was 50/50 good and bad, of course it wasn’t. It was the worst season in living memory, for so many reasons.
But somehow, just somehow, it managed to pop up a few moments that made us all remember why we do what we do.