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View From The Dolan: Back With A Defeat

Ben’s thoughts on a first home match of the season, pitch fungus, The Gateway pub, Posh fans thinking it was the Milan derby, and more...

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That new-season feeling is a tricky one to describe to people who don’t like football. Even after the pre-season we’ve had (or not had, rather) I still awoke like a child on the morning of Jesus’ birth. Swap presents for the new shirt (away), change the turkey for an incinerated sausage roll and substitute the family for fellow fans; it’s basically the same vibe.

The deadly pitch fungus preventing the half-time game allowed me to take on more beer than usual and, as a result, I was in town by midday, sitting in The Gateway pub surrounded by Celtic fans, sipping a pint of cool, fresh, hearty continental lager.

For those of you who are reading this outside of Reading (like Bracknell, for example), it’s an Irish pub and is very, very good. Situated on Greyfriars Road near the station and major bus routes, it’s the ideal location for weary travellers to rest their bodies among ample seating and to sample a range of high-quality beers. Plus, with live sport always on and a delicious meal to be had, what’s not to like? I also went to The Grumpy Goat and The Walkabout and had lunch at Wendy’s, but I don’t wish to talk about those at this stage.

The weather was incredibly graphic as we made our way from the American diner, stomachs full of spicy chicken sandwiches and, instead of queuing for the bus (£5.50 adult return by the way!), we made the decision to grab a cab, which in actual fact was the same cost as two adults. No problem with Reading Buses in general, but they caught “festival disease” when it comes to football fares (“festival disease” is that whole captive audience thing - eg, you’ve got no choice but to pay £8 for Strongbow Hideous Fruits or whatever the kids drink these days as that’s the only option - same with the travel to an out-of-town football arena...).

Team-news-wise, I was sad to see Harley Dean Davidson not play, a man who I am convinced has so much authority he never says anything in a WhatsApp group, yet still commands the same level of respect as a person who trains guide dogs (eg a lot of bloody respect). Aside from him, the team basically picked itself. The stadium was fuller than I imagined it to be, with the Posh (anything but) bringing a fair few down. Of course, they’d let themselves and their families down later in the game with their simply embarrassing behaviour. More on that later.

We started well, probably the best 20 minutes I’ve seen from a Reading team for years. Pressure, focus and organisation were all on display with the new boys doing well. Of course, against the run of play, the visitors took the lead. As a full-back myself, I was also taught to a) stop the cross and b) track your runners. Both flanks were at fault for the goal which muted our play for the rest of the half.

Cue the visiting idiots who thought it was the Milan derby trying to get over the barrier and into Club 1871. Actually, that’s bigging them up: they didn’t even do that. One accidentally fell over the railing when he tried to spit at the home fans. Why the stewards didn’t chuck a hefty percentage of the away fans out at this point, who were intent on goading our supporters, I’ll never know.

As I was effectively redundant at half-time, we slipped down the concourse like a three-manned snake in fancy dress to have another lager. As I looked to my left, a chap had clearly smuggled in a cheeky can of adult pop. A Boddington’s no less! I just stood and watched him for 30 seconds or so and thought “that lad probably orders a tikka masala and egg fried rice every Saturday night”. A Boddington’s. SMH.

The second period of association football kicked off and, in truth, we made it easy for them for the final 45 (plus eight… eight!) minutes. I liked Caylan Vickers when he came on, I probably would have stuck Amadou Mbengue in midfield and not right-back, and felt Lewis Wing looked sluggish, which I guess is down to a lack of a pre-season.

All in all, a fairly positive experience. Of course, the result isn’t a great way to start, but I can’t remember the last time I walked away from a defeat feeling fairly happy with the performance overall. There’s definitely foundations for this house to be built on, but we need the roof on and doors and windows in pretty quickly to shield us from the League One storm.

Either way, the season is back. We can either ride the rollercoaster or watch other people have fun on it.

Until next time.