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Reading/Bournemouth - Awaydays
Monday, 11th Oct 2021 16:39 by Clive Whittingham

The return of the long, rambly, pointless Awaydays travelogues continues with the annual ball-ache that is Reading away, followed by Spanish-language porn mags on Boscombe Beach.

They are decent nipples to be fair

September. International break 1/23 in the can. Scrambled away end ticket for Reading safely tucked in my jeans. Sun shining nearly as brightly as QPR’s attack. Swimming-pool-blue sky almost as gorgeous as our black and gold away strip which will make its debut this afternoon. My out-of-office is on, my notifications are off, my phone is on silent and I care not one jot for your grossly egotistical “concern” that I’ve referred to your Greece-based company as Greece-based in my copy when really you’d rather I called it European, or your European-headquartered company as European-headquartered when really you consider it to be “global”. Come back to me on Monday, and when you’ve got an office in all 196 countries. Or, you know, get over yourself.

It’s matchday. The best of days. The day that makes all the rest of life’s sludge worth it/bearable. I’m gliding across Regent’s Park where football’s little leagues are already in full, enthusiastic, noisy swing. Maybe one day I’ll be bitching and moaning about loyalty points for a game one of these kids is playing in, but for now they whirl around in an energetic crowd having fun, with a refreshing lack of angry dad abuse from the touchlines relative to my days as a poor schoolboy footballer and fairly decent local league referee. Those “these are children, the referees are volunteers, don’t be a cunt about it” signs are having an effect. I’ve taken to walking big distances through London during the pandemic to avoid the Underground where possible and there’s a surprisingly decent breakfast to be had in the park’s café on this route from Camden to Paddington. You’ve got to get there early mind, before the massed ranks of the Islington Cycle Club finish turning the inner ring of the park into a chuffing velodrome and start clopping about the place in those daft shoes, queueing 20-deep at the bar and tying the servers up with complicated coffee orders. It’s always the people who should wear lycra the least who embrace it the most isn’t it?

Later there’ll be a train, and train beers. A pub, and pub beers. There’ll be a last-minute Stefan Johansen equaliser, and a set of concrete steps to fall down in the aftermath. It’s these days we missed the most when they locked us in our homes for a year and a half. When that vile iPhone alarm chime is actually welcome. As happy as anybody has ever been to be going to Reading in the history of Reading. How bleak it was to experience this only through a grainy stream of iFollow match coverage piped into the television. How much we longed to be spending £3.49 on a warm bottle of Peroni from a Whistlestop. So happy am I to be back out on the road with our team again they can probably see my erection from the International Space Station. What is the point of Captain Jack if there’s no crowd to call back the response? Breathe in, breathe out. God this feels good.

Except, no. Apparently not. Apparently what I really want to do, what everybody really wants to do, is be at home this afternoon, in front of the television, for the second coming of Ronaldo.

Yes, that’s right, blink and you’ll miss it I know, but Ronaldo has re-signed for Manchester United. Here he comes, unsheathing his nipples under very little provocation, blasting elaborate free kick routines into the stand, getting his willy out in girls’ hotel rooms even when the occupant has made it explicitly clear this is not desired. This, we are told, unanimously, is a very good thing. Heck, maybe even a romantic thing. A story of a little boy from Portugal, who couldn’t resist the allure of ending his career where it all began for him, on £480,000 a week. Pesky sexual assault allegations on the other side of the Atlantic merely the standard act two complication that drives all structured narrative. It’s his second debut today, one of those fun Premier League afternoons where a conglomerate that reports quarterly earnings to the New York Stock Exchange will run a billion quid steamroller over some idiot scum from somewhere or other while an incentivised private security firm aggressively turfs out holders of a £54 ticket in the away end for “standing up” or “swearing”. “United” will win 4-1, Ronaldo will score twice (four nipples for the price of two), and Steve Bruce will look absolutely fucking delighted – wistfully smiling through the post-match debrief, tempering his disappointment (if you believe that) with anecdotes about “Sir Alex” and how delighted he’ll almost certainly be with the whole thing.

