An alternative day at the Football

Posted on April 4, 2011

I had an alternative football experience on Saturday that was out of my comfort zone but very entertaining and enlightening at the same time. I had invited one of my loyal customers to the game (Reading v Portsmouth) and given him the option of corporate entertainment or just meeting in the town centre for a bite to eat and a few beers before going on to watch the game.

He decided on the former, because like me, he found the whole corporate thing a bit cheesy and formal. I have been to these events before at Reading FC, and whilst I am sure they appeal to many people, I have found them painful experiences, especially when you are forcing yourself to laugh at players’ unfunny question and answer sessions, or applaud the Chairman, a man of little football knowledge, as he attempts to make an assessment of the game. John Madjeski is liked and loathed in equal measures at Reading, but one thing is certain, he is not not an adept public speaker, and listening to him you feel he would rather be anywhere else than talking about shots and good kicks at the opposition goal. One time at a Reading corporate do, and this is true, I was forced with others, to hear the excruciating life and times of Reading’s legendary kit man as he discussed things as outrageously hilarious as players stealing each other’s socks or boot laces. What a character.

So, on the basis that I would be having a few beers with my customer, I left it down to my friend Peter to pick up my son for the game and I headed off to Reading via Taxi then train from Basingstoke. I hadn’t really thought this through properly and as I got on the train I soon realised that it was full of the worst kind of football hooligans I have ever encountered. I can handle boisterous, I can handle vindictive and quite witty songs about near rivals Southampton, I can even understand why a last minute penalty or controversy can lead to fighting between rival fans. I have got carried away myself with the emotion of it all on too many occasions to start being self righteous. What I can’t get are people who set out to wreck the day of others, be it station staff, innocent commuters, women and elderly people. This lot, in their Stone Island and Tachini clothing were walking proof that football hooliganism has taken on an almost retro 80’s comeback, or was it always there anyway? What was really stood out was that a lot of these blokes were in their 40’s and even 50’s, a bit pathetic really.

As we left Basingstoke train station, a guy in a Southampton shirt walked along the platform, presumably as a bet, and the train nearly rocked on to its side as the fans raced to window baying for his blood screaming scummer, scummer!!! It kind of reminded me of that day when British soldiers drove through an IRA funeral procession in the 1980’s. I think this chap was lucky the train was pulling away, otherwise he was deep in the shit, some of the baying mob looked like they wanted to eat him alive. I don’t fully understand the deep hatred between these two sets of fans, but I think it is much more than football, and if I am correct, it dates back to the 1930’s when Southampton Dockers allowed cargo to shore whilst the Portsmouth Dockers were on strike. There may also be something that revolves around P and O ferries, but you need to talk to the fans of Portsmouth and Southampton about that one, obviously not in the same room, unless you want to be chief witness in a murder trial.

I managed to keep my head down until I was asked “Are you Pompey mate or Reading?” I answered with the most outrageous piece of bullshit going, by saying that I worked for the press and I was following the game. What was I doing? All I had done is further his curiosity, why didn’t I just say I was going shopping or to see a relative? Fabricating or embellishing a true story is easy, most people are capable of that, but to try and make up a journalistic career out of nothing is near on impossible. How serial preposterous liars cope with all the back tracking and covering up is beyond me, it must impossible to keep it up without being exposed.

Within five minutes as an unbiased football reporter, I had described Reading FC as “we” and I could only name two Portsmouth players (Ibrahimi Sonko and Dave Kitson) both former Reading players. If this chap wasn’t so pissed he would have rumbled me in seconds. I was also fortunate that he was one of the less violent members of the contingent and despite being drunk, he seemed reasonably sensible, unlike the other maniacs in the carriage. However, I had stupidly put myself in danger, because I was more likely to face a good shoe-ing by being exposed as a liar than a Reading supporter. They were too busy hating Southampton to worry about Reading FC, whom, as yet, hadn’t featured in any of their pleasant ditties about hitting someone in a face with a house brick or simply stabbing them in the throat.

After all this excitement, the rest of the day went really well and according to plan. The 4,000 Portsmouth fans arrived at the ground in an optimistic and boisterous mood, but the atmosphere they created was crushed over a short period which saw two first half goals for Reading and the dubious ending off of a Pompey player, effectively ending the game as a contest of any note. I got a lift home, so I had the fortune of not witnessing what these fans did on the train back, it is hard to know whether defeat would have subdued them or made them behave even worse. Who knows?

When I got home I Googled “Why do Southampton and Portsmouth hate each other so much” and the first answer I got (presumably from a Southampton fan) was this:

“It is an established fact, going back centuries that the residents of Portsmouth are vulgar, dishonest, irreligious, traitorous, and lazy. It is quite natural that respectable folk, such as those in Southampton would wish to avoid them. Perhaps it is fortunate, due to inbreeding and poor education, that Portsmouth residents are blissfully unaware that the world views them with a mixture of fear, loathing, revulsion, disgust, and pity.”

Forget Rangers and Celtic, this lot detest each other. Reading are of little or no interest, they are just there to beat them at football which is something I enjoy immensely.

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