Reading Football Club’s generous offer to provide free coach travel for supporters for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final allowed me the chance to relive an experience that had not tasted for 31 years. My eleventh birthday present in 1980 involved a specially laid on bus trip from my native Berkshire to Wembley Stadium, where 92,000 fans saw Kevin Keegan turn in a whirling dervish of a display; England defeating Northern Ireland 4-0 in a European Championship qualifier. The trip to the Twin Towers was punctuated by a generous amount of blaspheming from my fellow travellers – oaths that I strategically pretended to misunderstand, accompanied as I was by my father.
My companion was the same man for this renewal of a great British experience and not even the driver’s message that “fires usually start at the back, because that’s where the engine is” could dampen our ardour; the Royals appearing in the sixth round for only the third time since being founded in 1871, but for the second campaign in a row.
Not even that quintessential non-place beloved of French cultural commentator Marc Auge, Keele Services, could unsettle our spirits, although a choice of KFC and Burger King made me pine fondly for my usual away day routine of British Rail, real ale and home cooked pub grub – it says a lot when the absence of a Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food on a lay by’s premises can cause minor anguish.
Sponsored by Waitrose as they are, Reading are probably only second to Arsenal in the number of fans they draw from the bourgeoisie and this was a sedate bunch. So, I was left to enjoy a range of the blogosphere’s mightiest podcasts to take the edge off a monotonous journey. The Gib Football Show’s MLS season preview was a real treat and I also enjoyed Jonathan Wilson describing his new journal cum book The Blizzard to Beyond the Pitch.
Being plonked at the edge of the stadium’s perimeter was convenient even if it made me wistful for missing out on the chance to relive my student days spent in the city between 1987 and 1990 – all Rusholme curries, yet to be famous bands at the Boardwalk, and proud Victorian architecture. Denied access to the Summerbee Bar due to a failure to hold membership of Manchester City Football Club was a pity, so outside the ground, we were forced to partake of food recommended by Marco Pierre White – Roy Keane would scarcely approve. Still, my Dad’s burger was as dry as the Kalahari and my ribs – I know, an unconventional choice – were tasty enough but lacking in numbers.
Everywhere, images of the old City – a side I watched from the Kippax in my student days – were interwoven with reminders that this Mancini stewarded bunch was the same club – not always convincingly. http://bepartofit.mcfc.co.uk/ is the website to visit and we were treated to a medley of Manchester tunes in the build up – ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Blue Monday’, some indistinguishable baggie nonsense that might have been the Charlatans and ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ – I was in the process of reflecting on Ian Brown’s support for Manchester United before the decidedly Liverpudlian ‘Hey Jude’ abandoned the Manc theme well and truly.
As new stadia go, the soon to be renamed City of Manchester Stadium is aesthetically pleasing, blessed with elegant curvature and forming a steep sided cauldron, perfect for the still raucous home fans, easily out singing us southern Yokels. I don’t remember ‘Blue Moon’ being sung when I was a regular, but am prepared to admit my memory might be deceiving me – but the Faithful’s habit of linking shoulders and bouncing up and down, all while facing away from the pitch, strikes me as slightly manufactured. It was good to see not a few bananas in evidence though.
In the aforementioned Blizzard, Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox has likened the tendency of strikers to drop into midfield to the centre ground-grabbing nature of consensus politics, and Carlos Tevez and David Silva seemed almost allergic to the aftershave of Reading’s makeshift centre-back line, scurrying impishly if rarely providing a full throttle assault.
Indeed, with the out of position Brynjar Gunnarsson and Jem Karacan coping well at the back, Mikele Leigertwood matching the colossal triumvirate making up City’s midfield (Toure, Vieira, De Jong) and Jimmy Kébé more than occupying Aleksandr Kolarov, Reading seemed headed for a replay even if they had failed to really test Joe Hart – Vincent Kompany and De Jong in particular standing out as the stiffest defensive shield from Benelux since the Maginot Line.
Then, Micah Richards escaped from a corner to head past Reading’s best player on the day, Alex McCarthy. The gush of emotion was intense and surprising given the grotesque resource gap, but City celebrated loud and long – nothing like Steven Gerrard’s brisk handshake on putting Liverpool ahead against the Royals in the same competition last year. That said, a look at the record books shows that the Citizens’ FA Cup record has been abysmal of late – the ridiculousness of two sets of fans from the same city travelling 200 miles to play each other won’t overly bother these pale blue hordes.
Cheers to Rob Langham for breaking new Real FA Cup ground. For more Rob visit his Football League blog twounfortunates or at the twounfortunates Twitter feed.