- Someone once said: ‘Home is the place we love best and grumble the most’. This is a pertinent saying from a pretty unusual source – Billy Sunday, an American conservative evangelist and baseball player from the late nineteenth century. Still, I think it sums up the typical attitude of a Reading fan towards the Madejski Stadium match day experience. Many of us will bemoan various faults when talking with each other, only to vigorously defend our little patch when it is attacked by others. But it is neither a totally perfect nor an utterly abject place to watch the mighty Reading play. Therefore, I have tentatively come up with a few suggestions of positives and negatives of a Madejski Stadium match day experience. Any opinions, in agreement or violent disagreement, are more than welcome in the comments section.
- The Mad Stad is a relatively new stadium, which comes with some obvious perks. I like the fact that the seats give decent leg space, the concourses are relatively clean, and that the ground does not appear dangerously close to being demolished by the council. This is often forgotten - when idealising the 'good old days', sometimes people gloss over a few of the much less comfortable aspects of ageing grounds.
- I also appreciate the standard of Refreshments. Although the basic offerings of burger vans outside and pints of Fosters or cups of Bovril inside are hardly revolutionary, the Jazz Cafe in particular is a brilliant place to have a pre match drink. If you are lucky enough to get in there before it reaches capacity, the variety of beverages available and the general quality of the bar is something to be commended.
- The ground is a much bigger capacity than Elm Park. On a good day, for instance in a much anticipated clash with a big rival, we can now pack in over 24,000. In terms of revenue, that is great for the club – and if that is invested in players, it is good for the fans too. The higher attendance can also raise our profile and standing within English football, especially if we are broadcast on television with a packed stadium. Most importantly, however, it can improve the atmosphere (if we are winning). The roar when an important goal is scored is immensely better in a stadium of 24,000 than in a stadium of 10,000. For me, anyway, this enhances the match-day experience.
- The most common complaint is the Mad Stad lacks soul and character, and this definitely has some justification. A shiny, new(ish) stadium is all very well, but if it lacks a personality it can be rather uninspiring. A good example is the names given to stands, for our home ground they correspond simply to a compass. This is pretty bland - the ‘East Stand’ is hardly comparable to West Ham’s the ‘Bobby Moore Stand’. I will not compare the Mad Stad in character to Elm Park, which many fans do, as I am too young to give any memories of games there. Nevertheless, even in comparison to other modern grounds, I think ours is particularly dull.
- The location is unfortunate too, for two reasons mainly. The first is the relative distance of the stadium from the centre of town. This means walking probably takes too long, forcing most of us to pay the extortionate prices of the various buses. Secondly, the area around the Madejski stadium perfectly encapsulates the stereotype of a commuter town: half empty new estates, business parks and a waste disposal centre. This is hardly the best impression to give to the thousands of away fans who come every season.
- The bigger capacity is a negative if we fail to fill it. Particularly when Reading are doing badly, and we are facing a less distinguished team, the attendance can sometimes drop to 12,000 or less. We have all been to the games where our ground is half empty and depressingly listless on a miserable, rainy Tuesday night 1-0 defeat. They hardly constitute a good day at the football.
- The acoustics are pretty dreadful. This has been dealt with on TTE before, so it will be enough to say that we are regularly out-sung by the away fans, and not all of this is the fault of the Reading fans themselves – although that is a factor. This reduces the opportunity for us to encourage the team, and often demoralises both the fans, and possibly the players, whenever we are comprehensively beaten in the singing battle.
- Finally, a big issue is the overreliance on the PA system on match day at the Madejski, which I find particularly grating. I do not mind the ‘Back the Boys’ routine, and I am ambivalent towards goal music, but often the club goes way overboard on this front. To give an anecdotal example, when they premiered the new pre-match video at the start of this season, it was received well. Afterwards, chants were building in volume, and I really felt the stadium was properly buzzing, ready to give a fantastic reception to the players when they walked out of the tunnel. However, the burgeoning atmosphere was swiftly murdered by an ill timed broadcast of ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO over the PA at a deafening volume. This tendency to blare out inappropriate and annoying music is harmful to the match day experience.
Overall, I think the Madejski Stadium is still a decent place to watch football. Even though I have given more negatives than positives, the complaints are mostly minor bugbears. Furthermore, my biggest problem is the lack of a safe standing area - an issue for all clubs at this level, due to current legislation, and therefore not really a fair criticism to bring up in this article. Ultimately, however, the quality of the day is dependent on how well we are playing. If Reading have won comfortably, you will always head home feeling better than if they have lost abjectly. All the pros and cons aside, that is probably the decisive factor in determining how enjoyable your day at the football has been.