Leo Ulloa Yesterday
The year was 1991 and I was a fairly stupid nineteen year old. The last game of the season was at home to Ipswich Town. We needed to win it to pip Barnsley in to the final spot in the playoffs, a feat we could manage despite a poor run in and negative goal difference. There was no ticket binfest or bun fight. In fact there was no ticket needed. As per every other home game that season my mates and I met in The Edinburgh in Brighton and had a few jars and a game of pool or ten. Then we got the train to Hove, staggered walked to the ground, paid cash on the turnstiles and entered the North Stand. The only thing that differed slightly was that the bit at the back behind the goal was already full and we found ourselves stood near the bottom by an open piece of fence where a gate had once been, a hole in the pitch’s protection that was routinely policed by P.C. Beard.
With a minute left of the game it was 1-1. Barnsley’s game had already finished, they had won and their fans were on the pitch at Oakwell celebrating a playoff place. Johnny Byrne who had been magnificent all season put all his remaining strength, something he got from his magnificent mullet, in to one final run and was chopped down. It was bad enough that he had to come off and Johnny only came off when it was bad. One last kick to save our season. Up stepped Dean ”Wendy” Wilkins and he curled it straight in to the top corner. The North Stand went mental. The Goldstone went mental. I looked up and somehow found myself on the centre circle. Gee, I wonder how that happened? Still, before you could say ‘arrested and banned’ I looked round and saw my mates and half the North Stand with me. Figuring the game had to kick off again and that we couldn’t all be nicked everyone retreated back to the stand. Thirty seconds later the whistle went and we were back on again. That night I drank a LOT of beer. I have always imagined that, at the same time at Barnsley, there were a lot of replica shirted fatties walking disconsolately off the pitch or banging the advertising hoardings in despair. This was the sort of thing that could never ever happen again. A once in a lifetime feeling. Or was it?
Fast forward to 2014 and the last game of the season was away at Nottingham Forest. We needed to win it to really have any chance of getting in the playoffs (though a draw would have done if Reading had lost). We also needed Reading not to win. Since it was away I didn’t take place in the ticket bun fight and binfest but it was mighty. We were only given 2000 tickets. The rest of us would have to make do with the telly once Sky finally selected the Reading and Forest games for coverage. I have written about my dislike of Sky rescheduling games and yet I subscribe precisely for these sorts of events. I have written about my dislike of the playoffs, yet I desperately wanted us to win. So I’m a massive hypocrite. A happy hypocrite though. Listening to that on the radio would have been unbearable.
I spent pre-match not playing pool in the Edinburgh but taking The Boy to his Under 7s football training and buying snacks, sandwich fillings and beer. The Boy’s friend G who I took to the Reading cup game and who watched the first half of the Hull game here was coming round with his mum. I am providing the football information for G that his dad who is not a football fan cannot, in much the same way as my dad’s friends had to tell me about (and take me to) the football. Circle of life and all that.
Team news. Bruno out and Calde in. Upson back for Dunk. JFC for Stephens. CMS on the bench again. I sighed inwardly. I knew this would be the side given the availability but we’ve looked pedestrian in the middle so often when Andrews and JFC have started. I didn’t let The Boy pick up on it. My 3 year old daughter, known to everyone as Whirlwind came in to join us, unexpectedly.
A slow start in which Forest dominated possession was punctuated by two bits of very bad news. Firstly Ulloa missed a one on one with the keeper having been put through brilliantly down the right with a long, low through ball from Greer. “Never mind Daddy” said Whirlwind, “it was nearly in”. Three year olds eh? Then Reading scored. Ouch.
With the children alternately asking me questions and yelling “COME ON BRIGHTON!” at the telly it was becoming hard to concentrate. So it was that I took my eyes off a routine clearance that actually went horribly wrong and gifted Forest the ball. A perfect cross found Derbyshire but his weak header was straight at PIG who only had to collect it and……..oh. Oh Tomasz! NO! ARGH. 1-0 not to the Albion. A mountain to climb and eleven nervous, mistake ridden mountaineers. Oh shit. Except the mountain was about to be cut in half by Burnley who not only equalized but then took the lead at the Mad Stad. Only one goal needed but, in the first half, we didn’t look like we had even that in us.
I’d like to think Oscar threw a teacup at halftime. That this calmest and most phlegmatic of Spaniards went completely Radio Rental and gave them the John Sitton “you can have your fucking breakfast” treatment before getting Nathan to threaten anyone who cocked up in the second half with a night out in Colwyn Bay. Whatever they did it worked. We came out with far more purpose and, heaven be praised we equalized. Having forced a corner on the right a couple of miskicks and general penalty area ping pong saw the ball drop to Stephen Ward who calmly half volleyed in to the bottom corner with his wrong foot. I may have scared the children with my leap off the sofa but if I did they weren’t saying. G was punching the air. The Boy was repeating “YES, YES!” over and over again like a bad Dutch movie.
Then Reading equalized with one of the best goals of the season.
We had it all to do again. Typically Oscar threw Lua Lua in to the fray for the knackered looking and largely disappointing Lingard. This gave Forest something to think about because they no longer have the rat faced twonk in charge who had answered Lua Lua’s threat in the reverse fixture by getting his team to take turns to kick Kaz very hard. At this point Whirwind fell asleep on the sofa. “If Brighton score please don’t wake her up or land on her” said my wife. What a jinx.
Still there was no goal. March came on for Orlandi and nearly set up Buckley before the Buckley again tried to round the keeper who took it off his toes. Last throw of the dice was CMS. With three minutes of regular time left this was just a little late but we gave it one last go. Five minutes of injury time went up on the board and a last shout of encouragement went up from the fans.
And then. And then. CMS collects the ball on the left. He hits the perfect inswinging cross with his right foot. Ulloa has come from an onside position to lose his marker. It’s on. He can just head it in. Time seems to stand still for a second and then IT’S IN! OMFG! FOOTBALL! Don’t you love it?
Ulloa removes his shirt and runs to the fans who are going bananas. I am trying to repeat my actions of 1991 by invading the television. The Boy and G are going stark staring nuts, loudly. G’s mum is up. Even my wife is cheering. Astonishingly Whirwind sleeps through the whole thing. I cannot sit down again. Blow the whistle ref! BLOW IT! After six – yes SIX – minutes (I guess for the goal and celebrations) he does. We’ve done it. Sixth. Reading have finished 2-2.
Later we find out the whole amusement / disappointment from the Mad Stad. That Burnley’s keeper had kept them out single handed. That even then they held on for our result after their 2-2 had been confirmed. That somehow they got this wrong and invaded their own pitch, thinking they’d done it. Just like Barnsley in 1991.
Our reaction on Twitter et al was not kind. Mind you, if I was a Reading fan I would have been steering clear of anything except a large bottle of gin. I feel genuinely for a couple of their fans with whom I have been corresponding but I have to admit I feel nothing but NER NER for Adkins. We’re never going to like him are we?
Afterwards we went to our old neighbour’s BBQ and, having confirmed the wife could manage the kids, I drank my body weight in Jamaican lager and rosé wine. I’m a bit delicate this morning. On Thursday night it starts all over again. *hovers mouse over ticket site*