Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The death of Gary Speed – a highly successful footballer with a burgeoning career as an international football manager – came as a massive surprise. How immensely sad that a talented man of 42 would apparently take his own life. How sad for his family. How many platitudes on social media websites.

One of the worst things about the rise and rise of the world wide web is that every brain-dead slob with nothing unique to say has a voice. In the last few days alone I have read speculation as to the cause of death and debate as to the relative merits of the minute of applause versus the minute of silence. It is quite outrageous. Whatever happened to quiet dignified mourning? Celebrity culture is king in a nation of people who think Jade Goody rather than George Orwell when you mention the words ‘Big Brother’. Admit it – within seconds of hearing the sad news at the weekend, your second reaction after ‘how sad’ was…..‘how did that happen then’. We are conditioned to being scandalised. Shame on you. Shame on me. Shame on us. Unluckily, with the Leveson enquiry in full, tawdry swing the chances of you finding out an awful lot more are limited these days. Unlucky. Guess what - it's none of your business and it shouldn't be discussed outside of a court room.

And we all have to be seen to be publicly mourning too. Status updates. Tweets. Few of which offered much more than useless platitudes. ‘How sad’. Yep. ‘How sad for his family’. Yep. Minute of applause at the Reading game tonight. Speed was too good a player to play for Reading or Peterborough. But it is safe to say that he wasn’t an all time great in the context of the game of football. What would happen if the Afan Lido manager topped himself. Would there be a minute of applause at Reading vs Peterborough then? Or is there some sort of tragedy/celebrity matrix which decrees which lives will be commemorated with silence or applause on a national scale?

Ever self-important, Football has to be seen to be making a gesture, always. Back in 2003, before Reading’s first game of the league season the news came through that Jimmy Davis had been killed. I’d never heard of Jimmy Davis, but he was a young Manchester United player, 21. No age. Dutifully, at Portman Road a few hours later we were all asked to stand and fall silent for the death of someone very few of us had really heard about. Would we have been asked to do so if it were a young Maidstone United footballer I wonder? At the eventual inquest, it came out that Davis had been more than twice the legal drink-drive limit and had been driving at speeds of around 120 mph. Sorry, I really don’t necessarily feel the need to pay silent, reverential tribute with 20,000 others to someone who gambled with their life – and more importantly the life of others – in the way Jimmy Davis did.

This blog post is not intended in any way as a sleight on Speed who was a very good footballer and a man who always came across as respectable and respected in his gaudy profession. It is more a lament at the state of a nosey nation of curtain-twitchers so captivated by the need to know about the fallibilities of those presented to us in the media as perfect. I am shocked. I need to let everyone know I am shocked. I desperately need to pay my respects to this person I did not know but who happened to play a sport I happen to follow to a high standard…..but obviously I don’t really care enough or know enough or really feel moved enough to attend the funeral or line the streets. We love a tragedy in this country. We love to consume it, analyse it. I blame Diana. Or more accurately, Phillip.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


There have been all number of unwelcome gimmicks introduced into football in recent times which have all helped in their own small way to make the greatest game in the world just that bit less palatable; the elongated Champions League group stage, qualification draw ceremonies which go on for several trumped up hours, Soccer AM's banal succession of catchphrases, Fanzone and the concept of interaction with supporters, Andy Townsend's tactics truck, rumblestix. I could go on. The most irritating development of them all however must surely be the Transfer Window and the false economy it brings with it.

Pushing up transfer fees to extraordinarily depressing new heights every six months and favouring - naturellement - the big clubs at the top of the food chain who can pick and choose who they wish to do business with and when they wish to do it, simply by flashing a fistful of dollars in the direction of brain-washed 20-somethings and thus ruining the preparations of their rivals into the bargain, the transfer window is a massively unwelcome distraction. I wouldn't mind so much if this particular circus packed its trunk and trundled off to the jungle at the end of July, allowing us to start the new season concentrating on the actual football rather than interminable agent tittle-tattle, but for some ludicrous reason it is allowed to belch it's bloated breath all over my late-summer supper, ruining the ambience for us simple conossieurs who just wish to sample a fucking football match, not the soddiing Monopoly game sideshow.