Incredibly, prior to Cristiano Fest, Man Utd v Newcastle is so uncompetitive and unappetising, the TV broadcasters have left it alone, in the Saturday 15.00 slot. It’s the first Manchester United home match not to be televised since the war and it’s brought the nation’s cosy travelling gaggle of sports hacks out in hives. “Football's 3pm blackout must go - Cristiano Ronaldo's return is for everyone to see” says the Telegraph – from behind its own paywall. Never mind the fact that just about every Premier League game is on the bleeding television anyway, leaving Newcastle fans to negotiate a “Monday Night Football” at Bournemouth, or Leicester fans clutching train tickets for an away game at Arsenal moved at a fortnight’s notice. Never mind the damage it does to a gate at Rochdale, or Altrincham, or Scunthorpe, when their home match clashes with a televised Man Utd or Liverpool game. Never mind the fact that if you’re really that fucking desperate (though, of course, never once desperate enough to buy a ticket and go to the match yourself) then I’ve got a dead grandmother still capable of finding a hooky stream for Man Utd v Newcastle. No, rip up that rule, ride roughshod over that, chuck that baby out with that bathwater, it’s a disgrace that Ronaldo’s second debut isn’t available to the portion of the population able to afford £1,000+ a year for a Sky dish and its sports channels.

I enjoy writing LFW. Since I was at school I’ve enjoyed writing and even before that I would produce little handwritten sports magazines for my classmates, fold over a load of A4 paper and design my own QPR programmes, try and commit what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling to paper because it flows so much better than when I nervously try and explain it out loud. You may think this weird, but as previously discussed there’s no accounting for what turns you on – some people like to stand in the rain at Doncaster train station and note down the engine numbers as they drive by, some people like to hold up the queue at the bar by having a sip of some of the ales before ordering one, some people like to paint, and some people like to walk around Regent’s Park café in spandex trousers that show off their dreadful, saggy arse. Each to their own. I’ve seen myself branded as an “attention seeker” and “celebrity fan” and while I think ‘my God if only you knew what attention of any kind actually does to my insides’ I also think I’d probably be singing “Arsenal Fan TV, get out of my club” with the best of them if I spent my Saturday’s following them around instead of Rangers so I guess if you feel I’m in any way similar to that malignant presence I can understand the animosity. But when this…

…is the standard of the sporting comment press in this country, fan media becomes increasingly important at our level as long as it’s at least half well done. Local newspapers are dead, replaced with unreadable clickbait websites populated with generic copy from centralised churn hubs. The Evening Standard would rather cover Cara Delevigne taking a big beer piss than it would the latest QPR match. The clubs’ official websites are, by definition, PR machines. If you’re waiting for somebody other than sites like this to take a day off work and go spend two hours with Mark Warburton, or produce 10,000 words from Lee Hoos, or a deep dive with Andy Belk, you’re going to be waiting a long old time. The nearest we’ve got is The Athletic, and they don’t have a QPR correspondent having spent their entire Championship budget on people who want to write about Nottingham Forest.

Even the Premier League is covered through the rosy glow of “everything’s fine here”. See this week’s fawning over the Saudi takeover of Newcastle. Fans of a Premier League mainstay treated like some long-suffering, starving victim of a gross injustice because they’ve had to cakewalk a couple of seasons in the Championship over the last 25 years, rescued from this supposed purgatory by a repressive regime keen to sportwash its multiple atrocities. Never mind how many fans of other clubs, some of which no longer exist, would happily swap places, isn’t it just wonderful that this famous old club has been taken back for its fans from Mike Ashley? Just turn your Grindr off at the turnstile lads and nobody gets beheaded.

