Reading defender Alex Pearce on a wasted journey, a missing Russian and wearing tights on Saturday night…
Monday February 6
Normally Monday is a day when the physio treats the players for any knocks, bumps and bruises they have collected during Saturday’s game. Today is different. There’s nothing to recover from except a long coach journey up north to Doncaster on Friday and a long journey back home again the next day. The game was called off because of a frozen pitch.
There was an inspection on Friday and we were told the match was on so we set off as usual at 1.30 pm after training and made the long journey by coach to our hotel. We were just about getting up on Saturday morning when a message came through at 10.30 am to say the game was off. I was rooming with Andy Griffin as my usual room-mate, Hal Robson Kanu, didn’t travel due to the injury he is currently unfortunately ruled out with.
We were both so disappointed to hear that he game was called off – a feeling felt by the whole team as the news of the postponement travelled around the hotel. We gathered our things and boarded the coach for the long journey home, which was made a tiny bit better by the Wagamama’s takeaway that a few of the lads had picked up on our way to the coach.
If it’s annoying for us players it is surely even worse for our supporters. Reading have a loyal away following and fans will have paid £20 to get on an official coach leaving from the ground at 9.15 am and paid around £22 for a ticket. It was great to hear later that several of the travelling fans diverted to West Bromwich to watch our former players Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurdsson in action.
Most of the players were pretty certain it was going to be off but our Irish international striker Noel Hunt wasn’t too unhappy because he was able to catch up on a few films during the journeys. He was also amused to see Sky Sports News giving the latest score as 0-0 and took a photo on his phone that he later tweeted to his followers on the social networking site Twitter. I can’t believe he’s got almost 17,000 followers on that thing. I don’t have a Twitter account myself, but I know a few of the Reading lads do.
Tuesday February 7
The players are still wondering how far our supporters got before Saturday’s postponement and how much they will be out of pocket. I suppose it depends where they were before the coach turned back whether they get a refund on the fare. Many cannot make the same trip in midweek because of their jobs but we think Doncaster may refund tickets that are not wanted.
The postponement was a real shame for our new signings Jason Roberts, Tomasz Cywka and Matthew Connolly, who were all hoping to get some time on the pitch as they settle in to the club. It also meant that the three new lads will have to wait until the next away game to perform their ‘songs’ to the squad and staff.
It’s a tradition at Reading that new players have to stand on a chair and sing a song of their choice in front of everyone during the pre-match meal. It’s a very funny occasion that gets everyone in good spirits and is great for team camaraderie. I remember when it was my turn to do this…I played it safe and went for an Oasis song. I’m looking forward to hearing what Jason, Tomasz and Matthew come up with. They’ve got a bit longer to practise now so the pressure’s on.
With eight wins from 11 league games we are top of the Championship form table and we were hoping to keep the momentum going but instead it was all a bit of a waste and all we can do now is start preparing for our next game, at home to Coventry.
Tuesday morning is also when a couple of players are nominated to meet local newspaper reporters to answer their questions. This gives them a story or two for their midweek editions. They are informal affairs and the reporters are usually pretty fair to us, although Ian Harte has been known to moan at them about his match ratings.
Wednesday February 8
We are all eagerly awaiting the chance to meet our new owner sometime this week. A 29-year-old Russian billionaire’s son named Anton Zingarevich has agreed to buy 51 per cent of the club’s shares for £25 million and we have heard that he is likely to fly into the UK to see us. The deal will not be completed until March but it seems his money has allowed our boss Brian McDermott to bring some new players in and keep hold of key performers instead of selling them to raise cash.
Our Mali international winger Jimmy Kebe has signed a new contract after holding out for a long while and that’s good news. He says it is because the club is now showing ambition and not because he was offered more money. We were all really pleased to see Jimmy sign and at least it will stop my team-mate Jay Tabb winding him up. Before Jimmy signed Tabby would greet him every morning at training with the comment “You still here then Jim?”
I did a question and answer session with our programme editor recently about the people we would invite to a dinner party. It’s just a bit of fun for one of the features in the match-day programme. One question was who we would get to do the washing up and I nominated Jimmy. Among my guests were Roger Federer, Noel Gallagher, Lady Gaga and Peter Kay. Dream on!!
We normally get Wednesdays off which is great as it gives us a chance to rest and recover. I usually pop down to the local swimming pool and stretch off in the water or do a light session in the gym. Today I followed that up with a Nando’s takeaway. I’ve seen that Reading are auctioning a Nando’s Date with Noel on eBay. What a great idea. All the money raised goes to charity so hopefully it will raise lots of cash, though you’d have to pay ME to go to Nando’s with Noel! (Just kidding, he’s doing wonderful things with his charity work.)
Thursday February 9
It’s the big press conference of the week, although the use of “big” is probably misleading. Basically it’s a chance for the media to get material for their preview pieces in advance of the Saturday game, but there are usually only three reporters in attendance and that’s the same today.
Matt Sadler from the Reading Evening Post surprises everybody by announcing that he is leaving the paper to work in the media department at Wycombe Wanderers. I suppose it’s good news for the reporters who cover Wycombe that they will now be dealing with a “proper” journalist who understands the way things work for the media.
Tim Dellor is there for Radio Berkshire, warming everyone up on a cold day by recounting tales of the time he was coach to the Greek national cricket team. I am never sure whether Tim is a cricket coach who does some local radio work or a radio journalist who does some cricket coaching.
