Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Letting yourself go

Keeping fit often feels like a losing battle, especially during Christmas time.

Each step up Lordswood Road's forty-five degree incline made me pay dearly in oxygen for every slice of dripping on toast I'd eaten, along with everything else, during the previous three days. It was a grey Monday afternoon and I had been out running up Hill Lane towards the Sports Centre in Southampton. Other than three kids having a kick about on the grass, and a thin scattering of obligatory dog walkers, it was pretty much empty. When I finally wheezed my way up to Lordswood Road's summit I was forced into realising that I wasn't as fit as I liked to believe.

It seemed like only yesterday when I was winning the Burridge cross country runs; but when I cast my mind back, yesterday was actually a balmy May evening in 2005, when I was forced into stopping in on the Humble Plumb, in Bitterne, and drink heartily from the cold water tap of the gents, during a two hour run, in preparation for the Siberian Marathon. Back then I could beat Kev Willsher, nowadays I'm getting fed up of seeing his back gradually disappear into the horizon.

Theoretically, there will be ample time for all players to keep (or get) fit, and avoid any nasty shock to the nervous system when we play again. No doubt Kev has been pounding the roads, increasing his lung capacity further, which considering his fondness for the smokes is a real two fingers up to the National Health Service. One player to benefit from the weather enforced break is Kristian Hewitt, who's not been able to play since October, after pulling up in training with a dodgy hamstring. As luck would have it, Burridge haven't played since November 6, meaning that Hewitt has only missed a single game.

Hewitt returned to training on the Thursday before Christmas, leaving the training field pretty content with his night's work. Stopping alongside Ryan Hurst, who was playing against Hewitt in a six-a-side game of young versus old, Hewitt's older team had run out 10-6 winners, and Hewitt had smashed in most of the goals. He acknowledged Hurst with a quick glance and said, “Don't worry, on days like this I'm unplayable.” He may have been teasing, but there was truth to what he said.

Thirty-nine minutes and seven seconds of discomfort was brought to an end when I ran within two hundred yards of my flat. I saw a pair of white canvass baseball boots, their laces tied together, that had been slung over a telephone wire that passed over the street, which if what I've heard is led to be believed, is a sign that either drug dealers are in town with a fresh supply, or they're marking their territory. As I regained my breath and walked home, I wondered if they had anything suitable for me. The one that's popular with cyclists, Ephedrine, sprang to mind.

Click here to see how each Burridge player did in the 2010 review.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Snow way to behave

Saturday's game at Hatches Farm with Wellow was postponed due to a frozen pitch, but that didn't stop Burridge enjoying an evening out in Bournemouth.

It is 7pm on Saturday evening and Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, is going through his pockets whilst sat in the driving seat of a hired mini bus. He has volunteered to drive us, the Burridge squad, down the M27 to Bournemouth for our Christmas night out, which he has organised. We are parked in a lay-by outside the West End Brewery, a pub in the eastern suburbs of Southampton, that we have just left, having spent the previous two hours in, stopping from time to time to point at the TV screen showing Ipswich Town play in a snow blizzard against Leicester City, whose manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, with the hood of his jacket pulled up over his head, looked unlikely to find the strength to make it through the night. We talk loudly between ourselves whilst jostling for a seat, and helping ourselves to cans of Fosters from the front seat, waiting for Dykey to set off; there's just one problem, he cannot find the keys to the ignition.

Wearing a green short sleeved shirt, despite the sub zero conditions, Dyke quickly singles out Ben Rowe, who is sat at the back of the bus, as his prime suspect. Rowe strongly denies all knowledge of the whereabouts of the keys, insisting that the bus had been left unlocked. The squabble that follows between us all serves as a cast iron certainty that the 36 mile journey from West End to Bournemouth is going to be an arduous one, if indeed it gets going at all. Missing from the trip is Dan Allen, who is too young to drink, Kristian Hewitt, who is bed ridden with flu, and Paul Andrews, whose frank assessment was he really didn't fancy getting a mini-bus home at three in the morning with us lot. We are one passenger light in Dan Esfandiari, who after much deliberation finally decided on having a dump in the pub before setting off. On his way out he noticed the keys to the mini bus laying alongside the empty pint glasses on the dark pine table that we had stood surrounded around only minutes earlier. He handed them to Dyke through the driver side window. Finally we could get on with a night of reckless excess.

Bournemouth was chosen as our destination to minimise the chances of any Irish good-byes, whereupon those too drunk to continue their evening disappear into the night without so much as any warning or a reply on their mobile. We were bound together for the duration of the evening, for good or ill. Dyke remained adamant that if a single snow flake fell he would be obliged for reasons of safety to drive back. It didn't snow, but the conditions on the roads were still dicey after the dusting of snow we'd had earlier in the day, and at times our vehicle's tyres struggled to maintain any grip onto the road. Driving in these conditions can be a cause for concern for the driver, but with a bus full of drunk passengers on board you don't worry about having an accident, you fantasise about it.

