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View From The Dolan: On The Brink

Ben’s take on a game that left Reading hovering perilously close to relegation being confirmed.

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I’ve had a fair crack at writing this particular column at least three times. Each time, I’ve got midway through and deleted it because I was just ranting and raving. So I just stopped for a bit, caught up on Ted Lasso and gave it another go. Whether this version works out, who knows, tell me at the end if you want.

Sim’s done a pretty decent job (for once) I’ve writing up the match report, so if by some chance you completely missed the events of yesterday, go and give that a go and then come back to this piece.

I guess the main thing is that none of this is a surprise. My mood, my current feeling, has been suppressed over the last four/five seasons (I mean even when we were good in lockdown I was still left with an empty, “what’s the point?” kind of vibe) and the result of all of that is that we are almost certain to be relegated from the Championship after 10 years. You can blame whoever you want for this, but that’s the reality.

On a day when the stadium was pretty much full and expectation was sky high for us to at least partially control our own destiny heading to the final game, the sheer weight of badly made decisions and terrible risk-taking all came full circle, to lead us to a situation where many of us will spend more time at Beaconsfield services next season than anywhere else (depending on which route you take to the more “local” away games).

I spoke to a few people at the club before the game and I got the feeling that they knew what was coming (or at least had prepared for what was coming). As the game wore on, you could feel that sense of anxiety, that nervousness, that sheer dread creeping in. Win and you keep the wolves (or terriers) from the door. Anything else and you leave your fate firmly in the hands of other people/Neil Warnock.

Focussing on the stadium for a minute, it was great to see the place full (or nearly full). It seems a long time since that was the case and I enjoyed it. There were a lot of families, a lot of kids, a lot of people who had dug out their old Reading shirts at a time of genuine need and everyone played their part. It was loud, enthusiastic and supportive, and for all this nonsense about who should and shouldn’t be going to games (if one more person uses the term “day trippers”…), the community showed up yesterday.

Of course, they were put through the emotional ringer and, in all likelihood, it will be a while until we sell out again I’d imagine, given what awaits us behind the door to League One. There was some positivity in the week with the forum from Mark Bowen et al. You can have all the nice lagers and fancy chips you want while listening to lots of good ideas, but that doesn’t change a thing at present. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Bowen, but he’s only going to be as good as he’s allowed to be, and right now, I’m not sure what that equates to.

We know players will leave - a few made it clear post-match that this would be their last outing at the Whitley Bowl, regardless of whether we somehow stay up. The final whistle was greeted with an eerie silence from both sets of fans, the visitors of course having their own relegation confirmed. I’m told that some did stay, I guess to clap off those who are likely to leave. Personally, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough to begin my own grieving process.

The inevitable pain that follows will be softened by the fact that I’m already coming to terms with it. It’s not like this has just crept up on us and is a genuine surprise to anyone connected with the club. It’s been a bit like putting sellotape over broken bricks or repairing a hole in a sock (not that I have ever done either). At some point, you have to start again/buy a new brick/some new socks.

This club needs the first-team set-up to be completely revamped and that has to start on May 9. If there isn’t a list of releases by midday on that Tuesday, then what’s the point? Same with the dugout - we need a new management team in place as soon as possible so that the changes can happen in earnest.

Back to Ted Lasso. There’s a scene when he’s talking to a fan and he invites them to training. His coach asks him if that’s wise. His response is to say: “It’s their club, we are just borrowing it for a while.”

Football is the most fickle of all fickle games, but what we need right now is for everyone who can make a decision at the club to start thinking more along the lines of that: putting plans in place to secure the long-term success of this club. What that looks like, I don’t know yet, but I genuinely hope we can look back at this period and laugh sooner rather than later. Everyone at the club needs to sharpen up or ship out. If they don’t, the way you’re feeling right now might just get a whole lot worse.

Until next time, whenever and wherever that may be.