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Tim Dellor's Royal Watching: Plans were changed as Reading matches get called off

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Oh well! I’ve always wanted to go to the King George at Kempton on a Boxing Day. Instead of cheering on Reading at Peterborough I’ll hopefully be calling home Chantry House or Mister Fisher from Nicky Henderson’s Lambourn yard in one of the biggest races of the year.

The same thing happened last weekend. Usually I miss the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, and this year was due to be no exception, with Reading hosting Luton in their 150th anniversary match. That was Reading’s first game to fall to Covid. Nicky Henderson’s Champ stormed home in the big race, so I still got my fill of sporting excitement. The question now is how many more games will be missed before Reading’s squad, and their scheduled opponents, can field a fit 14 players?

The Luton game was meant to be a great big party, of the scale only usually seen at Downing Street in a lockdown. The Boxing Day game is a traditional family pilgrimage. I am obliged to say it is a shame both games have been postponed, but if I was Reading manager right now I may be thinking this midwinter break is exactly what my team needs.

Tim Dellor's Royals Column
Tim Dellor's Royals Column

There is a danger Andy Carroll will have left Reading by the time these two fixtures are penned into the diary, but otherwise it is all good news. The long list of injured players is too boring to note down here, but suffice to say some star names could well be back in the next month, giving Veljko Paunovic a timely boost. He would be forgiven for wanting the break to extend into February.

The next Reading game that hangs in the balance is Fulham at home on the evening of Wednesday 29th December. In truth, quite a lot hangs in the balance at the moment. Will crowds continue to be permitted in, or will the government follow the Welsh lead and ban crowds from sporting fixtures? Will every fan have to wear a mask? Will any of us be allowed out in the few weeks after Christmas?

These seem fairly trivial questions when sat alongside some of the far more grave decisions being taken by other business sectors, the government and health providers, but sport is a glorious distraction in bleak times. For many, getting out to support your team each weekend is the secret to happiness.

There is a need to be more spontaneous these days, compared to a couple of years ago, and herein lies the issue. Anyone involved in sport, in whatever capacity, is a natural planner. Logistics, travel arrangements, training, goal setting, organising…. It’s what we all do, often unwittingly, every day. How many points do we need to avoid relegation? Who should we play in midfield? When will that star injured player return? How do I get to the game? These are all questions sports people ask every day. Not anymore, because everything has become impossible to predict. Planning is such an innate part of our behaviour we are all really struggling with short notice diary changes and general chaos.

There is even a danger I turn my planning to Christmas, which will cause trouble in this household. Mrs Dellor is keener than anyone for games to return as scheduled. Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope all your plans come to wonderful fruition.

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