Welcome to hell – a day with the Reading Ultras
In the last few years, I have been witness to some of the most intense football matches on the planet. To name just a few, I’ve attended Inter vs. Milan, Feyenoord vs. Ajax and Red Star Belgrade vs. Partizan Belgrade. I’ve been to matches involving Borussia Dortmund, St Pauli, Galatasaray, Leeds, Lazio, Eintracht Frankfurt, Millwall and more. I thought I had pretty much seen it all, until along came this article in the Reading Chronicle.
I knew straight away that no matter how dangerous it might be, I owed it to my readers to brave a day at the Madejski Stadium. Despite the desperate pleas of my loved ones who urged me not to put my life on the line and do something safer like going on holiday to the Crimea, I packed my bags and headed to Berkshire. What I saw there would change my life forever, as the fearful Reading Ultras created a nightmarish vision of Hell. Without further ado, here is the true story of my day in Reading:
(Please note: this article contains descriptions of events that some readers may find distressing – parental guidance is advised)
Reading vs. Yeovil Town.
I clutched the ticket in my hand cautiously as I headed to the stadium from the main railway station in Reading. All seemed quiet, but I knew that danger was lurking around every corner. I see a middle aged man in a Reading shirt walking out of Starbucks. Was that a cappuccino he was holding or a carefully disguised explosive device? I couldn’t be sure, and I certainly wasn’t going to get close enough to find out.
After walking for several minutes, the menacing stadium finally looms on the horizon. I pass a dangerous looking establishment called Frankie and Bennys – presumably named after away supporters called Frankie and Benny would had previously been murdered after being foolish enough to follow their team to this notorious venue. Inside were a number of rabid looking fans, almost all of them holding knives. They were using them to cut up a pepperoni pizza, but this was clearly just a trick to avoid the attention of the police that would be sure to be keeping a close eye on this flashpoint fixture.
Speaking of the police, they were everywhere. Not even the pistol toting riot squad in Belgrade could have prepared me for this, with at least THREE policemen on duty outside the stadium. I briefly imagined the horrors these men must have seen over the years, and wondered how their families could possibly live with the trauma of knowing their father, husband or son was putting themselves in the line of danger on a fortnightly basis. I think about interviewing one of them for the story, but I didn’t want to trigger any distressing flashbacks of the carnage caused by the Reading Ultras in the past.
I arrive at the entrance to the stadium marked on my ticket, waiting patiently to enter the arena of doom. Suddenly, there is a commotion at the front of the queue. What I saw stunned even me, a veteran of some of the most dangerous stadiums in Europe. One of the crazed Reading fans had attempted to enter the stadium with a full bottle of Coke without removing the lid first. I waited for the security team to arrive and abandon the game, but they never came. Incredibly, the steward simply removed the lid and allowed the dangerous hooligan to go into the stadium unchecked. I shuddered to think what could have happened if this villain had not been caught, and pondered whether I would ever see my family again.
Finally, it was my turn. I handed over my ticket to the steward and was told to “enjoy the game”. Quite how anyone could enjoy themselves under these fearful conditions was beyond me, but it was a different type of football culture here, one where the threat of death and destruction has become commonplace.
As I walked up the stairs to the main curva (or as the locals menacingly called it, the Family Stand), I gasped with astonishment at the noise that was being created. It is hard to put into words how frightening the atmosphere was, and I only do so in the hope that others do not put themselves in such danger as I had done. To my left was a tremendously loud sound of rustling as someone brandished a crisp packet with reckless abandon, while all around me was the ear-bursting noise of polite clapping. If that wasn’t bad enough, the chanting was positively obscene. “Come on Deading, come on Deading!” they chant, clearly urging their players to murder the opposition.
It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed in a football stadium, and I quickly reported it to the closest steward I could find. In what was clearly a sickening cover-up so as not to upset the powerful ultras, he told me that they had actually been chanting “Come on Reading” and weren’t actually wishing death on the Yeovil players at all – a likely story.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any louder, out came the players. The Yeovil goalkeeper runs towards a wall of intimidation, with someone next to me going as far as to shout that he was “a stupid idiot”. To see such hatred almost brought tears to my eyes, so much for the ‘beautiful game’, I thought.
As the game gets underway and the fans settle down, the conversations around me reveal the true nature of these monsters. One of them asks a friend in another row how their Auntie Doreen is, clearly using a codename to enquire about illegal drugs. Hal Robson-Kanu goes close to opening the scoring but his shot goes narrowly wide, much to the dismay of these uncontrollable maniacs. “Bugger” exclaims one of them, using the kind of vile language that I had sadly come to expect from this sickening crowd. I am all for football culture and creating an atmosphere, but these people were simply going too far.
I had been warned by the Reading Chronicle to look out for offensive hand gestures, and sure enough, I had not been misinformed. “Hi Dave!” someone shouts, waving his hand violently back and forth. I didn’t know what this ‘wave’ stood for, but I assumed it was something to do with a combination of the Nazi Party, the KKK and the person responsible for the career of Vernon Kay. I made a mental note to report on this gesture later, ensuring that the scumbag would not get away with his actions.
The game was almost secondary to the mayhem all around me, but somehow I was able to draw my eyes away from the rampant hooliganism to study the goings on. With 67 minutes on the clock, a Yeovil player seems certain to score. He is clean through on goal with only the keeper to beat, and I prepare for the pitch invasion and mass riot that was sure to follow the away side taking the lead. As my eyes scanned desperately for an exit, the striker blasted his shot wide. Had he lost his concentration, or had he been threatened before the match not to score on pain of death? It was difficult to know.
The miss is followed by sickening taunts of the away supporters who had been brave enough to subject themselves to this cauldron of hate. The Reading masses are openly laughing at the Yeovil supporters, without a single regard for their feelings. I know there was a football match to be won, but these were still human beings for goodness sake.
The game enters the final ten minutes with the score 0 – 0. It looked as if the only winner here was going to be carnage, mayhem and shame, but the most terrifying moment was still to come. With 84 minutes player, a cross into the box is met by Hal Robson-Kanu, who turns the ball into the net for the winning goal. Pandemonium ensues, with many of the Reading fans celebrating so vigorously that they STOOD UP, despite the various warnings around the stadium that persistent standing was not allowed. It was all too much for me to take, and I sunk to the floor in terror, rocking back and forth at the terrible scenes I had just been forced to endure.
Not content with standing up and clapping, music was blasted around the stadium to mark the goal, the fans waving their hands in the air to the tune of Tom Hark as though they were Zulu warriors preparing themselves for war. Over on the other side of the stadium were 300 deeply upset Yeovil fans, forced to watch as their conquerors lauded it over them.
I have never left a football match early, but I made an exception in this case. I had seen enough to last me a thousand lifetimes, and I wanted to get out of the area before the violence boiled over into a riot. I managed to keep my calm all the way until the car park, when I saw the most terrifying sight yet. Until this moment I had not believed in pure evil, but here it was in plain sight. One of the Reading fans had tossed an empty can of Pepsi into a rubbish bin, despite the clear warnings asking for it to be recycled.
Tears streamed down my face as I ran for the safety of the train station. Why had I come to this vile place? Thankfully I made it in time to catch my connection, gasping with relief as the train pulled away and to safety.
I had survived my experience with the dreaded Reading Ultras, but it will be a very long time before I ever go to another football match. Please excuse the lack of updates on this site over the next few weeks, I will be undergoing intensive therapy to try and recover from this experience, before giving a talk to the BBC News journalists heading to Iraq so I can prepare them for warzone reporting. After this day I could truly say I do not fear death, because I have served my time in Hell. I had survived, but at what cost?