See the complete lack of any coverage, investigation or mention anywhere, ever, of any possible, potential drug problem at any level of football anywhere in the world. Occasionally some rich, thick idiot will hoover up a line from the toilet seat of some cuntpit within sight of a testing date and sit out for six months, and even he will usually be allowed to do so anonymously, under the cover of some mysterious “injury”, because of some personal problem or other which of course caused the whole thing. You may think it fanciful that a fitness-based, physical sport like football, popualted at the highest end by young multi-millionaire lads, doesn’t have drug involvement somewhere along the line, but football has seen the way international sprinting and cycling has become a farce largely ignored by the public, and so there is no problem to see here. Or read about. The nearest we’ve come to any kind of investigative journalism in football in this country, for decades, is Sam Allardyce chatting shit over a pint of wine, and Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink overcharging on the after dinner circuit.

You may not like fan media. You may not like websites like this one. You may not like me. But what we all understand together, and what has been totally lost to all but very tiny corners of football journalism, is Harry Kane’s on-off move to Manchester City, five things some no-mark learned from “Red Monday”, or newly minted Newcastle’s interest in Jesse Lingard, matters less to the vast majority of common, match-going football supporters in this country than things we’ve scraped off the bottom of our shoes. When Pep Guardiola says his “big wish” is that his hoarded mass of multi-millionaire teenagers - that he has not one single intention of ever once using in his first team, and could quite happily leave playing competitive football in our division with their original clubs if only he’d let them stay there past their eleventh birthday - could play B Team football against “strikers like Akinfenwa” every week, we think ‘fuck off mate, and when you’ve finished fucking off, fuck off all over again’. And that, never mind Reading v QPR, I’d rather spend an afternoon scrubbing my incontinent, VPN-loving grandmother’s liquified shit out of the carpet pile, than sit at home and watch Ronaldo’s “something for everyone to enjoy” second debut for Manchester United.

What is this place?

Reading away went like Reading away mostly does. We got off the train and headed to The Greyfriar, which at midday didn’t have enough staff, enough beer, or enough places to sit. And so commenced this year’s “can you find a decent pub in Reading?” challenge which eventually landed us via a hairy walk across two dual carriageways in a place called The Nag’s Head. Nice, homely pub. Friendly landlady. Beer, and particularly cider, list as long as Idrissa Sylla’s neck. Menu of toasted sandwiches. It would probably have to qualify as a ‘yes’, although that clever strand of Covid-19 that can tell whether you’re sitting down or standing up in the pub prevails here, and table service only works as long as service comes to the table.

Afterwards we tried again at The Greyfriar, which at half five didn’t have enough staff, enough beer, or enough places to sit, and had now stationed somebody on the door to bar entry to newcomers because of a “private party”. Hmmm, I think this is more to do with the staff, beer and places to sit thing that one might have telegraphed in advance of 3,000 QPR fans pouring out of the adjacent train station isn’t it? More chance of having an offer accepted on the Irish place next door than getting served in it, and so began a long trawl around places within strikable distance of the ‘let the crowds clear’ 18.56 train back to London which eventually, through a convoluted metal barrier queuing system, pat down, questionnaire, scan of my driving licence, emptying of my bag and full rectal cavity search led to eight of us sitting in a WalkAbout the size of the Death Star, staring up at 18 separate helpings of Chelsea v Aston Villa while two other gents sank Carling and shouted about “The Chels” a lot. We were the only people there for the duration of our stay.

There must be a pub here. There must. It cannot be this difficult. We’re just doing it wrong. Not that it matters greatly. Almost as soon as you arrive in Reading it’s time to start plotting how you intend to leave it, and get out to the patch of waste ground which 25-years ago somebody who wants locking the fuck up deemed suitable for a 25,000 seater football stadium. Can you book a taxi? No, you cannot. Because everybody else has. Can you hail a black cab? Yes, at the station, but, again, nowhere to drink there. Or, rather, nowhere you’d ideally want to drink there. Can you use a ride hailing app? In theory, yes, but there the little car sits on its map, for hours, steadfastly out of reach, until the kick-off beads of sweat start to form on your temples. Once buckled up safely inside, you see why. Reading’s is a ground with one road in, and one road out. It has no rail access, though the map on my telephone tells me something called Reading Green Park is being built relatively nearby – not bad going for a ground that opened in 1998. Odds on this being another Sunderland/Coventry farce that closes on matchdays because of overcrowding?

