by Bob Lethaby

I have made a decision this year that when Reading are playing away, I will lend my support to local football in the Hampshire area and today I meandered down to Tadley, the place where I grew up, to watch them play Paulsgrove in the Hampshire cup, and what a pleasure it was too. Arriving at  Barlows Park I wasn’t sure what to expect, though I knew through friends that  the club had suffered some turbulent years after at first benefitting from, then being restricted by a local benefactor. A lot of small clubs fall to the temptation of receiving a boost of money they could never of dreamed of but it always seems to end in tears and Tadley, on the face of it seem like no exception. Players come in  from outside the area with the promise of earning big wages and the community spirit goes with it as local lads get pushed out and either go somewhere else or give up playing altogether.

Since the turmoil that engulfed the club, Tadley have regrouped and the team I watched today were made up of players playing not for money but for the love of the local team and it was heart-warming to see people like Murray Knox who have dedicated their life to club, looking buoyant and proud of the excellent club house they have built with the aid of local people who have offered their services not for financial gain, but for the pleasure of helping the community. I didn’t like Tadley as it was but I like it now and it was great to see faces I had not seen for many years and equally pleasurable to see local lads out on the pitch.

The game itself was something akin to a basketball match, with end to end football that as you would expect, often lacked in quality but never lacked in excitement. Tadley led early on then fell behind before responding again and ending up running out easy winners (6-3) with some really good finishing being the difference between the sides in a game that really could have gone either way. We then retreated to the bar for an extremely well kept pint of London Pride in a proper glass that was not only a pound cheaper but also ten times more drinkable than the chemicals served up at the Madjeski stadium, our local home of premiership football ten miles up the road.

The club house was bustling and friendly and as you would expect spirits were high after the win. On the walls, showing the footie results coming in, were two nice big flat screen TV’s that had also been donated by supporters and a few moans were to be heard as Swansea equalised against Reading, meaning that as October meanders on, they are still without a win but at least out of the bottom three…Every cloud and all that! I love Reading, I have supported them too long not to and it is great to be watching Premier League football at the Madjeski, even if it turns out to be only a brief stay. However, football is a game to be enjoyed at all levels and to stand and watch, then have a beer with people who do what they can to support local football  is just as enjoyable as watching the game at its highest domestic level.

So if you are like me and you are a season ticket holder who rarely goes to away days, when your team is playing away, get yourself down to a local game at grass roots level, it really is great fun and they will welcome your support! If they don’t they are stupid, as there will be another club just up the road who will.