The transfer window is a bloody nuisance for clubs like Reading and frankly it is all so bloody unfair. As a club we are not major movers and shakers, instead we wait all summer while our manager prepares his squad diligently. The first game comes and goes and yet by the end of the month we have by now lost our top scorer from last season and the clock is ticking for us to find a replacement with the season already well underway. After the phoney war of pre-season, the real thing has begun at last but trying to fathom out how your team are going to shape up is actually a waste of bloody time because by the time the first international break comes along you already have - through necessity of richer clubs poaching your prized assets - 2 or 3 newbies in the squad even from that first game, and those opening salvos are effectively rendered meaningless. Utterly unsatisfying for the genuine fan and the knock on effect is depressingly obvious and equally distasteful; Reading went on to pinch Le Fondre from Rotherham in their quest to find a goalscorer, leaving the Millers precious little time - as well as proportionately less mullah - to find some sort of miraculous replacement. In the words of an old music hall song: it's the same the whole world over.....it's the poor that has to suffer.....it's the rich that gets the pleasure, aint it all a bleeding shame.

Sticking in the craw yet further is the hyped-up hysteria the closing of this drafty window generates. For a country which is lazily obsessed with celebrity gossip, far too many amongst us salivate over the SKY Sports rumour mill, indulging in this sham by lapping up tedious rumour-and-counter-rumour of Peter Crouch spotted in Long Tall Sally in Stoke and Per Mertesacker observed chewing on Bratwurst in Islington by 'supporters' who are in reality most probably agents posing as punters in order to generate a bit of desperate last-minute interest. This sickening ballyhoo is self-perpetuating because SKY only serves to feed the lust of the foaming-mouthed modern fan; see for example those regular cut-aways to SKY's regional reporters outside Premier League grounds on a cold, otherwise football-free Wednesday night surrounded by gurning gimps who have otherwise no right or reason to be there, staring down the camera triumphantly singing way past their bedtime #we've got Robinho, we've got Robinho# providing a droll soundtrack to this pantomime. Pass the sick bag.

And the hyperbole reaches fever pitch when the excitable jock Jim White takes the mic. Jim is as subtle as a Jim Davidson set and infinitely more offensive with his OTT barking over the remotest tiny development on this, his big night. SKY Sports News understands that Scott Parker's car has a puncture! Over to some cunt at the other end of the studio holding two mobile phones who has just received a text from Eric Hall! All the while, the final countdown appears omionously on the right hand side of screen; only 4 minutes and 13 seconds to conclude the deal to bring Adi Viveash to the club. The coup-de-grace, incredibly and with no discernable sense of irony, is the cut to Big Ben at the advert break, as if the entire concept and context of Time itself needs to be explained and commented on by SKY's roving army of rabid reporters.

Without wishing to go on and suggest that Borstal was Best and that the Birch shoule be re-introduced, I have no qualms in curmudgeonly venturing to propose that the old days were infinitely more gratifying. In 1998, injury-ravaged Reading snapped 7 players on transfer deadline day in March. How did we learn about this? A brief passage of analogue on Ceefax, a quick call to Gowrings Royaline and a sneaky peak of the back page of the Evening Post. No speculation over medicals, personal terms and counter-bids. Just the facts. Job done. And of course back then players were available for transfer from June through to March, thus the brinksmanship and panic buying was less prevalent and the whole transfer market shebang infinitely less intrusive and irritating. Shame on you if you indulge yourself in all this blather. The game's Presbytarian, upstanding founding fathers would be wringing their top hats.

Monday, August 08, 2011


Reading's cup tie at Charlton on Tuesday evening has been postponed due to the carnage across parts of London over the past few days. On such flimsy, vague and irrelevant footballing basis can I turn my usual soccer-spiel into a socio-political rant. Because - admittedly less impressively and infinitely less memorably than the rioters - I do what I want.

The first ever Twitter Riot has proven what a powerfully destructive tool social media is, with very little tangible positives to the contrary. Gangs have been able to jump on the looting and pillaging bandwagon by linking in via sites such as Twitter to such a terrifying degree that the authorities have threatened action against those who even so much as dare joke online about joining in. Those of us on the law-abiding side of the fence can't hope to mobilise ourselves against such violence, merely stand around posting useless platitudes of sadness and dismay. Perhaps we could organise a whist drive? Otherwise we have no voice because we generally have very few facts at our disposal and not the vaguest clue how to mobilise our collective anguish at the truculent, destructive behaviour of others. That is because, frankly, there is no vehicle for us to cogently do so. We could always say another Mass.