The first place we visited was called the Brass House, a large bar thats lack of any other people inside it minimised the chances of getting into any bother. Kev Willsher fought manfully for the prize of most inappropriate footwear, in a pair of thin white canvass plimsolls, but narrowly lost out to Jason Wilson's black espadrilles, that naturally, he wore without any sock. Whilst they looked sharp with his non pleated cream chinos, they offered little to no grip on the pavements, that due to the weather conditions were closer in resemblance to an ice rink. The rest of the evening rapidly descended into the usual alcohol induced race to oblivion, so regrettably I am unable to divulge any further information. Hopefully, there will be some football to report on in the New Year. Happy Christmas.

Click here to see how each Burridge player faired in 2010.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Burridge in 2010

A change of manager, an injection of youth, and what some players are calling a fairly draconian penalty fine system have re-galvanised Burridge this year. So as 2010 draws to a close 90 Minutes of Burridge takes a look at what exactly each one of the current squad brings to the table.NB Saturday's game with Wellow at Hatches Farm has been postponed because of the snow, which means that our 1-1 draw at home to Forest Town on November 6th was effectively our last game of 2010. Click here to remind yourself of what a match report looked like.

Dan Allen
17 year old midfielder or full-back in the mould of Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm.

A quiet young man who maintains a strong social media presence on Facebook, with status updates you can rely upon for weighty insight into his inner most thoughts, like just how much Dan is looking forward to football training. It is here online, via the comments section, where he has developed a cutting put-down technique. We look forward to the day he's able to transfer these social skills into real life. Dan joined the club in the summer, and has demonstrated a surprising ability to drop his shoulder in order to beat his man. Rumoured to get a bit lively after one or two WKDs, the end of season night out will coincide nicely with his eighteenth birthday.

Paul Andrews
31 year old centre forward similar in grace to  former German international, Carsten Janker.

Employed with his family plumbing business, Paul has had a good year off the field after recently announcing he is soon to marry his beautiful fiancée, Kate. On the field he has not been so fortunate, with regular ailments to his back and knees limiting the wily old poacher to a handful of appearances. Did manage to make an impact in those games, scoring the winning goal against Warsash Wasps in April, as well as stepping into the breach when we needed a replacement goalkeeper at Hiltingbury. Still remains a dangerous customer in front of goal on the training pitch though, especially if you're a row of birch saplings growing the wrong side of the twenty-odd foot high perimeter fence at Hamble School. It's a little known fact that Andrews scored one of the greatest Burridge goals of all time, when he scored direct from the half-way line at Priory Park against Bishops Waltham during the Meon Valley Sunday League years, back in the days he played as right-back before reinventing himself as centre forward. 2011 will be his fourteenth year with the club.

Paul Dyke
31 year old manager with the hands on style used by the likes of a young non racist Big Ron Atkinson.

Teetotal accountant are not the juxtaposition of words that spring to mind when describing anything remotely exciting. However, Dyke is the exception to the rule. He hung up his size nine boots to concentrate on managing Burridge, a position he volunteered for after Pete Lyons' retirement at the end of last season. With a Facebook message thread between the players proving wholly inadequate in reaching any kind of decision to the club's future, Dyke's commitment in taking the vacant Burridge manager position on his return from holiday in New York was the difference between the side continuing or folding. He quickly arranged a meeting between a handful of core players on a Thursday evening in May at the Shamblehurst Barn, a Hungry Horse chain situated deep within the ever expanding housing estate of Grange Park. It was there over pints of Fosters and bags of Walkers crisps that Dyke successfully convinced those players that Burridge was a club worth staying at with him at the helm. He has since brought in a number of new younger players, and put us through our paces during a punishing, but rewarding pre-season training regime. He has been known to break his abstinence to get on it during stag weekends.

Daniel Esfandiari
 21 year old midfielder who invokes memories of former Portuguese international Rui Costa.

With his neatly combed head of luscious dark hair and well turned out appearance, Essy, as he is known, seems a little too flamboyant to work as a mechanic. Tall, athletic, toned, and completely ill equipped to deal with any physical aspect of game, Essy is living proof that no book should ever be judged by its cover. He prefers to operate in the skillful side of the game, and has a genuine ability to send Beckham-esque deliveries into opponent's penalty areas from either flank, which is a weapon that as a team we really ought to capitalise, (not to mention utilise) far more often.

Lee Fielder
31 year old striker who plays of the defender's shoulder like Italian, Filippo Inzaghi. 

The fact he excels in both the long and short distance running exercises in training only serves to fuel the ridicule from his fellow players for his inability to play for the full ninety minutes of Burridge matches. A series of niggling injuries accumulated over the years being the root cause of this. Full of questions, usually for Ben Rowe, who can often be heard at the West End Brewery explaining his Christian beliefs to Fielder, who for those that don't know him well enough might be led to believe from the series of low cut tight T-shirts he wears, that his own beliefs don't stretch to anything other than his reflection in the mirror. A good finisher.

