Ah, the Dolan. Back from a summer break filled with... summer. The stench of stale beer, the faint whiff of BO peeking through polyester replica shirts and the mild scent of pessimism all filled the air. It was good to be home.
Heading into the game, all the potatoes were stacked against us with injuries galore, stuttering transfer endeavours and a lack of any new shirt other than the home one. Most predicted a loss (naysayers), some predicted a draw (sensible) and very, very few predicted a win (delusional). Banished was the positivity of the previous week. Gone was the excitement. I even saw someone describe going to the game as “a chore” - quite a statement for the first home match of the season.
Still, completing that “chore” is what at least 8,000 Reading fans did as they packed (well, not packed, ambled I guess) into the Whitley Bowl to face the Bluetits. The sun was out, the players looked resplendent in their warm-up top that no one can actually buy right now and the fanzone was bustling with food that very few people looked likely to buy. Still, kudos for the effort and that.
Team-selection-wise, we were all taken down the garden path in the latter part of this week when it was announced we had more injuries. Social media was rife with speculation and it turned out that the most notable new absence was the Ivorian King himself, Yakou Meite. That meant a first start for Shane Long up top and a first league start in Berkshire since… a long time ago.
I arrived at my seat just in time to see a Dingle on the jumbotron (the game where you have to guess the Reading player using a selection of well thought-out and highly researched clues - it’s not some crude term for a body part) which was pleasing as the club are trying to improve the matchday vibe.
Leave it to the players then to destroy that vibe by behaving like a group of chaps that had just met in the car park of a pub (probably called The Badger and Sword or something) and stumbled onto a football pitch. Conceding a goal in the first five minutes of a game is never ideal, but neglecting the absolute basics of defending in doing so is downright criminal. At that point, I wanted to do them all serious harm and I felt, at that point, our afternoon was only going to get worse score-wise.
But then a change in the air arrived! Cardiff committed GBH in the box, a 12-yard death kick was awarded and Shane stepped up to convert. Celebrating a Shane Long goal with your son, who wasn’t born the last time he scored for Reading Football Club, is a special thing. At this point, there was only one winner and it was the Royals… SAID NO ONE EVER! Cardiff, admittedly, went into their shell like some sort of of nervous reptile, but we still had plenty to do take all three points.
A brief interlude at half time which may or may not have seen me heckled from the stands by an old friend while trying to organise grown men to use their footballing prowess to win a phenomenal RFC-based prize, and we were back to the cauldron of Championship football (side note - however hot you may have been in the stands, it is at least 10 degrees hotter on the pitch).
Clearly, Ince Senior had told the lads to go out and win the second half and they came out like a different outfit in the second 45. This was demonstrated by an absolute sh*tpinger from Ince Junior. To be fair to him and me, as the ball left his foot from that range, I muttered a phrase which could be abbreviated by three letters that include two Fs and one S. I’d not even got to the second ‘F’ before the ball was in the onion bag and the SCL was sent into raptures. A really fine strike worthy of winning any second-tier game (and some top-tier games too).
We were able to see out the half, dare I say it, reasonably comfortably to pick up the big, large W and register three points for the first time this season. As I made my way back to my vehicle situated in the VIP car park (stop it!) I couldn’t help but feel proud to have witnessed that win. It wasn’t a vintage example of association football, but it was a masterclass in desire, endeavour and commitment. And ultimately, that’s all we really want isn’t it?
Until next time.