Everybody, everybody, that is coming to this match to watch, work or play, is coming in on this road between 13.30 and 15.00. It takes us 50 minutes to do two and a half miles, and we don’t make it as far as the ground, choosing instead to take our chances on the central reservation and walk with the game now just a quarter of an hour away.

On the way back, we take our lives in our hands once more crossing the motorway and hailing cabs coming the other way. They perform the world’s longest u-turn, through the country’s most unkind traffic light junction, and then sit in the same queue all the way back into town again. “Get the bus” I hear you cry. It sits in the same queues, on the same road, and there are other people there. You get the fucking bus if you want.

Once inside, another problem is immediately clear. Reading’s ground is far bigger than Reading’s present home support. The far end is barely a third full. To combat the lack of atmosphere this creates, Reading have set up a “singing section” with a wanky name but very funny and clever David Brent flag. This could have gone anywhere in the sparsely populated stadium, but has instead been placed right next to the away end, meaning away allocations cannot be expanded above 2,500. It means a club with 204% wages to turnover, already under a transfer embargo, facing a points deduction, and losing gems like Omar Richards and Michael Olise for a fraction of their true value, is turning down revenue to the tune of £50,000 for this match alone, so some spotty virgins can have a bit of a sing-song and make “come on” gestures at the away fans. As business plans go it’s not the worst in the Championship, but that says more about this division than Reading’s masterplan. To be fair the rest of the place is so empty quite a bit of that £50,000 bleeds into the home areas, and when Rangers take the lead safety in numbers means they break the golden rule of home end infiltration and celebrate anyway. A woman on the front row of the main stand gets super aggy, ranting at stewards and pointing this way and that. You’ve come to the wrong prom love.

Nobody could ever pretend that Elm Park was any longer fit for Reading’s purpose. Few clubs needed a new stadium more. Reading fans looking in, who’ve got used to this place, may rear up against all of this, write it off as the chippy musings of some gobshite QPR fan who needs to sample the delights of Loftus Road’s away end before opening his fat mouth. As Nick London found with the Preston fans, the immediate response of football fans to any perceived criticism of their side is to attack back. But, for me, many of the new stadiums built for clubs of Reading’s size and stature in that period between 1995 and 2005, including this one, amount to gross acts of vandalism.

A football ground is going to be that club’s home for more than 100 years. Every little boy or girl who falls in love with Reading FC for the next century, taking those first awe-struck steps over the top and seeing the green for the first time, is going to do so here. They’re going to spend some of their happiest and bleakest moments, and quite a substantial portion of their income, here, in this place. It’s going to grow to mean something in their heart, be part of them as a person. And yet grounds like this are built not with fan experience, access, pubs, atmosphere, acoustics, memories, heart and passion in mind, but on the cheapest bit of land they can find, to the most cost-effective design. Just plonked, like a fucking spaceship, out by the M4. Designed by people who have such little understanding of football, and football fans, that they didn’t even take the time and effort to make it look any different from the ones they lazily stuck on similar inaccessible brownfield sites in Middlesbrough, Leicester, Derby, Southampton and, most egregiously of all, Coventry City. The identikit, flat-pack, Ikea bowl. One-size fits all, because all football clubs are the same. Great sightlines if you can ever persuade One Direction to turn up. Big hospitality suites in case there’s a bloody ruggah club that can be tempted to move in.

We have to come here once a season, planning our military strategy for getting a cab, taking our lives in our hands on that road, giving ourselves a good hour to do three miles, queueing for buses, and our balls ache at the mere thought of it coming up in the fixture list. Imagine if this was your home ground. If this was your every Saturday experience. QPR beware. Be very ware indeed.

