Before I start, a word of warning. This is less about Reading FC both on and off the field, but more related to the fans. Even less so – it’s more about this fan – but I hope to try and encapsulate what recent events and memories may have conjured up for others, also.
I have been a season ticket holder since Reading moved to the shiny new Madejski Stadium. I went, witnessed and felt what I thought was an escape when watching my Royals. What I didn’t feel was a true attachment, but back then I didn’t know why. I went home to the rest of my life feeling miserable, empty and confused. When I speak now to fans about this time, I find they had great memories whereas I had few, if any. Seasons went by and I couldn’t remember goals, games, wins, draws or losses; I just had vague snippets of standout moments. Memories felt fuzzy, wrong or just missing.
For promotions in 2006 and 2012, I witnessed one and missed the other. In reality, I had mentally missed them both. For large parts of that decade and the next, not that I knew it wholly, I was fogged by anxiety, depression, feeling lost, alone, afraid, distant, a formula of fear. This is what I and many of us go through on a daily basis but never tell a soul.
Seeing those Reading legends again brought home to me that I didn’t have to feel guilty about not being able to remember games, for feeling that Southampton away would have been too overwhelming or that going to Leicester would have been amazing to witness… but I had told myself “No, it’s not for you, it’s for others who are better than you.” Regrets, I have had a few.
Recently, as we all have in many ways, we have had to readjust to life in 2022. We’ve all had to re-evaluate and take stock. For me, it was a wake-up call. I finally wanted to say what I felt, to address the elephants in the mind. I couldn’t coast on a wave that would eventually drown me. I needed help and, for once, I sought it. Not half-heartedly but completely invested. I had to work out a way to see the past in a different light, to understand it and work out the ‘why this, why that and why?’
Even though last season was a torrid mess that we hope not to experience again, I found an old voice in writing had returned. I had also found my way into a new group of fellow football people who didn’t just talk football, we talked about ourselves. It didn’t feel strange or that I was being judged at any point. I was there for others and all of us for each other, to a man. I found that I wasn’t the only one that had been hiding away – many others also admitted “that’s me too”, much to my surprise. I was not and probably never was alone after all. I defaulted to being alone because it felt safer. I’m happy to admit I was terribly wrong. Believe me, it IS good to talk (even if it is after a 7-0 defeat at home!).
The latest epiphany was that those Championship-winning legends had taught me that I was now truly capable of enjoying THIS moment in the here and now. The players and fans had a united feeling of nostalgic joy which radiated throughout, and I WAS a part of it after all. Good times do come again. I wasn’t on the outside any more, I wasn’t mentally elsewhere, I was home.
The tears of pride that I felt were just as much for me as it were for them. I had come a long way. I felt happier now than when Graeme Murty ruthlessly took Kingsley down in front of the East Stand. Happier now than when Kevin Doyle sent Reading into the Premier League. I was happy now – at a game that meant nothing, but also everything.
Our love and warmth for these players and managers has and always will be there and even if my own sun had been behind the clouds for so long, it was always within me. The clouds may yet return but as it was on this day, it was so, so good to share and enjoy this fine day in the sun.
If this resonates or feels like this could also be you, message @oohbobbins. He’d be happy to hear from you.