FOOTBALL IS BACK!
Well, kind of…
Actually, it's already been back as Reading traded blows with a Thailand 'All Star' team and a behind-closed-doors clash against Tottenham, but that's besides the point. Tonight the 'real' pre-season gets under way as Steve Clarke's side travel to Bristol Rovers to play their first match in front of an English crowd since the 3-0 season ender at Derby.
While it's nice to have football back, this is one period of the season that over the years has gradually worn down my enthusiasm to the point that I'd now rather hibernate until 3pm on August 8th when we kick-off against Birmingham in the Championship.
"Wimb, you boring scrooge!" I hear some of you thinking and yes you might well be right, but let me just explain myself.
Pre-season football is like gambling with Monopoly money, sure you can win and lose but at the end of the day what have you really earned?
The games before the league campaign are certainly useful tools in a fitness sense. Getting players off the beach and back on the pitch is vital to avoid going into a season cold; but in terms of performances, can you really learn much? A few years ago Simon Church scored a 15 minute hat-trick in a game against Wimbledon, before that you had Scott Davies scoring against Chelsea and who can forget Nick Blackman's thunderbolt against Swansea last season. Church was released within a year, Davies wouldn't play a game after Christmas and Blackman would go on to score a whopping three league goals all season. Without the pressure of league conditions, everything is that bit easier.
While pre-season tours are a good way for players to bond and boost morale, there's also the negative of having to spend time with players who might not be at the club in a few days, weeks or a month's time. With Reading so low in the food chain, we generally get our business done late so while you might have a Jimmy Kebe, Alex McCarthy, Shane Long or Gylfi Sigurdsson on the team bus in July, there's a fairly decent chance they'll be off by August. Brian McDermott knew these pains only too well which was part of the reason why his teams were notoriously slow starters despite positive showings in pre-season.
On the other hand it is nice to see some of the newer players in action, even better is when we get a glimpse of a young talent who might just burst on to the scene. Sure, they might well crumble in a Scott Davies fashion once the season proper kicks-off, but every now and then someone shows that they can make an impact thanks to a good summer's worth of games. Likewise, for fans it's a nice chance to see Reading abroad or at stadiums we're unlikely to visit in the league any time soon.
So perhaps I should take a leaf out of old Nigel's playbook and be positive, but personally I'm just counting down the days until we kick off in Birmingham and hoping for as few injuries as possible!