January-like weather has arrived in Reading and it’s bitterly cold. Last Sunday I attended a rugby match and watched very fine performances from both our local London Irish team and the terrific Saracens team from nearby Watford. Our team won after a hard-fought contest. The day started with serious rain coming down, cleared up to be nice and sunny though cool for kickoff and, as we left the stadium, finished up with a serious storm and more rain.
The day before, Saturday, I happened to go up to Pub Row for a late lunch. There was a football (soccer) match scheduled for mid-afternoon and the preparations at the pubs were rather interesting. As I have reported before, Friar Street in central Reading has several blocks that are just cheek-to-jowl pubs. When I arrived at O’Neills, there were two bouncers on duty (at 1:30pm) and they were checking IDs. You either had to have something with a Reading address on it or season tickets for the Reading Footbal Club, in order to be allowed into the pub! They were kind enough to let me in on the basis of my library card.
This is the means used to prevent violence in the pubs when supporters (fans) from different football clubs mix. I also noted about 40 police officers on foot and half a dozen more on horseback patrolling the area. Apparently our local team was playing a team from Southampton; a kind of “blood feud” adversary. It appears that fans of the visiting team have a habit of coming to town, flooding the pubs, and causing trouble. One interesting sight: the police horses wear mini plexiglass windshields over their eyes. They were huge, beautiful animals, with the saddle seat at about the top of my head – just over 6’.
Why is it that the “finesse” sport – soccer – has fans that are so much more violent and vicious than the relatively civilized fans of the “violent” sport – rugby? At our rugby match, I sat with several Saracens supporters nearby, we all applauded good play by either team, and we rode back to town on the shuttle bus together without so much as a good-natured insult being exchanged. The whole business is wonderfully incongruous.