Walking down the A33 on Saturday lunchtime with thousands of fellow Royals was empowering. It was a unique moment and one that will live with me for a long time. The circumstances that led to it are unforgivable and unacceptable, but the march made me proud to be a Reading fan.
But let’s be completely honest, it’s not normal for a football fan to have to join a march against an ownership that looks hellbent on killing their club. If there were terms and conditions you had to sign upon becoming a fan of a football club, there would be no references to joining protests and fighting to keep your club alive.
Above all else, Saturday’s march got me longing for a little bit of normality. Of course, when I say normality, I mean football normality. What we fans think is normal really isn’t, let’s be clear about that.
There’s nothing normal about taking time off work for a six-hour round trip on a Tuesday evening to watch your team draw 0-0 at Peterborough United. Or having a half-hour debate with your dad about whether we should play five at the back or four. Or getting excited (genuine child-like levels of excitement) at seeing your club linked with a player from another club during the transfer window. That’s not normal behaviour, it’s a bit odd if anything.
But it’s our normal. Or it should be at least.
What has become our normal in recent times, as Reading fans, is wondering whether staff will be paid at the end of the month, hoping we have enough money to pay the taxman, praying we don’t get another points deduction and fearing our club genuinely won’t exist this time next year.
The work the Sell Before We Dai movement has done is incredible, genuinely it really is. We have eyes on our situation that we would never have got without them, and the national media has stood up and taken interest in the debacle that is Dai Yongge’s ownership. But with all due respect, I don’t want them to exist.
What I want is to go and watch Reading play; have a pie and a pint; moan about the starting line-up; watch Reading win or draw or lose; moan about the performance on the way back and get home ready to do it all again in a few days time - safe in the knowledge that my club is being run competently and that it’ll exist for the foreseeable future. That’s literally all I’m asking for.
Of course, when that normality does return - and it will - I will take it for granted. I will once again be far too emotionally invested, let Reading’s performances dictate my mood for days on end, and care way too much about bad performances and results. But that’s okay - those are normal things for football fans to experience and feel.
I’m not asking for us to be taken over by oil money and be in the Champions League in five years’ time. I want the midweek away defeats, I want the flat pints and overpriced steak pies, I want the drab 0-0 draws. But I want those things to be the only things I have to care about.
I don’t want to see a tweet titled ‘EFL Statement: Reading Football Club’ every other week, I don’t want the football match I’m paying money to see play second fiddle, I don’t want to see any more god-damned tennis balls, placards or banners.
We football fans care about football far, far too much. We care about petty, irrelevant, unnecessary things. We put football on a pedestal and give it far too much importance.
There are more important things, lots and lots of them in fact, than the starting XI the manger decides to go with, what colour your team’s away kit is this year, or who your team’s playing on the weekend closest to your birthday this season. Those things are futile, pointless, nothing.
But in the same breath, they’re everything. In the context of football, and in our weird little world as football fans, those kinds of things are the things that matter most. That’s the beauty of it.
For millions of people, football is an escape. A detour from day-to-day life. A chance to pack away the real world and forget about it for 90 minutes every Saturday afternoon. We probably let our football world bleed into our real world a little bit too much sometimes, but that’s fine. That's allowed.
I don’t want to worry about the future of my club anymore. I’m tired of it. I don’t really care who is or isn’t at fault anymore, or how it got to this. I just care about getting out of this mess and coming out the other side.
I want to watch Reading Football Club, and follow them up and down the country, and focus solely on that. I want it to occupy my entire being the way it used to. I want to be embarrassingly emotionally invested into it. I want a 1-0 last minute loss to put me in a bad mood until the next weekend when we beat the league leaders 2-0 at home. I want normality back.