Meridian TV has sent a cameraman but not a reporter so our Head of Communications Craig Mortimer-Zikha steps in to ask the questions. There’s also local freelance, Brian Roach, hoping for the day when a Reading manager reveals that he is about to take over from Sir Alex at Manchester United, or Arsenal. It never happens!
Our gaffer always attends and today there are three players there, too. Noel Hunt because he has been nominated for a PFA Player in the Community Award, Joseph Mills because he has just signed a new contract and Jem Karacan because he hadn’t done it for a while and it’s his turn.
Because of the frozen pitches at Hogwood we then go off to train on the artificial pitch at the Sir John Madejski Academy, a school named after our chairman which is most famous for educating my favourite comedian Ricky Gervais. I saw him live when he did his “Science” tour. He’s very funny.
Friday February 10
Friday is when we work on set pieces designed with the specific opposition in mind. We work on our set-up defending corners, attacking corners, on free-kicks and similar situations. The gaffer will have talked us through the team beforehand so that we can prepare together for the game.
He has a real problem keeping all the players happy because everyone wants to be in the side and that’s impossible. Our goalkeeping situation at Reading is a good example of the manager’s task. Earlier in the season we had four keepers who could all justify a claim for the starting spot. How could he keep them all happy? The situation was eased when Ben Hamer moved to Charlton on a permanent basis and Alex McCarthy went on loan to Leeds and now to Ipswich. That leaves Aussie international Adam Federici as the first choice keeper and our great Dane Mikkel Andersen on the bench.
We are fortunate at Reading because we have a real team ethic and the lads not in the side always support those who are. There are still rumours about loan signings coming in but the gaffer has slammed the door shut on media claims that he was trying to sign Owen Hargeaves, saying it’s just not true.
Another day when training is disrupted by the weather. Frozen pitches at Hogwood force us to train elsewhere. It’s not ideal but we get what we need to done. The sessions on Fridays are usually light as we prepare for the weekend’s game.
Fridays for me involve training, pasta (lots of), sleep (again, lots of) and little else.
Saturday February 11
Today sees us host Coventry who are bottom of the table. After an easy morning and a pre-match meal of more pasta I leave for the ground, with Powerade in good supply. I enjoy the drive to stadium as it’s the time when I start to really get my game face on and begin psyching myself up mentally. I put some music on (Drake’s my artist of choice at the moment) and get in the zone. By the time that I arrive at the stadium a few Good Luck texts have come through but then it’s phone off and time to focus.
Today some games in the Championship are postponed because of the weather and most of the games in Divisions One and Two are also off. Undersoil heating at the Madejski Stadium means our game is never in doubt and the roads around the stadium have been gritted to make them safe for the public.
I notice Doncaster’s away game is off so their players will soon start to forget what it’s like to play in a competitive match. I really miss not playing, even in the summer when we’re off, so I’d be disappointed if I was a Donnie player.
For the first 20 minutes Coventry more than match our reshuffled side. Injuries meant that Matt Connolly made his debut at right-back after joining from QPR and Joseph Mills played on the left side of midfield instead of his usual full-back position. With Jimmy Kebe and Mikele Leigertwood making their first appearances after recovering from injuries we start slowly.
Eventually goals from Jimmy and Jason Roberts see us to a 2-0 win and leave us in seventh place in the Championship table with a game in hand over some of those above us. So now it is nine wins in the last 12, form that we’re very proud of. Federici made three wonder saves in the second-half to show why he emerged on top of that pile of goalkeepers. Personally I felt I had a decent game and as a defender it is always good news when the team keeps a clean sheet.
My Saturday night plans depend on the result. It’s a great feeling after a win, and I usually go for a nice meal with my family to celebrate. Today I’m off home to put my feet up and ice my ankle. Don’t worry, it’s just precautionary. I got a little knock to it during the game but it’s nothing serious. The recovery tights go on as I wait for Match of the Day and the Football League Show to begin.
Sunday February 12
Normally a day of rest but the vagaries of the fixture list and television demands mean we can’t take it too easy. Because of the Doncaster postponement we had played just once in a fortnight. Now we have three games in seven days.
Having seen off Coventry yesterday we have to travel up to Derby tomorrow for a Tuesday night game. It’s still so cold outside so fingers crossed it won’t affect our travels or the game. Then we entertain Burnley on Friday night in a match that is being shown live on TV. Playing so many games in such a short space of time means that players cannot recover from minor knocks in the same way they could with a week between matches.
That’s where the squad will come into play and some of the players who have been on the fringes will start to get their chance. The manager might decide he needs fresh legs anyway so we could also see some changes that have not been forced on him. It’s perfectly true that players prefer to play rather than train, but three games in seven days is tough on the body and I have no doubt that the 11 who play in the third game will be different from the side that started the first.
As a player you always want your team to win, but there is a downside to that. If you miss a game or two because of injury the lads might have a couple of good wins. The manager will stick with a winning side and you just have to sit on the bench and be patient as you wait for a chance to get back in the side. I have been fortunate enough to be a regular this season alongside Kaspars Gorkss, but one thing I know for sure – in football you can never take anything for granted.
Today is all about sitting in the warm and watching the games on TV, perhaps with a nice roast dinner if I’m lucky. Tomorrow we head to Derby so our attention will turn to that tough fixture at Pride Park, one I’m looking forward to.
P.S. Still no sign of Anton Zingarevich
P.P.S The ankle is fine today.
Alex Pearce is a centre-back aged 23. He was spotted by Reading at 12 and came through the Academy ranks to sign pro in 2006. He made his first team debut in January 2007.This season he has made 30 starts for the Royals, scoring three goals.