13 March ~ For what could be deemed the third biggest game in its club's history, the town of Reading is far from being bathed in proverbial Cup fever. Today's tie at Man City will see Reading FC in the FA Cup quarter-final, only previously achieved in 1927 and, well, 2010 as it happens. This is perhaps the crux of the encroaching apathy. Recent high-profile Cup draws, coupled with the club's brief flirtation with Premier League status, have meant most fans are well accustomed to games at big-name teams that, more often than not, turn out to be damp affairs.
When the subject of Man City was broached at the midweek game at Ipswich, the most popular discussion was about Danny Tiatto's neck-high tackle on Byron Glasgow in a third-tier game over ten years ago. Conversation then drifted on to whether Glasgow was indeed Reading's shortest ever player; interest in the Eastlands tie was seemingly exhausted.
This was in contrast to the fourth-round tie at Stevenage, where genuine excitement existed over what was deemed a real Cup tie, including a new lower-league ground to visit, a Saturday 3pm kick-off and arrangements for time off work to buy tickets. Come the event, the game itself entertained with some open football, before Reading finally edged the game with a late winner.
The major similarity between the Stevenage and Man City games appears to be a predictable furore over ticket availability. While Broadhall Way's limited capacity was the deciding factor in the earlier round, at Eastlands the issue is that Reading only requested 2,700 tickets of a possible 7,100. This may have made sense. After all, 1,600 away supporters made the way to Goodison Park in round five and a whopping 247 were present at Portman Road on Tuesday. However, a ham-fisted allocation policy based on an incredibly low amount of loyalty points meant an outcry over availability, though it is still not clear how many tickets have actually been sold.
Man City joined in the fun by selling the areas immediately adjacent to the Reading section to home fans, meaning additional tickets could not be requested, while at the same time announcing they were not opening the upper third of their stadium. This whole farrago could perhaps be deemed the greatest link with great Cup ties of the past.
The win at Everton has had a positive effect on Reading, being followed up with wins over a woeful Middlesbrough and then a more challenging Ipswich. This followed a moribund spell which saw 11 draws in 20 games, but this period changed from drawing games that should have been won, to drawing games that should certainly have been draws. It will be telling to see if the relatively short Tuesday trip to mid-Suffolk creates any noticeable advantage over City's more demanding toil to northern Ukraine.
Overall, those who passed the club's complicated ticket procurement challenge travel with justifiable hopes of getting a result. However, if the minutes are being played out for a 1-0 defeat, there will be more than just a few away supporters who will already be looking forward to next year's Stevenage. Robin Foot