I do not know Mark Duggan personally. We know very little about what happened at Tottenham Hale last Thursday which led to the death of a member of the public and a police officer - less relevantly it seems to a good many who have an opinion on the matter - being injured. I do know that left-leaning pundits hanker on about Jean Charles de Menezes, as if innocent civilians are gunned down every day by the fuzz. I am fairly confident in predicting that more police officers have been murdered by civilians in this country over the years than the other way around. We do know that the family's impromptu protest led indirectly to scores of violent protests over the weekend and I do suspect that they would have been better off mourning privately than starting an immediate campaign for justice of their own before the ICC had barely had chance to pick up their pens and notepads.

We have heard comment from rioters - supposedly disenfranchised by the authorities stop-searching certain members of society more readily than others - that this is a vote of no confidence in the governing classes and that they are looting shops in order to somehow claim back what is taken from them in tax, as if Armani jeans are somehow produced with recourse to public funds. It is frankly little more than an excuse to play the victim and have a bit of fun into the bargain.

And the tax bill wasted on failing to bring more than 200 arrested (at the time of writing) to justice will in itself be more terrifying than those scenes of destruction over these last few days; due to the Criminal Justice system in this country consistently taking the rights of the aggravators more seriously than those of the aggrieved, thanks to that curious and inflexible decision-making body, the ECHR. Throw in an under-resourced over-stretched police service unable to deal with every whim of the defence, the under-funded CPS's attitude towards adverse outcomes in court and due to the unique way that the average villain's defence budget is funded by your Armani jeans, it is easy to see why society stands no chance. And remember folks - Custody Time Limits apply.

Still, perhaps you can log onto Twitter and try to organise the yoghurt-knitting cardigan-eating moral elite into a march down Whitehall way to demand more money for community projects in deprived areas. Yeah, that will solve the problem of man's inherent hatred for and distrust of his fellow man. Like Amy Winehouse's liver, the damage has been done.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


The 2011/12 season will be the 20th anniversary of RFC's return to their traditional blue and white hoops. Club colours are a source of great pride to supporters of any clubs, especially clubs like Reading where we are bereft of trophies and glory and hang onto such trifling matters of livery in order to claim some sort of identity for ourselves. The fact that our gloriously beautiful colours were ripped off by the cockney spivs of QPR in the 1960s matters not to RFC followers, for we know that we can claim to having originated a blue and white kit more than 90 earlier.

RFC have celebrated this anniversary by releasing a home strip which is - literally - half decent. Due to a ludicrous league rule about two-tone strips, the reverse of the home shirt this coming season is all white, allegedly for the benefit of clueless media types (remember - 'I HOPE YOU CAN READ THIS, BRIAN MOORE?', the very best banner on display during the 1995 play-off final at Wembley). However, the shirt itself retains a retro-70s Bukta-look, resplendent with collar. And best of all - a return to white shorts.

Team group photos of those 1871 pioneers show our forefathers bedecked in caps, blue and white hooped shirts and white knickerbockers. I am not going to get all Anders Breivik about this, but if it was good enough for Mr Sydenham 140 years ago it should be good enough for us now. There was a time in the 1950s and 1960s where RFC wore all white and then sky blue home shirts but these seemed unpopular with the supporters and the club returned to the hoops, only to ditch them again in 1983 under the brave new world of Roger Smee. One suspects that supporters back then were just happy enough to have a club to support after Maxwell's merger mutterings and were not minded to kick up much fuss about the club colours. But in the fanzine era, Taking The Biscuit fanzine were particularly vocal about a return to traditional hoops and finally in 1992 post-Moynihan and Bassett, the football club seemed to give a damn about the feelings of the supporters and our colours were reinstated. That 1992/93 effort was also accompanied by white shorts, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Negative Jeff.

