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?’
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