by Bob Lethaby
My predictably fruitless, yet enjoyable, cricket season finally meandered into the new football calendar on Sunday as I went to witness my first Premier League game at Reading since the spring of 2008 against the star-studded team of Tottenham. Upon arriving at the ground, the distinct changes that the Premier League bring were instantly noticeable, more people of course, but also more food vans, programme sellers, merchandise huts and press; it is a machine of marketing opportunists exploiting supporters or should I say clients, at every given opportunity. I felt like I had arrived somewhere else; it is on a different stratosphere to the humble honesty of the Championship.
Inside the concourse of the ground I was relieved to see the faces of my old mates, Dave, Pete, Paul, Mark and Stewart, but saddened to discover that one of our fellow stalwarts, Derek, had decided that he could not take the cynicism and razzmatazz of Premier League and had made a stand by not renewing his season ticket. I had already been informed this was the case but I had gone in to some sort of denial, fully expecting him to come plodding along unshaven in his The Clash T-shirt, offering as usual, the dry wit, sarcasm and black humour that is a vital ingredient in the staple diet of a football fan at any level. Alas, he did not arrive and as I looked up to see the Reading FC special meal deal featuring “A pie “n” a Pint” for just seven quid, I could understand why he had abstained. Think of the most disgusting pint of beer you have ever consumed, then imagine it being slopped into a plastic cup before being asked to part with £3.90 to drink it, then you will have a good idea of the alcohol served at the Madjeski Stadium. At Reading Football Club, not only do they take the piss, they serve it as well.
Once in the ground, I was relieved to see that the season ticket holders from the Championship era remained in place around me, meaning I didn’t have to go through that whole “getting to know you” experience again with the person next to me and just like old friends, we all shook hands and greeted each other warmly. During our last flirtation with the Premiership, a friend of mine gave up his season ticket, meaning I spent a year next to a woman who supported Liverpool and spent the entire game with her headphones on, tapping me on the shoulder to let me know every time Liverpool scored. I was quite tolerant for a while, nodding politely at these moments that had no relevance in my life, then, during a 4-0 battering at the hands of Arsenal, I exploded and informed her that I really didn’t give a fuck that Stevie G had scored for Liverpool. It did the trick, she never spoke to me again, but it was about as an unsociable a season as you could wish for as my other friends were all sat three rows behind me guffawing at my misfortune. I am now fortunate enough to be blessed with people around me who are genuine supporters that are both passionate and good fun to be with.
On the pitch itself, the Royals got beaten out of sight and were fortunate to come away with a respectable looking scoreline of 1-3 that could have been so much worse, such was the gulf in class. Imagine me fighting Vitali Klitschko and you will get the picture. Reading are a team of Championship players complimented with a few Premier League nomads who may or may not enhance the team in the coming months. The suspicion is they won’t. Because it wasn’t a contest, the atmosphere was subdued as Reading fans in particular, tried to take on board the distinct difference between the robust, high tempo and error strewn Championship matches and the clinical high quality passing and finishing of a Spurs team who on another day could and should have been 5-0 ahead at half time. It was hard to decipher who was more blown away by what was happening, the players or the fans but one thing is for certain, Reading need to learn quickly, otherwise they will be marooned at the bottom of the league from now until next May.
So after my first day of the new season, I can’t help thinking that on that performance, I would rather be back in the Championship watching titanic close-fought battles against the likes of Cardiff, Wolves and Birmingham City, though I guess that it wont be long before I get my wish.
And Derek might come back as well.
Check out Bob’s fantastic blog here http://www.boblethaby.co.uk/