So what prompted me to realise this significant anniversary? Well, it was the lend of a friend's home videos. No, nothing like that - although in a way what I had borrowed was seedier than porn. I had borrowed a grainy VHS-to-DVD transfer of RFC goals videoed from local ITV news throughout the 1992/93 season; a labour of love of record-stop-eject-record-stop-eject proportions ad nauseum, chronicling Mark McGhee's second season as RFC manager. The summer of 1992 was an angry and confusing time both locally and nationally; the Tories had recently won a barely conceivable 4th consecutive term in office, Graham Taylor's England with Keith Curle at right back had unsurprisingly flopped in Euro '92 (Brolin-Dahlin-Brolin!) and Reading found themselves 'promoted' to Division 2 having finished only 12th in Division 3 the previous May, thanks to the Behemoth that was the FA Premier League. To have this uncertain period encapsulated in video highlights of the-way-we-were football-wise way back then really is quite something, and one suspects that should Hugh Scully and Tony Robinson ever come across this sacred, rare DVD footage they would have an almighty tug-of-war over this antique time-capsule of a period where the step haircut and Tab-clear cola were in vogue.

1992/93 was also a transitional period for local broadcasting. I don't know if you're familiar with ITV franchising policy, but in late 1992 it was announced that TVS were losing their franchise to Meridian Broadcasting come January 1st 1993 and the flagship Coast-to-Coast news magazine was to be replaced with a Meridian equivalent. Many of the presenters kept their jobs under the reshuffle, others were to lose theirs and tragically Fred Dineage's glasses were to be found on a rock just off Hayling Island, discovered by a mournful, wailing Fern Britton. Football - as with life - carries on however, and the footage commences.....not at Elm Park but at Selhurst Park, for this is a veritable treasure-trove of footage for the southern football fan due to the vagueries of record-stop-eject and the often fleeting footage provided, our time lord manages to also record the goals and highlights not just for Reading, but also for Southampton (top dog in the south at the time), Pompey, Bournemouth and Brighton.

An indication of perceived south coast bias of TVS is shown by the fact that Alan Shearer's debut for Blackburn at Palace is covered, solely due to him having signed for mega-bucks from Southampton. The action soon moves on to Victoria Park, Hartlepool where Jimmy Quinn lobs Reading in front on his debut, but the Royals are soon struggling. Mark McGhee scores a belting finish in a draw with Orient, but a home defeat to Hull follows and Reading end the game with ten men due to Lea Barkus displaying some petulant retaliation. There is some great violence throughout actually; Jimmy Quinn clouts Exeter's Peter Whiston with a right hook which makes Leigertwoods assault on Craig Bellamy look like a Facebook poke and at the end there is some glorious footage of the infamous Swansea riot.

The action is chiefly described by David Bobin, who looks rather like Alan Partridge of The Day Today vintage - you almost expect him to describe yet another Jimmy Quinn imperious header as being 'liquid football'. Bobin gets bumped off in the new year to be replaced by the side-parted Chris Maughan who seems almost unashamedly proud to more than hint at his support for Reading. Good man. Bobin and Maughan introduce us to familiar names throughout; Adrian 'Andy' Cole scores early on for Bristol City against Pompey, Steve Foster's iconic headband is on display for Brighton and Steve Cotterill - Pompey manager of late - cannot stop scoring for the Seagulls, although not as prolifically as Guy Whittingham for Pompey. Nicky Hammond is shown conceding a soft goal for Swindon at Fratton Park, Peter Shilton similarly for Plymouth at Elm Park and Robert Codner is sent off for two violent bookings for Brighton.....the second of which decapitates one Chris Makin. Adie Williams is later shown red for a soft looking elbow on.....Eamon Dolan.

The grounds themselves are cause for nostalgia too. The Taylor Report is a few years old by now, but the suggested improvements haven't really kicked in. As well as lovely old EP, Fratton Park retains an unusual air of charm with two open ends and Brighton's Goldstone Ground is epic, all mesh fences and pens with an open terrace along the side. Fantastic. At the Goldstone, as Reading begin to find their feet, for some reason the home side are wearing their away kit as a Lovell goal gives us the win but Reading themselves are forced to wear firstly Huddersfield's awful away shirt - as Shaka saves a pen in his breakthrough season - and then later on Wigan's red number on their travels. At Watford in the Coca-Cola a 2-2 draw is earned with the defending on both sides part OFSTED-failing schoolboy standard.

