Tales From Royal Berkshire

Reading vs. Chelsea : 30 January 2013.

In my desire to be as honest and upfront in these match reports as I possibly can, I have to say that, throughout the day, I wasn’t looking forward to the away game at Reading. It was just as well that the match was taking place just sixty miles up the road. Apart from that, there was little going for it. As I’ve said before, if the current ailments at Chelsea were solely linked to the form of the team, it would be an easier scenario for us all to cope with. However, the added angst amongst the supporters – aimed at the manager and the board – has resulted in attending Chelsea games to be rather depressing at the moment. I usually have to be away from my desk at 4pm for a midweek game at Stamford Bridge but, on this occasion, I joked with a few close friends that I could have the luxury of leaving as late as 6pm and still be there for the 8pm kick-off.

In the end, I worked on until 5.45pm. I had Reading in my sights, but was still not getting the usual match-day “tingle.”

The drive up the M4 was uneventful. With no Parky alongside me, I was alone with my thoughts. Echo and the Bunnymen – the “What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?” album from 1999 – were my sole accompaniment as I drove east. It gave me the chance to remember previous visits to Reading. To my surprise, I realised my last trip to the Madejski Stadium was in August 2007; it seemed a lot more recent. Five and a half years – where does the time go? This was a midweek game which was played in horrible rain that we easily won. I remember being on the phone to Beth just as our second goal was scored. She was watching the game on TV, but there was a slight delay. She heard the roar from the Chelsea fans a few seconds before the goal was scored. That must have been a strange sensation. During the previous season, there was the infamous game involving the Stephen Hunt challenge on Petr Cech, which so upset us all. In that crazy game, Carlo Cudicini was injured too, with John Terry ending up in goal. With Jon Obi Mikel getting sent off, what else could go possibly wrong? Well, my car was broken into during the game and a few items were stolen. Despite the narrow 1-0 win, this wasn’t a great day in our history. It was, however, the perfect coming together of Cockney Rhyming Slang and football since the birth of the game.

“Steve Hunt. Berkshire Hunt.”

The only other previous visit was a League Cup game in December 2003. Chelsea won that game, but the whole evening was a strange one for me; the previous week, a dear friend had undergone a major operation to defeat the threat of cancer and her follow-up examination was due to take place that evening. I watched the game, but my head was obviously miles away during the entire ninety minutes. Never has that silly quote about football being “more important than life or death” seemed more ridiculous. With great relief, a quick phone-call after the cup tie had finished brought the magnificent news of the “all-clear.”

My friend was at the Chelsea versus PSG at Yankee Stadium in July.

Those worrisome days of 2003 seem a long time ago.

On the approach to the Reading exit, the traffic slowed. I started looking at the clock with growing intensity. Surely I wouldn’t be late for my easiest away game of the season? The last couple of miles took ages. At last, I parked my car in one of the last remaining places in a nearby car park. The 60 miles had taken me an hour and forty-five minutes. At 7.45pm – the usual time for a Wednesday kick-off – I was hurriedly walking along the dual-carriageway with the stadium in my sights. I heard a father and son talking about the game. I said a few words and the lad, who was no more than eight, asked me who I thought would win…

“Well, I’m a Chelsea fan…so I fully expect we’ll lose.”

The boy replied “I like Chelsea, too” even though he was wearing a Reading hat. I secretly “tut-tutted” as I walked on. I’ve heard of supporters of lower league teams having a soft-spot for a “larger” team too, but two teams from the same division? That’s just not right, is it?

Modern football. Pah.

The Madejski Stadium is a different beast than Griffin Park. I could have spent a leisurely hour walking around Brentford’s home ground last Sunday, basking in its quirkiness, revelling in its old time feel. In my four visits to Reading’s pad, I am yet to venture further than the away entrance. In many ways it resembles Bolton’s stadium; an out-of-town stadium close to the motorway network and with an adjacent hotel attached. It’s not a bad stadium once inside – it has a few quirky features of its own – but is purely functional from the outside.

In the end, I reached my seat, high above the goal, with no more than two minutes to spare.

Perfect timing. I guess there is a reason why I work in logistics.

I’m not going to the Newcastle away game and was thankful that Bristol Tim was able to take my “spare.” I handed the ticket over just before I ascended the steep terrace to take my seat.

For a change, Alan, Gary and I were towards the rear of the away section. In our application for away season tickets, we have asked for seats in the middle. Not to worry, at least we were there. A quick look around revealed that there were many empty seats in our section. I believe that all of our seats for Reading were sold prior to the game; I guess some fans just didn’t fancy it.

So, the game.

