A Reading fan’s lament

Now I can’t really comment about the football side of things last night.  That’s been done by journalists all over the land and, as I became aware due to twitter, even outside of it.  What I can comment on is my experience as a fan during and in the wake of such a shattering defeat.  For me these kind of defeats get right to the heart of what it is to be a football fan.  It is just as much in loss that our fan community is born as in great victory.

For me as a Reading fan last night’s defeat joins two others that I have experienced in their sheer emotional impact.  Incidentally my reactions in all three cases haven’t really changed that much.  It certainly shows that football is indeed a cruel game.

The first crushing defeat was that of Reading-Bolton in the division one play-off final in 1995.  Then as a 14 going on 15 year old I was a fresh-faced fan, excited about the prospect of my team Reading in the top league for the first time in their history.  I managed to convince myself that the game was unique, that no other team had been in the same kind of circumstances before (well I was only 14).  My father, brother (both Blackburn fans as it happens) and I travelled down to Wembley that day, rather naively, without tickets.  When we realised the match was all-ticket we were only able to scalp one ticket off a Bolton fan.  My dad and brother thus kicked cans outside of Wembley as I sat in the Bolton end.

The match itself started amazingly for Reading and we were 2-0 up in the first fifteen minutes.  We even had a penalty in the 35th minute to go 3-0 up which was missed by Stuart ‘Archie’ Lovell.  This presented the opportunity for Bolton to come back, and  come back they did, eventually coming away with a victory 4-3 in extra-time.  After the game I was completely distraught, indeed I remember sitting in a pizza hut in Leicester square practically in tears.  I felt like I could never recover.

Of course recover I did and I eventually saw Reading in the premier league in 2006-8.  The second crushing defeat however came in May 2011 as Reading took on Swansea City in another play-off final, again for a place back in the premier league.   Here, as a 31 year old, it really wasn’t much different to when I was 14.  Again I put huge amounts of hope into my preparations for the game, and of course I looked back to the Bolton game in 1995.

In stark contrast to that game, Reading started terribly against Swansea and by half-time we were 3-0 down.  Standing in the concourse with friends I didn’t expect anything but quick goals just after half-time brought us back to 3-2.  The celebrations for the second of our goals were some of the most cacophonous that I have ever experienced.  Hope, I had my hope back.  And we all know how dangerous hope is.  Several minutes later a Jem Karacan shot struck the post and the game felt within our grasp.  Unfortunately it eventually slipped away from us again and we went on to lose 4-2.  In the aftermath of the match I was once again distraught and kept trying to explain what had happened.  This massive disappointment was happily overcome when Reading claimed promotion in 2011-12.

Last night I, and we as Reading fans, went through it all again.  Of  course the game had far less riding on it than the other two I have mentioned.  Indeed I didn’t really care about the result before the match.  However as I watched us (admittedly this time on telly) rip apart Arsenal in the first half to take a 4-0 lead, I realised that I had once more poured all my hope and belief into a game.  And this time I could feel the football world watching. When Walcott scored to make it 4-1 just before half-time it didn’t seem to matter.  Unfortunately as the second half progressed belief began to drain from the Reading players, and from me as Arsenal began to fight back.  I experienced a horrible sinking feeling.  4-2 in the 62nd minute,4-3 just before the full-time whistle and then tragically Walcott in the 5th minute of injury time.  It was 4-4.  I couldn’t take any more, I left for a walk, I already knew we had lost extra-time, there was no longer any point in watching.

The one positive thing I can think of from last night’s defeat is, unlike the others described above, our next match is only four days away.  I certainly hope the crucial game against QPR won’t come close to the levels of drama we experienced last night.

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2 thoughts on “A Reading fan’s lament

  1. An excellent piece, loved it. Reminds me so much of watching Crystal Palace over the years…since 1968. If anyone wonders why we love this game even though it continues to kick us well this explains it very well.

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