Supporting Football – Can I Be Bothered?

Posted on January 12, 2022

After Reading FC lost against Kidderminster in the FA Cup at the weekend, I received some ribbing from members of our cricket club. This is because I am a long time supporter of The Royals. This was compounded by 7-0 drubbing by Fulham last night. You want it low? Reading can take it lower.

The ribbing I received was time wasted, because I really didn’t care. This got me wondering why I don’t care much about football anymore. Is age sapping me of passion? Have I got more important things to do with my life? What is it that makes me so uninterested?

First Games and Chelsea

I first watched Reading play on 10th October 1978. It was a League Cup replay v 3rd division Rotherham. Reading of the 4th division provided a shock, winning 1-0.  They went on to get knocked out in a 4th round replay at Southampton, who progressed all the way to the final, losing to European Champion’s Nottingham Forest.

Despite this introduction to Reading by my brother (a Chelsea fan) I remained a Manchester United supporter for a few more years. I then progressed to Chelsea. My brother also took me to my first Chelsea game. It was 2-0 defeat by Fulham at a bleak and crumbling Stamford Bridge. I also remember a crushed, violent, and chaotic 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup 5th Round in 1981. What happened at Hillsborough eight years later, could have happened anywhere.

However, I must have had an affinity for Reading even then, as I went to the hostile takeover demonstration in 1983. This was when media tycoon, Robert Maxwell, attempted to merge Oxford and Reading to create a new club, ‘The Thames Valley Royals’. You may have heard of Maxwell’s daughter Ghislaine, in the news, recently. Nice family.

The Switch

Looking back, I reckon the switch to being a full-time Reading fan came in  the autumn of 1985. Reading went on a run of 13 straight wins from the start of that season, a league record that still stands. The record was achieved at Newport County, a 2-0 win in the autumn of that year. It was a great day out with my mates at a forgotten and hostile town smashed apart by Thatcher’s attack on the mining community. 

Later that season Reading recovered from 3-0 down against promotion rivals, Plymouth, to win 4-3. It remains one of the greatest games I have seen. After that, I went nearly every week as promotion to Division Two (now the Championship) was sealed in style. Well, it was actually sealed with a long ball game game straight out of the Graham Taylor book of how to bypass the midfield. Let’s not let that ruin a good story.

Since then, I have been to hundreds of games, visiting some of the most obscure places in England and Wales. Rochdale, Darlington, Tranmere, Port Vale, Gillingham, Exeter, Cardiff, Plymouth, Millwall, Orient, Wrexham…I could go on and on. Most of it was just for something to do in between pub opening hours on a Saturday afternoon. Success was rare, but the 1988 Simod Cup Final win at Wembley, was as glorious day out. Relegation followed a few weeks later.

Growing in Stature

As I got older, Reading grew steadily in stature. The loved, then loathed, Mark McGhee, produced an eye catching team that won promotion back to the second tier in 1994. When McGhee deserted ship, veteran players, Mick Gooding and Jimmy Quinn, led the Royals to a bitter play-off defeat the following May. A first ever foray into the top flight had been minutes away before Reading eventually caved in against Bolton. 

A new stadium arrived in 1998, partnered by the obligatory relegation. It felt sanitised and was never full. However, it would soon become a place where new memories would be made. Chairman, John Madejski, scented an opportunity, and invested heavily in the best players outside the top flight. Nicky Forster, Martin Butler, Darren Caskey and Jamie Cureton were proper players, propelling Reading towards heady days.

Promotion back to the championship was secured by young manager, Alan Pardew, who abruptly deserted ship in an almost identical fashion to McGhee. In came Steve Coppell with a pulsating up and at ‘em 4-4-2  system that blew the Championship away. Coppell convinced players deemed not quite good enough for the top fight, that they could be, and a first ever place in the top flight beckoned.

Top Flight and Descent

Top flight football for the first time brought famous victories versus Spurs, Liverpool and Man City. There was even a draw against all conquering Manchester United, with only the great Ronaldo, denying the Royals a famous win. It was a fantastic team that finished 8th in 2007. Reading didn’t strengthen and relegation, by goal difference, followed in May 2008. 

Then there was a slow but steady descent when, scrambling for cash, chairman, John Madejski, sold the club to Russian businessmen in 2011. He thought it was a a good deal but Reading, foolishly, did little or no due diligence. The January signing of Jason Roberts, inspired Reading, but a resurgent late run back to the top flight in 2012, disguised deeper problems with finances.

After an inevitable and immediate relegation back to the second tier the following season, Reading drifted in between several managers and faceless owners. The Russian takeover deal turned out foolhardy and desperate. Reading were sold again, to Thai, then Chinese investment groups. The club felt messy, confused and chaotic with its finances.

The 2017 Play-Off defeat, was an awful game representative of a season where Reading played tedious and negative football. This was followed by years of allegations regarding financial wrongdoing and ownership plans that weren’t football related. I stopped going so often, then not all.

The best way I can explain it, is as a dissatisfied customer, not a dissatisfied supporter. After all, I have watched Reading teams in all the lower divisions, so it’s not about glory hunting. If, as a consumer, I don’t like what is being sold to me, I don’t buy it. I know people who will pay good money to their club no matter how dodgy the owners are. That’s their choice but it’s not for me.

Worse Before it Gets Better

Like many clubs before them, things will probably get worse at Reading before they improve. The debt is so huge now, liquidation is highly possible. Further points deductions and transfer restrictions will follow. Thereafter it will probably take a phoenix group or a supporters trust, to pick its way through the rubble. Only then, will Reading FC will start the long journey back.

Until then (and probably after) I don’t really want to be any part of it. I have enjoyed football at Reading since that first game in 1978 but if I am honest, apathy has crept up on me. I just don’t care about football anymore and I can’t see that changing. The World Cup held in Qatar this year doesn’t inspire me, despite England being genuine contenders. It feels like a morally bankrupt and corrupt affair, probably because it is.

I’d rather walk the dog, watch Oakley play cricket and play the odd game when needed. Whether my enthusiasm will ever return, I don’t know. It would be foolish to rule out a personal second coming because I can’t work out if my apathy is permanent. 

It’s strange thinking that 44 years after my first game, I might not bother watching Reading again.

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