Torres was still in. Not so John Terry. Ivanovic shifted over and Azpilicueta returned. Juan Mata started. Ryan Bertrand retained his place.

The first-half was a turgid affair.

As the Chelsea players struggled to find each other in attacking positions, the real battle was in the stands.

Firstly, the Chelsea and Reading fans exchanged songs.

Chelsea : “Champions Of Europe, We Know What We Are.”

Reading : “We Support Our Local Team.”

Chelsea : “You’ll Never Sing That Song.”

Reading : “You’ll Never Sing That Song.”

…this brought some polite applause from the Chelsea fans, acknowledging a witty response for once.

Chelsea : “We’re Gonna Have A Party, When Rafa Leaves Chelsea.”

Reading : “Get Behind Your Manager.”

Chelsea : “We Don’t Care About Rafa…”

Reading : “Rafa Benitez – He Thinks You’re All Scum.”

So, even the Reading fans were obsessing about Benitez. Down below, in the front section, we noticed a kerfuffle with stewards wading in to separate two Chelsea fans who were very close to coming to blows. I saw one lad spitting at his enemy. Oh dear; is this what it has come to? Although I wasn’t privy to the reasons for the altercation, it’s pretty clear that the two lads weren’t discussing the relative merits of Microsoft and Apple, the differences between the musical styles of Bach and Beethoven or were coming to blows in a heated discussion about which is the best sausage; a Lincolnshire or a Cumberland. It was obvious that the reason for the antagonism was Rafa Benitez.

It was a perfect illustration of what we are going through as Chelsea fans in 2012-2013.

I imagined the conversation.

“Stop booing, get behind the team!”

“Who are you, you mug?”

“Fcuk off you prick.”

“Wanker!”

Chelsea 2012-2013.

Welcome to Roman’s Empire.

To be honest, there was a good (or bad, depending on your point of view), five minute session of anti-Rafa songs in our section. I was annoyed. Keep all that for before or after the game, lads. Support the team during those precious ninety minutes.

We then had to endure the most pathetic Chelsea chant I have witnessed for years. There are large advertisements for Waitrose (an upmarket supermarket, prevalent in the prosperous south-east) around the Madejski and some Chelsea fans decided to use this as a spear of abuse against Reading.

“No noise from the Waitrose boys.”

Alan and I shook our heads.

Almost the only memorable piece of action from the first half was the wayward Torres shot which went off for a throw in.

Yes – as bad as that.

I turned around to Tom and said “I don’t know why I’m here.”

With the interval beckoning, a lovely interchange between Juan Mata and Fernando Torres resulted in a 1-0 lead. Torres’ delightful flick into the path of Mata certainly made up for his wayward shot a few minutes earlier.

I guess this averted more boos at half-time.

Our confidence grew during the second-half. We completely bossed the game, with Reading hardly daring to offer any resistance. As the game drew on, our whole body language changed; where there were extra heavy touches, there were now instinctive first-time passes, little dribbles and flicks. Torres, rolling his foot over ball, caressing the ball, was having a fine game and found himself out on the right with time and space to play in others.

Great chances for Oscar and Torres. We were in complete control.

I captured Frank Lampard’s headed goal on film – what poor marking! – and Alan and I tried to work out how far away he was from Bobby Tambling.

196 – and counting.

At around the 75 minutes mark, the away fans began singing – and kept it going for ten minutes. It was the best bout of singing at a game I have witnessed for ages. Each group of fans sung a separate part…thus keeping sore throats to a minimum.

“We Are The Champions.”

“The Champions Of Europe.”

“We Are The Champions.”

“The Champions Of Europe.”

“We Are The Champions.”

“The Champions Of Europe.”

“We Are The Champions.”

“The Champions Of Europe.”

By the end of it – oh dear – I was succumbing to a horrible sore throat, but I kept going.

Proper Chelsea.

The new Demba Ba song was sung with gusto by the fans around me. Did they want to see him make a late appearance? Wayward son Yossi Benayoun came on for Juan Mata. Oscar had another chance to make it 3-0. We were coasting this. An evening of dread was turning into a cracking night out, sore throat notwithstanding.

Then – unbelievable, crushing, damning, preposterous calamity.

Reading substitute Adam Le Fondre beat Turnbull at the near post and – after Ramires had a chance to restore our two goal lead – the same player finished superbly after a ball into the box evaded our defenders. There were three Reading players waiting on the ball to drop and a goal looked a formality. Le Fondre’s finish was immaculate.

It was now the turn of the Reading fans to bounce like fools.

I trudged back to the car. The Reading fans were ebullient. I was deflated.

That’s Chelsea 2012-2013.

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