The sun still shone come Tuesday afternoon in Bournemouth for my first ever visit to Dean Court. Here, as all football clubs should if they have the chance, new stands have been constructed at the club’s existing stadium, but this is a strange place indeed.

The ‘Eddie Howe Bournemouth Fairy Tale’ narrative did rather mask the influence of FFP-busting Russian-backed overspend that got them over the final couple of hurdles, and the approach of the owners in these parts mirrored that of QPR when they financially doped themselves into the Premier League between 2011 and 2015 – i.e. spend every penny you’ve got on wanker footballers, their wages, and their agents, and bollocks to the infrastructure. Bournemouth spent five years in the Premier League, hauling in £120m-a-time minimum, and have come back with the same 12,000 capacity League One stadium they went up with and a £60m loss in their last set of accounts. They’ve worked with what they’ve got well, appointed it nicely, and QPR could take note of that rather than shrugging their shoulders, saying our ground isn’t fit for purpose, and letting Loftus Road descend into a grimy, dirty mess while pursuing pipe dream moves elsewhere. But this is an away end for 1,500 people accessed through two turnstiles. The queue, half an hour before kick off, snaked all the way back around the goal to our left, which itself is backed by a temporary stand. “Was this the same for Man Utd and Liverpool?” Yes. Yes it was. To our right is a small cube, like a mobile classroom you sometimes see on the playgrounds of underfunded over-subscribed inner-city schools, overlooking a single pitch, wrapped in a tarpaulin fence. This, apparently, is Bournemouth’s training ground. QPR build one of those at Heston and you should ask for your bloody bond money back. Plans for a 16-pitch, £35m, purpose built facility on land the club has bought at an old golf course called Canford Magna have essentially died a post-relegation death. Five years, and well north of £500m, later and all Bournemouth have to show for it is Dominic Solanke’s car collection.

There’s talk of a new, enlarged and permanent stand to go in behind the goal. And a longer-held, vaguer ambition for a new ground altogether. That shouldn’t be necessary. One thing they’re not short of here is space. Whichever way you approach it from is playing fields, car parks, cricket pitches, cemeteries. You could stick the bloody Bernabéu on here if you wanted to. We have fun picking our way through the trees in the dark on the way back afterwards.

An annoying, Keith Stroud-afflicted, evening, in which QPR gift the hosts a first goal, concede a well worked second, get back into it and then spend half-an-hour hammering on the door but come up just short of a point, is exacerbated at full time when a child (and he was) hops the advertising hoardings to grab a match shirt off Albert Adomah. Again, not to labour the point, it’s stuff like this that makes young football fans. Not fucking leg room and fucking sight lines and extra fucking capacity. It’s those early, formative experiences, of being at football grounds, and sampling the atmosphere, and hearing the grown ups swear, feeling like one of them at a young age, and realising that football is not a television programme. At QPR it’s about being up close and personal with the players, because of the club’s attitude to that sort of engagement, and the way our ground is built. The young lad at Middlesbrough back in August, so elated to receive Chrissy Willock’s shirt at full time that his instinctive reaction was to fling both his arms round the topless winger and hug him. Here, a steward for whom the orange coat wasn’t enough, sprints forth in a dark blue ‘senior’ version and goes for the kid’s knees in a tripping motion long since outlawed in rugby league. He rides her challenge, escapes to the hoardings, and his hauled back in by a now irate crowd. A benign situation, football fans calmly leaving the ground after applauding their team’s efforts in defeat, is now alight in spontaneous violence, men rushing forwards, tumbling over seats, looking for a piece of the fight. Congratulations. Jobsworth twat.

