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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.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Freedom Football

Left it late for my annual visit to Craven Cottage this season but I was rewarded with an enjoyable day at the match which in the style at Fulham is how football ought to be. With opponents Reading already relegated this freed up the mind to focus purely on the game and forget what might be happening elsewhere. Indeed the end of season mania was firmly left in the pub pre match as we voyeuristically watched the final day of the Football League in the aptly named Temperance a hostelry just busy enough to enjoy a pre match pint with the buzz of football talk.
A brisk walk in the sunshine through Bishop's Park took me to the away end and a fixture I had regularly watched in the late 80s/early 90s in an altogether more sedate atmosphere. These games were played in Division Three before crowds around the 4,000 mark and were low scoring affairs, the faded glory of the Cottagers summed up by the minor celebrities such as the Oxo Dad and Duffy from Casualty brought onto the pitch to perform the half time draw, and the bitter men who stood in the paddock of the Stevenage Road stand next to the Cottage shaking their fists at the steepling open terrace of the away end.
Although the roof to cover the still temporary feeling seats on the terrace unfortunately obscures the view, at least it creates an atmosphere with the away fans buffered by the unique neutral zone. Freed from the worry of their fate, the Reading fans were determined to enjoy their day out by the Thames, creating a raucous atmosphere to which their team responded with their biggest win of the season. All this was in spite of the unnecessary attentions of the inappropriately named WISE stewards who seemed to spend most of the game trying to confiscate Mr Blobby.
Reading started the game in fine form, deservedly taking the lead from a Hal Robson-Kanu penalty. As the half drew on Fulham came in to the game but found their path to goal blocked by the outstanding Alex McCarthy who looks as though he may one day justify the chants of England's number 1. However a change following the opening goal to boost the home teams attack with the addition of Hugo Rodallega seem to have the reverse effect by the way the impressive David Ruiz was moved into a more withdrawn role.
Reading justified their half time lead by pioneering a second half goal fest which on the one hand reinforced the best league in the world tag with the concomitant excitement but on the other the number of unforced defensive errors suggested that this was a game more of Championship quality.
Despite striker Pawel Pogrebnyak appearing to play with the hand brake on, his team mates needed no stimulus, scoring three goals marked by the quality of the finish. Taking advantage of a deep lying one paced centre back pairing of Hangeland and Senderos, Robson-Kanu and Le Fondre maintained the Royals lead before Karacan sealed the points with a shot drilled in along the ground from the edge of the penalty area.
The goals only served to exhort the already buoyant away support to new heights of glee at this unexpected turn of events regularly pointing out the incredible nature of the win. Fulham did belatedly wake up to the fact that they are not quite safe from relegation with Ruiz spearheading their comeback by scoring two goals, but on the rare occasions that McCarthy was unable to stop any further scoring attempts the woodwork came to Reading's rescue.
Thus with both teams going for it in the style of promotion/relegation death match, both sets of fans were treated an extraordinarily open second half which went some way to justifying the ticket price. Looking ahead Fulham need to address their decline if they are to maintain their Premier League status next season, whilst its clear that Reading have the makings of a team which can hold steady in the Championship. So it will be the signings made in the summer which will be crucial in inspiring each club to better themselves next season. 
A relaxing afternoon ended with a stroll back to the Temperance where we were briefly joined by Reading legend Adie Williams. It somehow summed up the day that he was able to freely chat with fans despite the Premier League hype, and proves yet again that a trip to Craven Cottage is the best value day out at the match in London.

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