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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Comforts of Madstad

Berkshire may be many things but its certainly not a hotbed of football. Consider the evidence: it's not even an independent FA being merged with Bucks, and Maidenhead is the second biggest club in the county by a long chalk. Yet Reading is trying their hardest to change this state of affairs.
It's not too long ago that Reading were a professional version of the Magpies. They hovered around the lower divisions, lived in a lovable but tatty old ground, and all their greatest feats were in the dim and distant past.
Perhaps like York Road is today, Elm Park was somewhere you could go along with your mates every so often to one of the handful of big games in a season. It was cheap, accessible and required no commitment. How things have changed!
Over the last twenty years they have transformed into a bona fide big club, not just satisfied with consolidating a place in Football League Championship but settling for nothing less than a Premiership place.
Central to this transformation was the move to that modern equivalent of a statue of a Victorian factory owner, the Madejski stadium, known locally as the Madstad.
This shiny new stadium has attracted the local populace in numbers that were pre war memories at Elm Park. The burgeoning bourgeoisie of Silicon Valley evidently preferring the meal deals and antiseptic concrete of the Madstad to the smell of tobacco and stewed onions that would envelop Elm Park on any given matchday.
I witnessed all this for myself a couple of weeks when with York Road like most of the rest of the South of England snowbound, Reading v Preston North End presented virtually the only tempting football option.
However it wasn't simply a case of pitching up to the South Bank at five to three with a couple of quid as was the case at Elm Park. Detailed research showed that although tickets were available they could only be bought by members which could only be obtained by prior application (funny I thought football supporters stopped all that members only business twenty years ago). Fortunately there was plenty of space in the away end for anyone with £26.50 (to be fair it was about £9 cheaper in advance).
Once inside I resisted the temptations of the meal deal (£6 for a pie and a pint) and admired the basic functionality of the Madstad with its clean and sufficient facilities, including seats which provided a clear view of the action.
In the run up to kick off the Preston fans instinctively arranged themselves with people wanting to sit and watch taking the forwards whilst the youngsters who wanted to jump around and sing heading for the back. After kick off this was not good enough for the stewards who pointlessly wasted time pleading with people to sit before bravely dragging out a non compliant young girl whilst ignoring her burlier male peers.
The football was not dissimilar to what you would see at Conference South level. Two well organised teams largely cancelling each other out, with a yawning creativity gap preventing goals. The under soil heating whilst making the game playable had combined with the rugby to make the surface unhelpful to the lonely talent of Stephen Hunt, and a stalemate ensued.
For the most part it was Reading who showed the wherewithal to break this but after about an hour they seemed to lose heart and it was Preston who almost snatched it near the end, only for pub footballer John Parkin to blast a chance over from close range. Despite this opportunity Preston opted to play for a point taking the ball to the corners as the minutes counted down, their joy at earning a draw shown when captain Sean St Ledger gleefully threw his shirt into the crowd at the final whistle.
The most stunning statistic of the day was that the game was watched by 19,500. At the end some of them shouted “Premiership you’re having a laugh” at each other. Definitely right in terms of the evidence on the pitch, probably wrong in terms of the evidence off it.

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