You won’t often get a football post out of me. I can think of only a couple in my entire blogging career, both of which were snarks at the so-called beautiful game.
Why, then, am I so saddened to hear that Reading had lost to Swansea in the playoffs for a place in next year’s Premiership? Considering the fact that I’ve never been to a match, even though the bus to the Madjeski Stadium runs from the bottom of our road. Even though I’d struggle to name more than a couple of our first team players.
I think it’s got a lot to do with the events of the past few years. Under the visionary Steve Coppell, Reading made their way into the Premiership in 2007 for the first time in their history. After a giddy couple of seasons in the top flight, they crashed out unceremoniously and faced tough times. Coppell left, to be replaced briefly by Swansea manager Brendon Rodgers, under whom the Royals couldn’t couldn’t seem to win a game. The first team was strip-mined of talent by Premiership clubs, and left in the hands of caretaker manager Brian McDermott. Saddled with a first team of untried youngsters, and a season that started with the team hovering a point or so off the bottom of the Championship, the glory days seemed like a very distant memory.
But this year, Reading seem to have hit their stride. Unbeaten in eleven games, striker Shane Long up for player of the year. McDermott’s quietly inspiring managership and a playing style that could best be described as “no surrender” (several games this season have been won in extra time), meant that the Royals suddenly looked like they had a good chance of getting back in the major leagues.
Yesterday’s 4-2 result was especially heartbreaking, then. Reading were 3-0 down at half-time, thanks to a penalty and a lucky deflection that seemed to knock all the fight out of the boys. It’s absolutely typical of them that they came out in the second half and fought back hard. It looked as if they could pull off a miracle, but luck and the run of the ball were simply against them. Jem Karacan’s strike smacked off the post, and a late penalty rang the final bell on Reading’s chances. It seems ironic that Rodger’s Swansea is the team to go up. Like Reading, they were suffering only a couple of seasons ago. The Royals’ loss would seem to be the Swan’s gain.
I don’t think any Reading fan can be anything but proud of their team today, though. They showed the spirit and determination that have turned them into a deeply respected team in the Championship, and the team to watch next season. The town and it’s community are behind them, and they are a true unifying force in Reading. It’s been a rollercoaster year for the Royals. Who knows what could happen in 2012?