IF only every away defeat was as enjoyable as Fulham. I would select Craven Cottage ahead of any other, if
IF only every away defeat was as enjoyable as Fulham. I would select Craven Cottage ahead of any other, if asked for a list of venues I would like to see Reading lose at each week.
Even Kit Symons, the Fulham boss, admitted Reading were good for a point based on the flow of the game. Usually when the opposition manager says your team deserved a draw it means they should have probably won. Based on chances and shots alone Reading deserved three points but a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal cost them dear with Fulham winning 2-1. Their crucial goal was scored three minutes into stoppage time at the end of the game.
So what made the game enjoyable if the result was so disappointing? Being 50 miles down the road in a picturesque and buzzing corner of London makes Fulham more exciting. A short walk away from the ground there is any number of pubs in which to drown your sorrows.
Huddersfield, Bolton and Wigan are 200 miles away and the grounds are situated in bleak out-of-town retail parks just off the motorway. Visitors to the Madejski Stadium could make the same observation. As time goes on there are fewer and fewer grounds with history, character and charm, giving the outing to Craven Cottage novelty value. From a financial and logistical point of view older grounds probably give clubs a headache, but they do offer fans a far better day out.
On Saturday nearly 3,000 Reading fans travelled to Fulham. Many of them loitered about afterwards, taking the opportunity to enjoy a night out in the big smoke. Nobody was exhausted by miles of speed cameras, weary of the nearby droning motorway, wet-footed from sloshing into a puddle in the dark car park or wind-swept after hours of exposure in the bleak terrain.
This weekend it is back to another capital city, but also to the out of town retail parks. Ninian Park is now a dim and distant memory. In its place, half a mile further out-of-town, is the new Cardiff City Stadium. It is surrounded by vast furniture and clothing outlets and adjoins a dual carriageway, so it ticks all the boxes as far as the modern stadia goes. Cardiff versus Reading over recent years has thrown up some entertaining contests, so fingers crossed for more of the same.
The players say it makes no odds to them whether the game is in the cup or the Championship. Reading put in a request for more tickets, having sold 1,500 within a couple of days of them being made available. Based on that, fans still find the FA Cup exciting and worth watching. They are not going for the post-match drinking in local pubs, the proximity to Reading, or the scenery. The history, the rivalry and the magic of the FA Cup lives on.
For footballing historians there is real interest around this game. The two teams met in the FA Cup back in 1927. For both Reading and Cardiff it was their best year in the cup. Cardiff won it, taking the silverware out of England for the only time. They knocked Reading out at the semi-final stage, which was the furthest Reading have ever progressed in the competition. It was an important year for my trade, being the first time a game was broadcast live on the radio.
Reading need to get back to winning ways against a team also kicking around mid-table in the Championship. Earlier in the season they lost 2-1 but unlike at Craven Cottage when it was the same final score, at Cardiff they finished a distant second.
The season needs some excitement, not of the relegation scrap variety, but of the unlikely cup run involving dramatic wins at big Premier League clubs sort. A win at Cardiff on Saturday might just set that up.