The Ups and Downs of a Long Distance Football Fan

Tonight Reading play Everton for a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals. But if you live in China like I did they don't show The Royals much on Chinese state TV so I'd have to resort to all manner of desperate measures to get my my Royals fix.
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I support Reading FC. However I don’t live in Reading. In the last 4 years I have spent the majority of my time in Asia and America. Following your team from the other side of the world is a ruddy nightmare. Here are some classic problems.

Like ITV, other countries only show Man United

Derby 0 - Reading 4

May 11, 2008.

I’m at a dodgy sports bar in China. It’s not a nice place. Last day of the season. We need Fulham to lose to Portsmouth. If that doesn’t happen then we need to score 7 goals to stay up. It’s 11pm at night. The time difference means I’ve had all day to get nervous.

As the supporter of a team who aren’t massive they are not on the TV. Manchester United are. They always are. I’ve gone in the vain hope they might have the game on one of the screens. They don’t. So I’m surrounded by Manchester United fans.

The only news on the game I have is a rolling info bar on the bottom of the screen. It appears sporadically. My eyes are fixed. I’m paying no attention to the other game.

1-0 Reading. 2-0 Reading. I don’t know how these goals were scored. I don’t know who scored them. It’s just numbers on a screen. If being at the game is the best way to follow then this goes just below watching it on teletext.

0-0 Fulham

I start over using the pointless phrase “As it stands.”

3 - 0 Reading

Danny Murphy pops up on the other side of the world and scores.

1-0   Fulham.

20 minutes left.

I’m shouting at the screen. Shouting at a rolling info bar.

4 - 0 Reading.

Of course shouting at the screen is pointless. It’s pointless in the actual ground. Worse still at home. But in the People’s Republic of China over 6000 miles away I might as well be on the moon.

We are relegated. The info bar shows full time. United win the league. So there we are. One in the morning in China. Me, crying, surrounded by yelping United fans.

My United fan mate pats me on the back. He knows nothing of pain.

There are no Reading fans around. No one to share my sorrow. Nobody cares. Nobody even notices. My tiny team, a minor blip on Premier League history. The DJ puts on some music. It’s as if it never happened. For United fans, winning the league is normal; they happily ease back into sociability. It’s just another part of their night. Another treble. Stick it on the tab. I sit there. This team is my link home when I’m in a foreign land. To see them fail like this is to see myself fail. And I didn’t even see it.

He scored. I’m dancing around my room in silence as my girlfriend sleeps in the next room.

Finding out the score the next day.

Reading 1 – Middlesbrough 2

February 24, 2007

When travelling sometimes you can’t see the game or access the internet at the time. So, I would often have to find a local internet cafe the next day. It’s a horrible way to find out a score. This time I went with a Boro fan I had met. We are both sat at a different computer. Load up the website. It’s like being sat at a roulette table. Could go either way. Reading lost. Boro won. The Boro man goes mental. The Thai internet owners look concerned. They go to the back and fetch him a bowl of rice in hope this will calm him down. I walk out. No rice and no win. We never speak again.

Dodgy Internet feeds

West Brom 2 - 3 Reading

24 February 2010

I’m at home in Shanghai. It’s 2 in the morning. Gone through hundreds of links to get a live feed of this FA Cup replay. After many dead ends I find one. It’s a shocking feed with an unknown language blaring out. I can’t make it full screen as it’s too fuzzy.It’s the best I have.

It’s a great game. 2-2 after 90 minutes. Extra Time. Sigurdsson picks up the ball outside the area. He’s gonna hit it. He shoots. The ball flies in the air and... the feed freezes. I can’t even see the ball. It’s now an unwanted spot the ball competition. I wait. Will it unfreeze? Did he score? I’m frozen half celebrating. It must be in. This is torture. I refresh. Buffering. 2-3. He scored. I’m dancing around my room in silence as my girlfriend sleeps in the next room.

Bars that play the picture but not the sound

Leicester 1 - 2 Reading

August 28th 2010

I head to Nevada Smiths in NYC at 11 in the morning. It’s packed. Loud. Full of drunk fans. The Man U v West Ham game is on every telly bar one. Shunted in the back is the Reading game. No sound. Just a fuzzy Setanta feed. There are 5 of us watching. 4 Reading fans and a Leicester fan. We all nod to each other. My mate notes this is the largest Reading following he has seen in years. The Leicester fan is alone. Reading go 1 up. Pump fists. Muted “Get in”. The lone Leicester fan drops his head. One of the Reading fan turns to me and my mate and gives the thumbs up.

The home side pull one back. The suited fan leaps in the air. Claps. The Man United and singing West Ham fans around us pay no attention. We might as well be watching the J League.

With no sound it makes it hard to pay attention. United keep scoring against West Ham.

With every cheer I get confused and think there must be a goal in the game I’m watching. Finally there is. We score. Matt Mills. Header. Same celebration. Thumbs up again. We hold out for the game. The losing lone fan turns and leaves. No nod. No smile.

The winning fans, us 4, stay for a few more seconds basking in our silent victory. We all shake hands. No words are exchanged. We shuffle past the United and Ham fans. We don’t exist to them. We never existed. To everyone in here but us 5 fans, the game never even happened.

Finally getting to see it live.

The fact is nothing beats being there. On annual trips home I have always made a trip to see a game. Recent lowlights being a 0-0 draw with Coventry and a 2-0 Leroy Lita inflicted loss to Boro. I haven’t seen them win live since beating Liverpool 3-1 in 2007. This weekend I’m watching Reading take on Leeds. I’m hoping for a victory three years in the making.

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