By Olly Allen
There is no other ground in the top four divisions of English football closer to the Madejski Stadium than Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park. It is the same vice versa.
In theory, this geographical closeness should perhaps form the basis of a bitter rivalry between the two sides, but when Reading played the Chairboys on Tuesday night, there was no sense of a local derby. There was no talk of bragging rights and there was no gloating from Royals fans after the 1-0 victory.
It brings to the fore the age-old question of who are Reading’s real rivals? We seem to be one of the few clubs in the country without a genuine local derby.
In Wycombe’s case, their journey over the last few years has been very easy to get on board with, and the majority of neutrals will want them to survive relegation this season against the odds. This is their first ever campaign in the second tier, following two promotions in three years despite having a shoestring budget.
Six years ago, they nearly dropped out of the Football League altogether, so it is a genuine fairytale story. It always helps when the guy in charge is a bit of a hero too, and rock-god Gareth Ainsworth is as likeable as they come.
It’s also worth pointing out that Wycombe only joined the Football League in 1993, spending their entire history up to that point playing in non-league and forming rivalries with local sides such as Slough Town and Aylesbury United. Although that seems a long time ago, when you consider that Reading have been in the Football League since 1920, the Chairboys are still relatively new to the scene.
It means that the two teams have rarely faced off, with the Royals tending to be higher up the pyramid. Before Tuesday’s game, there hadn’t been a league meeting since 2002, and last season’s Carabao Cup fixture was treated with excitement for a local tie rather than with any contempt for the opposition.
The same predicament has blighted Reading’s relationship with the two teams who have traditionally been considered as the club’s main rivals – Oxford United and Swindon Town. The Royals have not played either side in a league fixture for at least 18 years, meaning that any animosity that did exist has certainly tempered.
It also means that I am part of a generation of supporters who have never seen Reading play Oxford or Swindon in a competitive setting. I personally can’t get on board with a rivalry that is based off tales from 30 years ago – I have no real reason to dislike either club apart from the fact that I just ‘should’ as part of my fandom. It also seems as though supporters of those two clubs have more interest in each other than they do in Reading.
Perhaps if we ever found ourselves in the same division again – as was nearly the case this season as Oxford reached last year’s League One play-off final – then a rivalry might reignite, but right now we’re very much a neutral force in a league that contains the East Midlands derby, South Wales derby and a host of Yorkshire derbies among others.
Instead, we’re left to pick battles with teams on a season-by-season basis, depending on which opposition supporters are the most hostile or which player celebrates in the most antagonistic fashion. Oh, and there’s always Leeds.