by Bob Lethaby
I had three pints of the ironically named ‘Best bitter’ at the Madjeski Stadium on Saturday, an experience that left me with an obligatory dull ache in my left eye and a nauseous feeling for the rest of the evening, restricting me to a social life that included a hot bath in between slipping in and out of consciousness. The aftermath of three pints of Madjeski stadium beer always reminds of a bad reaction I once got after a typhoid injection, as soon as it hits my lips and I get a taste of detergent and battery acid. I know I shouldn’t be doing it to myself but the captive marketplace at Reading football club leaves me with no other choice.
It was not until yesterday morning that I felt normal again and I began to realise that having three pints of bitter should not make you feel that bad, it really shouldn’t. I go out for a few pints with friends on most Fridays, I would say between five and six is about normal; however, I don’t spend the evening with the palm of my hand protecting my throbbing head as I choke back the vomit after pint number three, in fact after six pints, I feel pleasantly happy and at peace with the world, so It all begs this question. What the fuck do they put in this stuff?
Is there some kind of liquid agent that is surreptitiously added behind the scenes that attempts to make us believe that a draw against Norwich (who kept a first away clean sheet in 39 Premiership games dating back to 2004) is significant progress? If this is the case Brian McDermott must be drinking gallons of the stuff. However, this conspiracy theory is a weak one and the real truth is this. Football supporters are proletarians and are treated accordingly, ripped off at any given opportunity with food and alcohol that would have a vagrant retching in to a bin. Not that a vagrant would ever have the financial clout to cope with the fiscal demands of having a pie and a pint that costs the average punter his children’s inheritance.
“So why do you do it to yourself every week Bob, you bloody idiot” I hear you cry. Well, the reason is this and Reading FC and nearly every other football club know what I am going to say. We proletarians have no choice; part of our creature habit is to go to the football and stand with our mates and have a drink before the game. Every week my own little group of fellow proles and I stand with our pungent beer and fiercely protect our own little bit of concourse territory, not moving out of our self-claimed area of about ten square feet and not letting any strangers in it (there are strangers aplenty at Reading). John Madjeski could stand behind the bar pissing in to plastic pint glasses and we would still pay £3.80 a for it; actually John Madjeski’s urine could well taste better.
Why on earth do we do this? Why don’t we save our money and walk straight in, watch the game, and walk straight out? The answer is pretty simplistic and that is the fact that we all go to football to yes, watch the game but also to enjoy that one hour building up to it by gossiping, moaning, putting the football world to rights and making use of this rare little window of opportunity to be male chauvinist bastards. Like many other supporters up and down the land, we have known each other for decades but because of family commitments and the varying places where we live, we would not see each other hardly at all if it wasn’t for football. To spend this hour together without alcohol would render it a wasted journey, in fact with that part of day removed, I would not remain a season ticket holder.
Football clubs have got a market like no other; it is a unique selling opportunity where 99.9% of their customers are never going to take their business elsewhere. If you go to Sainsbury’s and the food is poor quality, you can take your business elsewhere by trying Morrison’s, Tesco’s or, if you want a black eye, ASDA in Brighton Hill. If you get a bad pint of bitter at Reading Football Club you don’t say: “Right, that’s it…sod this, next week I’m going to Oxford”because that is footballing blasphemy. Football clubs know this is the way we think and the consequence is that football supporters, or should I say football customers, get fleeced for their loyalty.
Except perhaps, at Brighton & Hove Albion and their wonderful new stadium the Amex Arena. Brighton’s caterer’s, sports stadia division Azure, has partnered with the real ale campaign group to ensure a local brew from each away team playing at the new stadium is available for supporters during their matches. For home fans, various Real Ales are made available from the local Sussex brewery, Harvey’s. Listen to this from the Brighton catering manager: “Quality food and drink is key to our offer so as well as our focus on local ales, we’re working in partnership with local baker Joanna Philips from Piglet’s Pantry to create our own Albion Pies, which will be baked on-site and presented in an attractive Albion-branded box.”
How naïve can these people be? This is football you fools, you can serve and charge what you want! Take me for example; I have been drinking flat keg beer and spot welding radioactive pies to my lips at the Madjeski since it opened in 1998. I hate myself for it but back I come very week to get abused and poisoned as Mr Madjeski quaffs his Don Perignon upstairs; it’s all part of being a football supporter. I can’t blame him, I’d do the same, the stumbling block is that I haven’t got a car magazine to sell for 300 million quid.
Still…I’ll be back next Saturday; it’s my birthday that day too…I might even treat myself to a bag of crisps if I can afford it.