It's not all football though, no sir - the remote control presumably went missing as the sports desk rambles cheerfully on about yachting, Poole Pirates, Havant rugby and best of all dirt-track biking from Sussex where only a smiling Peter Purves is missing. There are heroes and villains on display throughout; Adie Williams takes a long ball on his chest, turns the defence and crashes home a consolation goal at the Vetch Field with aplomb not usually seen from a centre-half whilst Stockport's Andy Preece is sent off for GBH on Bournemouth's keeper. Pompey's game at Oxford ends in 'An American Tail' - Fieval, having blown a 5-2 lead.

The plot thickens with a Reading cup run. Royals dismiss Birmingham frm the FA Cup despite a centre-half playing in goal saving a Quinn penalty. The league form dips as James Lambert rises to stardom in the cup, a 2-3 Elm Park loss to Exeter with Grecians right-back Scott Hiley scoring a hatrick is rather disconcertingly slack and that is followed up by a 2-4 loss at home again against Stockport with Kevin Francis - the black Matthieu Manset - running riot. It all starts to go to pot with Lambert on trial at Monaco (he was last seen working for Westcoast by the way, Jordan Obita take note) and Tom Jones finding It's Not Unusual to be on the receiving end of a fierce Parky tackle.....this one breaking his leg in training.

However, Meridian take the baton from TVS in the new year and the new broom at ITV sweeps Reading on to a long unbeaten run, we even get a cup draw at Premier League Manchester City. John Madejski launches into an emotional diatribe about vandals setting fire to an electricity box at Elm Park but the only home fire burning is on the pitch where McGhee's men notch up seven successive home wins and we're on the periphery of the play-offs. Michael Gilkes is in sparkling form, leaving defenders for dead and scoring a series of important winners by outpacing his fullback and shooting across the keeper; it is stirring stuff which frankly makes Jimmy Kebe look like Michael Meaker. One of those home wins in secured after a thrilling win in the 'southern derby' with Bournemouth, who peg us back to 3-2 from being 3 goals down. Bournemouth's second goal is celebrated enthusiastically on the Town End terrace by a Cherries fan in flat cap and driving gloves.

Ultimately we just miss out on the top 6 and the season ends with Swansea fans having a good old riot at Elm Park with some Meridian footage which would give Danny Dyer an erection. Chief Inspector Keep of TVP was expecting a carnival atmosphere but bemoans down the camera lens that "that wasn't carnival, that was out-right.....damage!" Let us hope that our play-off conquerors return to top flight football doesn't also descend into mindless, bloody violence as David Bobin, sorry Alan Partridge might put it. The footage ends on a happy note though; Mark McGhee signs a 3 years contract 'til 1996 and he talks of european football at Elm Park in years to come. We'll have to see how that pans out, but firstly over to Carl Tyler with the weather.....

[This post is dedicated to South Downs Royal, a huge fan of the bLOLog]

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!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


The fear that haunts this town. The juggernaut popped into BP for petrol and the driver slipped on an oil spill. Automatic promotion is long since an Avenue of Pleasure that has been closed off. So, after an improbable run of form, it is the peh. It is the pluh. It is the the pluh pluh play-offs.

I can't say the word without an Arkwright-style nervous stammer. As Steve McLaren would no doubt himself reckon "these are how you shay, big gamesh?". And, as we know, RFC just don't win big, one-off, season-changing games. Our history is littered with big-game failures, our only FA Cup semi final in 1927 ended in a thrashing. We were 2 up last season with hopes of putting history right in an FA Cup quarter final and naturally stacked it. We are the footballing version of Tim Henman. Just with a posher, wetter fan base.

The feeling was oh so different in 1995. Halcyon days. Step haircuts. Fresh Prince. The Boo Radleys were in the popular hit parade. Steve Beddow wearing shorts, sweatshirt and a baseball cap was nothing to be scared of. John Madejski was so excited at reaching Wembley he left the Bentley in the garage and walked there. Giant foam hands were in vogue. Reading faced Tranmere Rovers in the play-offs, John Aldridge was at the very height of his cuntishness. Having been doubled by the Birkenhead boys in the regular season, we ran into them like a Thames Turbo. I watched this game from the comfort of my front room, with Year 10 exams the following day precluding me from joining the fun on Merseyside. We led through Archie-Lee Nogan-Lovell but Chris Malkin's funny face put them level. A score draw would be useful in those complicated days of away goals counting double, but Nogan-Lovell notched twice in the second half in front of the travelling faithful and back home I became so I excited I threw the remote control at the wall which smashed into two pieces. The remote control that is, not the wall.

