AFC Hop 1-1 Burridge
17th January 2009
Cutbush Lane, West End
It would’ve been just as easy to help the ball on its way up the field, but that’s never been his style. Instead he remains patient. Looking for the right pass, in order to keep possession. To relieve this constant pressure that Burridge are coming under. The game’s prickly. It always is when you’re one-nil up against AFC Hop. They’re right in your face. Centre halves, midfielders too, telling their wingers and their strikers in no uncertain terms that Burridge aren‘t up to it. “They can‘t deal with us,“ that’s what they tell them. Shouting at the top of the lungs from sixty yards away, “Skin them all day long, they’re shit.” Still another ten minutes until half time and protecting the ball from the angry swings of their metal studs. The ball remains safe from harm, his body does not. It’s the ankle that’s the problem. Like the rest of Justin Newman, it’s thirty-seven years of age.
Monday morning always comes around fast. The kids are still asleep when he struggles out of bed at 5am to drive up the A34 through Oxford to work. The stiffness and bruising will keep him company longer than Lee Fielder, who joins him for the journey to work.. He may be eight years younger but a catalogue of injuries have finished Fielder from football. Ten years ago he was banging in twenty five goals a season. Now he’s testing the electrics at an MOD base. Newman’s still going strong. The ankle’s is holding up okay. It wasn’t like last time. Back then he heard the crack, but that was a long time ago.
The sign in the changing rooms across the league always read the same - please don’t clean your boots in the shower. They always say please, but Justin Newman isn't one to follow the rules. Otherwise he’d have packed football in like all the others who’ve come and gone and lost interest, lost their edge, gone soft and gone shopping with the missus. Not Newman. Not yet. Where would he get rid of all that whatever it is that builds up during the working week? Where does anyone? In the gym? No, far too boring. Down the pub? Like his Granddad almost every day with a drink in his hand at the Bricklayers Arms in Maybush. Always with a fag on the go. That’s what got him in the end. Something’s got to. But sod that too.
Football was always the answer. School came in the 1980’s. They boxed and if you got caught well there was only one place you could go. Just like on Saturday afternoon. Sat down there in a heap in the mud. A set of studs imprinted on his ankle, looking up at the referee in disgust. "What d’you mean you didn’t fucking see it?" He runs it off, eventually. Later on the referee puts his head around the changing room door to apologise. He didn’t see it. Fair enough, he didn’t have to come over and say that. I wonder if Graham Poll’s ever done that. If he’s ever said sorry I missed it?
Hop get their equaliser late in the game. Two, three, four, five of them, swarmed around the referee; all wanting and needing to know how much time’s left. There wasn’t enough. Not for them. For Justin Newman and those who don't just love, but need the game of football, there will always be enough time for another Saturday afternoon on a muddy recreation field. For that you can be certain.