Wednesday, July 06, 2011


There’s always next year. As Reading fans slipped morosely away from Wembley back in May after yet another play of final loss, there was always next year. After a defensive horror show in the first half at the national stadium, for Brian McDermott and his men there was always next year. Nick Hornby remarked in his ground-breaking fan-biography Fever Pitch that “if you lose the Cup Final in May, well there's the third round to look forward to in January. And what's wrong with that? It's actually pretty comforting if you think about it.” There’s always next year. But while his mucker Negative Jeff, looks forward to the new season in his own inimitable style, for life-long Reading FC fan Tony Forge, sadly, there is no next year.

Rather touchingly, Forge – who had been gravely ill for some time- held on long enough to listen to radio commentary of his beloved RFC fighting back admirably in the second half against Swansea with a typically gung-ho response. Such fighting spirit was typical of Tony himself throughout his illness. His visits to the Madejski became fewer and far between during the final months of his life, but he was always keenly waiting on the other end of a telephone for updates and debates with his mates. His spirit will live on in his old drinking buddy, Jeff.

Jeff himself had been ill, although you’d not know it. A more sprightly sexagenarian you couldn’t wish to find, as evidenced by his half-time star-jumps during our regular interval congress behind the East Stand. Jeff holds court during what is affectionately referred to by the regular participants as ‘the half time moan’. Passing comment on the game itself seems almost a chore to Jeff – although he regularly makes mention of his dissatisfaction at McDermott’s chosen style of play – rather more, he is curious to know whether you are attending next week’s away game and if so which train are you taking and most importantly which pub will you be in. Jeff is one of the senior citizens amongst the train-travelling RFC away-day crew and although he clearly enjoys being held in reverential terms by chaps several years his junior during these precious 15-minute male-bonding sessions as they chant his Bee Gees inspired theme tune, he will undoubtedly miss his compadre and peer, Forge.

I remember first meeting Forge for the first time on the way to Brighton in 2002. I was with Andy Ray and Compo, was shaking off a horrible hangover and my mood was not improved by a wretched train journey comprising several changes due to engineering work. We boarded our 3rd train of the day at Liphook, which for all I knew was the @rse-end of nowhere. A gentleman joined us on the platform at Liphook and having sat behind us during this last leg of the journey he must have become weary of listening to our ill-informed football opinions because he interrupted, put us to right and joined in the conversation. He was a very plain speaking bloke, not unafraid to chip in on a topic of conversation relating to a subject matter he clearly felt very passionate about. And do you know what, he spoke with real authority, he was a good many years our senior but was comfortable interrupting 3-know-nothing lads all young enough to be his son and discuss football and RFC in particular. More recently I came to know Forge through the likes of Negative Jeff, DWM and Deavesy. What a brilliant set of chaps; utterly unpretentious, they enjoy each other's company, they enjoy the banter, the beer and most of all the football. I am proud to support the same team as this group of gentlemen, who respect one another and their team, their club. This group of fellas might have a quiet moan and groan occasionally about the team's fortunes, but they always remained supportive and just happy to get on with travelling up and down the country sharing in their strongest mutual passion - Real Ale, no,.....RFC!

Life is fleeting, our number will be up eventually and for Tony Forge the fat lady has sadly already sung. For centuries, man has pondered the meaning of life and found more questions than answers in this, the best of all possible worlds. Sure, wasting time and money travelling up and down the country, sitting in dead-end pubs drinking good beer doesn’t seem the best use of our four score years and ten, but without the fripperies of trifling debate about how best to tactically arrange millionaires so as their ball-kicking skills will outperform another set if millionaires, life surely is rather empty and clinical. People like Tony Forge embody what football fandom is all about; friendships, a good old fashioned debate and a few drinks before and after. Jeff won’t be lonely without his old mucker, because such is the non-denominational dynamic of football crowds, Jeff will continue to have a drink in various different footballing towns around the country with a group of chaps of varying ages, backgrounds and political persuasions he might otherwise have nothing in common with. Myself, I can recall receiving a cheery ‘hello’ at an away game from a senior practitioner at a partner agency in my professional life which momentarily render me rather sheepish due to the appalling language I had been using towards a part-time umpire, adjudicating a group of millionaires kicking a ball around immediately prior to said friendly greeting. It takes all sorts to make a football crowd, and – broadly speaking – if you’re wearing the same colours they don’t discriminate against one another, creed or colour. Long may the social side of attending football thrive, thanks to the hostelries and buffet cars of Britain!


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