Contextually, the reader would do well to recall or realise that televised RFC games back then were rarer than hen's teeth or a Mark McGhee slimfast diet. Prior to demolishing Tranmere, only 2 RFC games hd ever been broadcast in their entirety on network television. Now (most of) the country could see that we were in fact by far the greates team the world had ever seen. John Helm and Ian St John on commentary were purring about the Reading performance. Ian St John! That is 50% of Saint and fucking Greavise! The second leg couldn't, and happily, wouldn't live up to those heights as we clung on for a niller at EP. On an evening where everyone expcted Tranmere to suddenly score twice and take things into extra time, John Aldridge just wandered around with his hands on his hips and Chris Malkin's face appeared less ugly than usual. Wembley.

Wembley. 40,000 Reading fans! The average home gate that season was a little over 9k. Hello! Family affair, coach load of us on a bus run by my brother's football club. Radio 210 roadshow pumping out Young At Heart by The Bluebells as some Pat Sharp wannabe implored a perplexingly large crowd of onlookers to chant Shaka's name. Shaka. Now there is the ultimate man-crush. Shaka Shaka what's the score? Reading to win by four. I hope you can read this, Brian Moore. Nogan-Lovell twisty-turns Stubbs - they should have hired O'Reilly - and even down the far end we can tell that is a special, special goal. Captain Adie toe pokes an Osborn freekick wide of Branagan. Reading are going to be promoted to the Premier League.

But the players are tired, injuries catch up, Bolton are lifted by the penalty miss and yet even then they can only score twice late on. Blood sweat and tears literally in the stands, as during extra time claret pours down my wrist from fingernails literally chewed off. De Freitas scored lateus and caused a hiatus. I look down the aisle for a loving smile from my dear mother, attending a rare football match in her capacity as matriarchal day-tripper. I got a pained frown back, an expression forever etched on the inside of my eye-lids. More about my family in trauma at a Reading play-off final shortly.

In 2001, there was a touch more wariness all round, having experienced that hurt. But when you score twice in the last three minutes to turn around a play-off semi final it is hard not to go hatstand and get caught up in the tsunami of belief and emotion. When Fozzie went down to win that penalty, I couldn't cope with the enormity of going from emptiness to ecstasy within about 180 seconds so I burst into stress-induced tears. The rebound was tucked away by the hero of the hour and I laugh-cried, my brother made a beeline for the pitch, police horses ran into each other, James Harper shook a marauding hand. Cardiff.

Cardiff. 30,000 Reading fans! The average that season was a little over 12k. Hello! Family affair again, STAR desperately appeal for coach stewards so my father and I take up the responsibility and I rather sourly warn a young child in face paint how stupid he is going to look if we lose. Cues for the toilets at the Millennium, people pissing in the ink. Kingsley. Terry and June on the tannoy, to the joy of around a third of the 'Reading support' for the day. What seemed like three coachloads of Walsall fans at the far end. We lead through Curo as Walker lets a shot squirm under him, maybe we will be repaid for the luck that deserted us 6 years before. Not so; Don Goodman nets early in the second and goes on to taunt us by featuring on SKY commentary for years to come.

Butler scores in the first minute of extra time, around 180 seconds after the bloke to my left asks whether it is golden goal. No need now, we've won I beam, like Grandpa Joe on discovery of a Golden Ticket, after Butler's flick nestles nicely. I can track that as the precise moment when any shred of optimism about anything ever to come departed my soul. Rougier's own goal was so ridiculous it should have been chalked out as a once-a-lifetime fluke, not befitting such a big stage. Then Byfield sprayed the ball home from distance into the only part of the goal which Whitehead couldn't reach to win the game and go home to smash through Jamelia. The faint echo of Walsall fans in the corner was like a ghostly ripple of Bolton cheers from a far away nightmare. My Uncle at the end of the row was in tears. Why cry when a football team fucks up? You should just be full of empty, frowning, head-shaking contempt. I leave the ground pronto, shouting something unecessary at a police officer. Yeah, big man. And in the background we can hear fireworkers and even fainter cries of Walsall fans.

