You can be behind, you can be level but the hardest part is always getting ahead – should my metaphor for life really have arisen from the first game I ever attended?
October 1983; Reading FC had overcome the evil throes of Robert Maxwell (yes, people passing the fit and proper test when they perhaps shouldn’t is nothing new. His daughter has turned out to be a wrong ‘un too) Don’t get me started on Maxwell’s failed attempts to create Thames Valley Royals by merging us with Oxford. The media tycoon owned about a fifth of Reading and was the major shareholder in Oxford, both of which found themselves in financial disarray.
It was around this time a young Paddy (me) made the initial pilgrimage to Elm Park. At the time, the ramshackle ground was viewed as being an architectural behemoth – I’d never seen grass so green either.
To celebrate this new era, we wore (for one season only) an Argentina-style home shirt. However rather than adopting the style of Maradona, the Royals still very much kept their style akin to the recently departed Wayne Wanklyn, if you see what I mean.
The game itself was against local rivals (‘local’ being 40 miles down the motorway) Swindon Town. Now I will put this down to prepubescent overexcitement but I was cheering like mad when the first goal of the game hit the back of the old onion bag, though it was a complete faux pas. I’d celebrated what was a Reading own goal and my cheers were coupled with my brother’s wise words. Something to the effect of “shut the f**k up.” Swindon led.
Before you know it, the red, red Robins were bob, bob, bobbing to a two goal lead. Clearly, words were said at half time as the Royals were level by just over the hour mark. Despite best endeavours, and in keeping with football clichés, both teams had to settle for a point, it was a game of two halves, blah blah blah.
In terms of abiding memories, going to a first game during the height of football hooliganism – Pringle jumpers and Farah slacks being de rigueur on the terraces - in the UK certainly made for an interesting walk back for the bus home, but I was hooked. The following 83/84 proved to be the last season the team were in Division 4 (League 2 in new money) and also went undefeated at home.
Both Reading and Oxford teams have enjoyed, albeit brief, spells in the Premier League. Elm Park is now a housing estate and our alumni has amounted to Lawrie Sanchez scoring an FA Cup final winner back when’t the game meant something you know. Good grief, this is ageing me terribly, I’ll be buying packs of Werther’s Original before you know it.
Clearly the ‘first time’ will always stand out. While family and life invariably becomes more important in the fullness of time. I write this at the eve of the 2020/2021 season and despite yet another change of manager, there still remains the glimmer of hope this could be our year.