378 days. Goodness me. Three hundred and seventy eight days. Without a single league away win in that time. And just when you thought it would be another 378 days, the Royals go and surprise everyone by picking up three precious points in Buckinghamshire. Wow!
I was sat in the Turkish barbers in Overdown Road thinking about the day ahead. Questions tumbled around my head like a bag of sprouts in a large festive shopping trolley: would we win? How big would the fan tent be at the ground? Who would start? Which individual/player group would be next to be thrown under the bus by the manager or senior players? Should I just drive rather than get the train? Am I going bald?
The question list was literally endless. Haircut done and fist bumps given, I was out and on the road/tracks to the game. A cheeky bus from Upper Tilehurst to town gave me some respite from football-related feelings as I observed the citizens of our mighty town get on and off the bus.
I purchased my ticket for my train journey like all good law-abiding people do. I was amazed at the price though: 31 dollars! I joke with the lady and said “that’s more than a pound a mile!” She just looked at me. She then said it’s because you need to go out to come in and I said I know, I’m fully aware of that, and she said that’s why it’s more expensive and said it would be cheaper to drive and I said look, I support Reading and I need a drink to do that and I can’t drive and drink so I need to get the train.
And she just stared at me again. So I said well, thanks, and she just kept looking at me. I couldn’t even buy us train beers as there was a power cut and no outlets were serving products. I met my mate and we boarded the train to Manchester (Manchester! We were going to Wycombe FFS!).
A cheeky change at Oxford allowed us to stock up on some eating pieces from a popular bakers and some beers from a shop that is notorious for selling posh fleeces and we were off to Buckinghamshire.
And this is where I’ll shock you: I like Wycombe. It’s got OK people, some comfortable pubs and fair taxi prices. To say the place was swarming with police was an understatement: it was covered in law officers. Drama! We had a swift half in the Flint Cottage and then purchased the services of a taxi to drive us the 10 minutes down the road to the ground.
Again, I love their stadium. Right at the end of the road, it’s a proper local club. The tent was massive, but had a hilariously small bar area. The lagers were medicinal at best but the stewards were in good spirits and it was nice to have both sets of fans mingling in peace. Once through the paper-thin turnstiles, we were up into the stands. Sim had predicted we’d win 2-1. A feeling of optimism was growing.
A quick word on the team selection: I thought it was trash. No Caylan Vickers or Ben Elliott (or even Nesta Guinness-Walker) in the squad, with double international man-of-the-match Charlie Savage benched. Horrible. Further proof that Ruben Selles had completely lost the plot.
The fans were in good voice and, as I looked across the tree line in front of me, I could feel my own positivity spreading its wings like a large eagle. Of course, the standard of footie, from both teams, was pretty poor. This is League One, baby!
We took the lead, which was glorious, albeit through the slowest-moving goal you will ever see. But that was cancelled out almost immediately by the home team. Panic set in. Nails were bitten (although not mine as that’s a disgusting habit). Faces were held in palms. And then Lewis Wing scored and people fell down the stairs. Great! Could we hold on to this lead?
More half-time pints were drunk (NOT the lager) in freezing conditions. We looked at the table. I thought about what Cheltenham Town were doing. The second half commenced and honestly, it was a blur. That final-whistle jubilation was crazy (see related video) will live me for a long time. There have been people that haven’t missed an away game in those barren 378 days.
A win against Wycombe shouldn’t mean that much, but to us fans, it meant the world. We won away from home with a defensively sound performance. Drink it in. Enjoy it. And let’s not go another 378 days without a league win, yeah?