Friendly fire 

Safety off. Take aim *blam blam blam*. Another Reading fan shot down for being ‘plastic’. Blue on blue, or if you would prefer, blue and white on blue and white. The funny thing about friendly fire is that that is the last thing it ever is. A hierarchy of fandom, ‘I’m a better fan than you’, ‘you’re not a true fan unless…..’ and wait for it ‘you’re just a plastic!’. Whoever would have thought a simple phrase could raise such hackles?
 
In the old days, well as I remember them, plastic had a meaning that does not seem to apply now. Plastic fans were those true turncoats who flim-flammed from team to team as the mode and circumstance took them. More often than not, this would take the form of switching allegiance as different teams reached the top. Liverpool one season, Blackburn the next, Manchester United the season after, before moving on to Chelsea. Never supporting a team long enough to develop any true allegiance, to create a lasting bond. A classic example of this was a cousin of a workmate, declaring himself to be a ‘diehard’ Manchester United fan, albeit with the minor proviso he didn’t know where Manchester was.
 
Somewhere down the line this changed though. Now you are plastic if you don’t go to enough games, although ‘enough’ is an epithet at the discretion of the accuser. Take for instance a fan I saw termed as being ‘plastic’ last week on Twitter. To the accuser he is ‘plastic’ because he dares to comment on the club without going to many home games.That singles him out as not being a ‘true fan.’ Yet those of us privileged to know him know he lives in a foreign country, so he probably shows more dedication to get to games than a large number of our fans.

Younger fans were not around for the Elm Park days, or the early times at the Madstad. Some of these times truly were awful, and fans showed an enormous amount of dedication to go week in and week out (5400 people against Bury at the Madstad in 1999 anyone?) This is not a dig, because if you weren’t alive, you couldn’t go.
 
People’s circumstances change. Fans don’t always drift away from the club because of the football. Most people have a finite amount of income, and as life progresses, different priorities take hold, which means sometimes the football has to take a back seat. As you get older, you have a mortgage/rent to pay, food to buy, children, and this is before you factor in anything like illness. Choices are made and people no longer go. You have to be sure that you make the best use of money you spend, and if the football is not providing the value you expect, you may look to spend your money on something else. To some this is bordering on treasonous, but many of us have seen our incomes reduced, and belts have had to be tightened.
 
To some I would be regarded as plastic. I have had to make choices about what I spend my money on, and I still have to. I haven’t been to the Madejski for more seasons than I care to admit, and I don’t expect that changing any time soon. I follow the club though, on whatever means I can, and sniff around for gossip like the best. Yet someone out there will say I am not a true fan of the club. I don’t go, ergo, I don’t contribute, therefore I should be denied input. It’s a view, but I also remember that I was a season-ticket holder for some dire tripe, and those that went to Elm Park in the seventies and earlier probably saw a lot worse. These were also dedicated true fans, do not forget that. We served our time, we earned our input.
 
I guess the lesson from this is simple: The next time a fellow Reading FC fan enters your crosshair, before your release the safety, take a moment, and to alter a certain chant, ponder, ‘Where WERE you when we were truly shit?’

Darryl Griffin

Let us know what you thought of this article via the comments section below or @ElmParkRoyals 

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7 thoughts on “Friendly fire 

  1. Excellent piece, Darryl. It’s a view that comes with experience, an experience of not only the good and bad times, but a general sense of where ‘we’, as a club, fit into the bigger sphere of football. Often a sense of something being good or bad (or ‘true’, or ‘plastic’) is shoved into view without some kind of context applied. I’ll give you ‘tinpot’ as an example; the phrase is bandied around, but nobody outside of the person making the assumption actually gives a single hoot. Another is the “we’re a laughing stock” – guess what? Nobody cares, nobody outside of the club you care about, or even half the people that read the comment in the first place! Some views are important to ‘some’, but register little with others, but that importance of being more of a ‘fan’ if you buy the shirt, get it signed, hang outside the stadium waiting for the players etc, makes you a ‘better’ fan than you that went hundreds and hundreds of times before.

    Nowadays it seems it should be requisite not only to be a fan, but a fan in a hierarchy that is often self-applied, when we’re all really just the same thing; fans with different views and different ways of expressing those views. Some can apply some logic or common sense, some go to the other ends of the spectrum. Where you, I, or someone else thinks we all sit in that spectrum does vary, sometimes massively.

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  2. I never said all of them were, I used the phrase ‘some of these times truly were awful’ and they were. I could probably find more examples, but two that immediately spring to mind from EP were the home drubbing by Palace, and in a way more particularly a 3-1 defeat by Tranmere. Tranmere arrived without a goal in ten hours (or was it games??) and scored 3, including 1 set up by a keystone cops free kick routine by us.

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  3. Fantastic piece…one I’ve resonated with as I’ve made much similar choices (though I do my best to allow myself at least one trip to the Madstadium per season-and an away trip too!).

    Our younger fans (and it is mostly fans who are 25 and under) have been spoilt in terms of success and by Mummy and Daddy…back in the 70s and 80s..we knew the football wasn’t great-but the socio-economic climate of the time meant that you grafted for a pittance,and football was a release from all of the trials and tribulations of life every Saturday….you grafted the whole week…and 90 minutes at Elm Park (or away ground)was your reward.

    The under 25 fans I mentioned don’t have the same struggles…doubt a lot of them would know what to do in the harder times. I also doubt a lot of them would turn up on the Tilehurst end on a cold rainy wet Tuesday night….using the modern version of this analogy…at home to Stoke of course!!

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    1. Thanks Carl, glad you enjoyed it!!! I just don’t get this ‘true fan’ stuff. Surely if you chose to support from your armchair you would go for a bigger team (or even European one?), so this idea of not being a real fan is rubbish.

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  4. The term ‘plastic’ would be better used to describe all of the modern football era at Reading. Plastic (forced) atmosphere. Stadium Announcer, happy clappers, god awful music. Shit beer.
    Elm Park was real, it had character. Atmosphere born of the people STOOD on the terraces. Yes it some of the football was crap, some of it was quite brilliant too. The Gooding/Quinn/Shaka/Kerr team was my time and the football was as good as anything I’ve seen recently. I’d swap the Mad Stad for Elm Park in a heartbeat – it was many things but could never be described as ‘plastic’

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  5. Thanks for your feedback!!! I did like Elm Park, although as you say, not always the football!! I think many modern stadiums can be soulless places if the team aren’t doing anything to bring the crowd alive. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but the crowd needs the excitement to generate an atmosphere.

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