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View From The Dolan: Mixed Messaging?

The latest column from Ben on the current state of play in RG2.

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It seems pretty pointless to talk about the on-pitch stuff right now. We drew with Bristol Rovers 1-1 on Tuesday night, having been ahead. We weren’t good. We were maybe ok for 10 minutes or so, but ultimately didn’t look like winning the game or, rather, didn’t deserve to win the game.

I’m going to use this column to talk about things away from the pitch. Now obviously, regular readers will know that I do this often, but I’m going to get serious for a moment. I’ve deliberately left writing this for a good 24 hours or so after the events on Tuesday because I didn’t want this to come across like a literary version of an ugly cry.

Let’s address the tennis balls first. Was the game in any danger ever being called off if balls were chucked? As fans, we will genuinely never know. If it was a possibility, as per the referee’s explicit instructions in the Pompey game, I feel that the club (key word) should have issued a statement about it prior to this game. If the EFL had had the actual gumption to say “if the game is interrupted multiple times, the game will be abandoned”, then fair dos. That’s the club’s remit to issue a plea to supporters and say “please don’t do it”. Now whether the fans would have adhered to that, again we’ll never know.

Being completely honest here: on the morning of the game, once Club 1871 had issued a statement/tweet of their own subliminally saying “bring your tennis balls”, I felt Sell Before We Dai needed to come out and say something about it. And then I actually thought about it for a bit, let it fester in my brain. Did they need to? If there was a genuine threat of abandonment, which I think even the most militant of fans would agree is not what we need right now, then surely the club would say something?

Of course, nothing had formally been said for the Pompey game regarding the balls (aside from what I would say was a very successful march in terms of numbers and visuals). So why was it left to fan groups to say something? Did anything need to be said ahead of the Bristol Rovers game?

Just to remind you, I have no skin in the game here. The only thing I currently do is run the podcast with my mate Ross, write this column for TTE and sit on the subs bench for half-time “entertainment” (it will come back, I know you’re worried about it…).

You can be grateful for the work Sell Before We Dai and STAR are doing, as I am, but also question statements they put out and the reasons for them. If you put yourself in a position where you are a fans group doing mostly good work, you have to be clear and consistent in that approach. You have to take the positives with the negatives and accept that, when fans don’t agree, that’s the kind of the role you’ve put yourself up to do.

One of the reasons I left STAR was because I was trying to be something I’m not: a spokesman for the fans. I’m not that. I can help the club and I am trying to help the club, I do my videos, pods and columns which are all opinion-based. If you don’t agree with those opinions, that’s absolutely fine.

The risk, when you put yourself up as a leader of the fans and mobilise people one week, and then the next week go “people can do what they want, we don’t run the monopoly on protests”, is that messaging becomes muddied, inconsistent and generally pretty awkward. And that’s when division can inadvertently occur.

Similarly, if you say “don’t lob balls on the pitch” and then go “but we are working on stuff in the background”, then you have to be really clear on what that background stuff is. I’m not saying that hasn’t been the case generally, but in this instance, you have to balance the rough with the slightly less rough, especially when the fanbase is so heightened.

Ultimately, we all want Dai gone. There can’t be a Reading fan around that doesn’t. I have genuinely no proof that the game would have been binned off had people kept chucking stuff on the pitch. Is it annoying to the players? 100%. Does it disrupt the flow of the game? Yeah. Could it make it awkward for the club? Quite possibly.

But it can’t be anymore awkward than not paying tax bills as an organisation and putting all your employees, fans’ enjoyment and the club’s future at risk, can it? Was I in favour of chucking balls on the pitch on Tuesday? Not really. Did I understand why people wanted to do it? Absolutely.

My personal opinion is that the group have done a lot. They’ve given their time to work through a bunch of complex issues in a difficult time for the club. But in this case, I think they dropped the ball (there’s the pun you’ve all been waiting for!) by telling people not to throw balls. The same with STAR last week.

In my opinion, that should have been the club, not voluntary fans groups. I’m not a reactionary fan: I’d like to think I take time over things and to form opinions. But this week, I’ve felt the messaging has been mixed across the board. Again, just my view.

One day we won’t have to talk about all this stuff and we can focus our attention on the pitch. We aren’t there yet and it’s important to remember that.

Until next time.