Dune

Bournemouth, or more accurately Boscombe, felt like a strange old place. The five of us were greeted at the station, mid-morning, by a muscle-bound gentleman with a collared shirt unbuttoned to the waist, pointing over his can of Stella and singing “they’re on the piss” at us. Two traffic light junctions later a chap of about 80 comes close to mowing us down on the footpath on a mobility scooter retro-fitted with a petrol engine and subwoofer blaring AC/DC from beneath a shopping basket. He’s really travelling, like a frog up a pump, overtaking cars on the adjacent road. He’s stopping for nobody and he has my full respect. Around the next corner there’s a man lying flat to the tarmac – think Lyndon Dykes v Preston – staring silently into a tiny drain. It’s a long, straight road. He’s there when we enter it, and when we leave it – some ten minutes. We drop into an independent off licence doing single, out-of-date cans of Guinness for 30p each and what I’m fairly certain is an illegally brazen trade in Spanish-language porn mags. Middle shelf, uncovered, Google translate tells us that this week’s feature ‘article’ is ‘A Scandinavian beauty fingers her big ass’. We buy one for the train home.

It was a relief to ditch into the Travelodge just to feel the normality of whether we wanted to add £12 to our bill for a breakfast worth 89p. From there the plan was to hit the beach with tinnies and fish and chips but heading due south to the sea from there brings you to a cliff, a beach, and nothing else. No fish and chips. No tinnies. No shops. No people. And with the sun beating down, and our decision to play it safe for later on with jeans and jackets backfiring horribly, it’s not a pleasant experience. We choose left instead of right, and walk for miles, and hours. You’ve never seen five lads who’ve more obviously just got off the London train before in your life. We look, and feel, like extras from the Dune remake.

After an imponderable time a beach bar appears through the haze. It does pints of San Miguel in a plastic glass from the freezer, which you can have outside in the sun while you wait for Nigel Farage to turn up and yell abuse at the LifeBoat crew/people coming in to staff our service industry. It is the nicest, most welcome pint I’ve sunk since that debacle on the dual carriageways at MK Dons. We end up, eventually, in something called the Brewhouse and Kitchen, where the Brewhouse selection is broad and the Kitchen, it must be said, is absolutely bloody delicious. If we’re still in the same league as Bournemouth next season don’t go here. Because I want to. And I’d like a table. It, like everything else in Bournemouth/Boscombe, is miles away from our previous place, and so, in a fit of youthful exuberance, we spent 30 minutes (in which we could easily have walked to the place) downloading an app, inputting details, and trying to unlock some electric scooters. Simmo’s driving licence is rejected, because it’s only a provisional, and expired in 2011, and has his middle name spelt “Micheal” by mistake, and his signature is Simpson2000 with a kiss on the end because he intended to change it every 12 months depending on the year, much to the certain delight of his bank, and other companies requiring security clearance. He therefore has to ride on the back of mine (apparently) and the weight is too much over the slightest incline, so he has to get off and run up those while I drive on ahead. On the flats, it belts along like a flying death-trap, one car emerging from a driveway away from a spot on Look South, or whatever it is these people watch at 18.30. Three separate pedestrians take the time to stop and shout obscenities at us. I make them right.

Sometimes, even I hate us as well.

Scores

Reading:
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Reading performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 7/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 7/10 >>>> Stadium 4/10 >>>> Police and stewards 7/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 4/10 >>> Atmosphere 5/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>>> Cost 6/10
On the train >>> Journey 8/10 >>> Cost 8/10

Bournemouth:
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Bournemouth performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 3/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 8/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 7/10 >>>> Stadium 5/10 >>>> Police and stewards 2/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 8/10 >>> Atmosphere 7/10 >>> Food 9/10 >>>> Cost 7/10
On the train >>> Journey 8/10 >>> Cost 9/10

Totals, Reading 89/140, Bournemouth 91/140

Links >>> Hull/Boro

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plasmahoop added 14:55 - Oct 13
Great read, cheers
0

simmo added 22:08 - Oct 13
The opening paragraph of Bournemouth brought the memories of that station to Travelodge walk flooding back, and I'm sat here laughing all over again. The geezer on the mobility scooter will always be in awayday folklore
0

tomers added 22:42 - Oct 13
Thanks for cheering me up!
0


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