Bournemouth 2 Reading 2 (4th August 2012)
This wasn’t my first visit to Bournemouth by any means, although it was my first since the ground was turned 90 degrees and completely rebuilt just over ten years ago. It was a ground I quite liked, despite Reading’s less than brilliant record there.
The new place won’t win any awards for being the most exciting stadium, but for a stadium built on a budget, it’s reasonable enough, if you can overlook the fact that one end is completely missing. The outside, with a gym, bars an offices, even manages to evoke a touch of affluence, and it’s only when you get inside and see the badly faded seats that you get any hint that it’s not really brand new.
The stands themselves are not going to send any pulses racing, especially when mainly empty for a pre-season friendly. They are neat enough, with 15 or so rows of seats, and red roof beams making the place a little less sterile. The Steve Fletcher Stand, behind one goal, features a large head and shoulders photo of the man on the roof fascia, the top half of which you just know will one day be snapped off by a wayward shot.
At least the open end, from the away seats at least, looks across to a park, making it not quite so bad as it would it the surroundings were industrial. Pre-game, a cricket match was taking place in that park. The quintessential English summer scene of the pavilion and players in their cricket whites, was blotted slightly by the square-leg umpire discarding the traditional v-neck pullover and broad-brimmed hat, in favour of three-quarter length trousers, a brown hoodie and a baseball cap.
I didn’t hang around to watch too much of the cricket, but I was still in summer sports mode, not really geared up for football. This was the first game since my Olympics stint, and it was a little depressing to have the unrelenting positive support there replaced with a predictable and tiresome “Bournemouth’s a shithole, I want to go home”. Dean Court is located in the midst of leafy suburbia, next to a park, but then it’s a song that’s part of the modern fans’ medley. It gets sung everywhere, whatever the area is like, or however many empty seats there are, even if it’s a friendly, or however their garden shed actually compares to the stadium.
To be fair, if they’d arrived at Dean Court via Pokesdown Station, and taken a stroll through the area’s main thoroughfare, they might have had a point on the shithole front. The station itself had the look of a decrepit station in rural Hungary, overgrown with a collection of misshapen stubby Christmas trees growing between the tracks. That main street possessed a series of shops that didn’t look like they’d seen custom since rationing was repealed, and if you went inside you’d probably see the desiccated corpse of the long since deceased shop assistant. The neon lights of the “Singapore” massage salon added a touch of potentially dubious colour to the street, even though you suspect most who regularly frequent the street associate Singapore with capture in 1942 rather than anything more glamorous.
The warm weather hardly helped the pre-season lethargy of the match, and it’s hard to judge players too well on this day’s showing. Even so, new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak, greeted by the completely nonsensical chorus of “feed the Pog and he will score”, managed to look “quite useful” and “too easily knocked off the ball” in equal measures. Guthrie looked good in midfield. Marriapa also looked promising at the back, especially being able to counter a lack of height with an impressive leap. It was once such impressive leap that allowed him to put Reading ahead in the first half, heading in from a set-piece.
By the time Hal Robson Kanu had scored Reading’s second, nearly the whole Reading team had been subbed, probably partly in response to not exactly being effervescent in the time since scoring, not to mention being scored against. Regaining the lead prompted Reading into another spell of immediate inertia, and it wasn’t a huge shock when Bournemouth headed an equaliser from close in with just a few minutes left.
You can never get too excited, or disappointed, about pre-season games though. The walk back took us past the newly open training pitches, opened by ex-Manager Harry Redknapp, clearly looking for somewhere on the south coast where he’s still popular, past an athletics track with a one decent stand, and up a hill through a slightly overgrown park. The knowledge that Pokesdown was over that hill ruins the idyll a bit, but there are certainly less pleasant ways to leave a stadium.