Not going through that again. And in recent years RFC has thankfully spared us play-off final heartache. By losing in the semis. In 2003 we led Wolves, Fozzie got injured and we were finished - echoes of a Kebe-less 2011 future I fear? - and we left Molineux covered in spit and shrapnel. In the second leg we largely dominated, but without our talisman we couldn't convert and Alex Rae notched near the end and celebrated like Mr Punch enjoying a spot of domestic violence. Out of the darkness cometh light. Vomit. And again 2 years ago; Coppell's tired team finished 4th in a 3 horse race, dominate Burnley for three hours and lost 3-0. We're actually getting worse at this aren't we?

There is of course no reason for the current side to be haunted by the spectre of the past. But the supporters of course will be nervous, remniscent, edgy and that may transmit to the team. Perhaps. The play-offs, we are told, are a lottery and just as there is never any reason to expect to win a lottery, I do not expect us to win these play-offs. Whilst it would be therapy indeed to squeeze out Cardiff, Swansea, Forest or maybe Leeds it is probably too dangerous to let hope in. For it is the hope that kills you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Reading string 8 leagues in a row together at a the denouement of the season? Yeah, and the cow jumped over the moon and the dish ran away with the spoon. In the words of the unlamented Richard Keys, late of SKY Sports: "do me a favour, love".

This is all very un-Reading isn't it? Almost uncomfortably so. Where are the serial bottlejobs I have come to know and love? Have they been gagged and bound in the back of the A Team van, as Howling Mad Brian Mc, BA Gibbs and Sal 'The Faceman' Bibbo cobble together a promotion charge using some clumsily discarded blow torches, some perspex and some tungsten tip screws to build Matthieu Manset under the watchful eye of a smug-looking Hannibal Madejski smoking a big fat fuck off cigar rolled on the thighs of Cilla Black. I love it when a plan comes together.

Leicester were our latest hapless victims, providing us with satisfaction immeasurable in beating an expensively assembled squad of well-paid loanees, smoothly stewarded by suave Sven - himself picking up his usual pretty penny, no doubt. The Foxes were latest victims of the Berkshire Hunt and although the visitors played all the football we took all the points. Leicester's pass and move was incisive until they came up against our spine of Leigertwood and Karacan, and the pelvis of Mills and Zurab was practically inpenetrable. They had most of the ball, we had most of the goals. A Reading side mugging the opposition and marching relentlessly on during the normally nervous spring months? These are mysterious times.

Reading's strength is their strength. Attacks were broken down as bodies flew into challenges, clearances were timed to perfection and tackles broke up the glacial Foxes who melted twice in as many minutes during the first half. Shane Long - upper-body of a Hod Carrier - shrugged his way into the box via byline and his pull back was dispatched into the roof of the net by Kebe. McAnuff was then fed by the Malian Pele and gave himself room inside the box to place firmly beyond Weale who Wealey had no chance. This was two minutes of footballing opium for the Madejski masses. After the communal fist pumping died down the adrenaline was still pumping. I'll book the Wembley tickets. You man the island and the cocaine and the elegent cars.

The second half was Testimonial stuff for the most part. Leicester continued to ping the ball around admirably, by now only posing the remotest discomfort to the Reading defence. A third goal followed as Kebe nipped the ball of a Leicester foot from their throw in level with our 18-yard box. Jim then set of on a run mazier than the final scene of The Shining, his pull back landed at the feet of Hunt. Drill, three-nil, and we're all pilled-up in a footballing sense. There is plenty of time left to enjoy Yakubu nod a free header wide of McCarthy's far upright and there is even a thoroughly patronising round of applause as King slots one in for Leicester late on.

Pieces of eight, what a fantastic run we have plundered. Next up, We All Love Leeds on Good Friday. We'll crucify 'em. McDermott is our Pontius Pilate. Wembley or save a few quid and invade our own pitch again against Derby? We were fated to pretend.