Kristian Hewitt
31 year old all rounder who strikes the ball like Johnny Metgod but dribbles like Michael Laudrup.

Has scored a fine collection of truly wonderful goals in his thirteen years playing with Burridge. They tend to be hit with power from long range. I remember his first special goal for the club. It came from thirty-five yards in Waterlooville on a sunny Sunday afternoon against Lynx. I was the first to congratulate, and failed miserably to life him from the ground. The South Hants Weekly were moved to call it the goal of the game in their 175 word report. That newspaper is no longer in print.

Sam Hewitt
21 year old like Chris Waddle in his Marseille hay-day if he was a full-back rather than a winger.

It took Sam, the youngest of the four Hewitt brothers, a little time to discover his best position. He was plying his trade as a budding centre forward when 2008 became 2009, during which time he was some distance from reaching his goal target of twenty, that he had set in the presence of his brother, Jamie, during the previous summer. In actual fact, Sam didn't open his account for the season until February at Hatches Farm against Wellow, with a goal that put him level in the scoring charts with Mark Reeves. It was his ability to read the game and weave past opponents that has allowed him to slot very nicely into the right-back position. Has also put in strong performance across the midfield. At 21 Sam finds himself with four years of Burridge playing experience in his locker.

Joe Hill
28 year old striker whose performances remind of Jon Dahl Tomasson, when he was at Newcastle.

A pest, both on and off the field, this painter and decorator by day, but striker come Saturday afternoon, is a friendly sort who is packed to the rafters with an abundance of confidence. To the causal passer by watching us play this level of confidence might seem a bit misplaced. Deceptively quick over ten yards, Joe would have had more goals to his name had it not been for a combination of the woodwork and some fairly wayward finishing. Another of Dyke's summer acquisitions, Joe has been unfortunate enough to see his strikes rebound of the underside of the bar and post three times already this season. 

Ryan Hurst
20 year old centre-half in the mould of Barcelona's Gerard Pique.

 Alongside Kev Willsher, Hursty makes up the fulcrum of central defence. Opened his scoring account with a fine headed equaliser at Gang Warily against Forest Town; a shame then that it was scored in his own net. Thought long and hard about what he would get done for his first tattoo, then after all that he decided to get LUFC, the initials of Leeds United Football Club, inked on his arm. He continues to acquit himself well in his debut season with the club.

Ryan Jones
20 year old goalkeeper whose performances very reminiscent of a young Fabian Barthez

His 2009/10 season came to a premature end on an overcast Wednesday evening in May, at Green Park, Millbrook. Those not there that night need only to remind themselves of the scene in the Empire Strikes Back, when Chewbacca gathers together the broken pieces of C-3P0 on Bespin Cloud city, to get an idea of what happened to Jonesy during that game with Redbridge. He originally decided to pack in the goalkeeping game, but soon turned his back on the advice of the medial profession, coming back to pre-season stacked, after regular visits to the gym. Although his recent tendency to go totally bat shit when team mates don't track back to help defend has caused some to wonder if he washing down those gym visits with a handful of the 'roids. Great reflexes, fond of karaoke, and very popular with the the cougars. 

Marc Judd
30 year old midfielder with the deft touch and mean streak of Hristo Stoichkov.

Burridge's little ray of sunshine is seldom seen without a lit cigarette hanging from his lips. His tremendous left foot was once responsible for a pitch invasion. This after he had scored a free-kick at Whiteley against Durley to tie the score at 4-4 that completed an astonishing Burridge come back in a game that they were losing four goals to nil at the back end of last season. (NB Five drunk men running onto the field of play constitutes a pitch invasion in the Southampton League.) Often on the receiving end of Kristian Hewitt's taunts. Drives a giant yellow DHL van, but unless I hear differently this is not a motivating factor for Hewitt.

Mark Reeves
30-something midfield war horse who reminds me of Steve McMahon.

With his black Adidas Copa Mundial size nines, Reevesy is a tough tackling member of the old school. On a purely personal level I still feel violated from being nutmegged by Reeves down on the left flank in a training game amongst ourselves and Wildern Old Boys during pre-season. Just to prove that this wasn't a fluke Reeves nutmegged again shortly after coming on as a substitute against league leaders Netley, a feat that surprised several teenage spectators, if their audible gasps where anything to go by, as well as Reeves himself. 

Ben Rowe
27 year old striker like Adriano without the unsavoury nightclub incidents.

The former estate agent from Kent hasn't looked back since making his debut at Allotment Road against Priory Rovers in early 2006. The almost five years since have passed by in the blink of an eye. A big, powerful centre forward, once he's built up a head of steam Rowe is very difficult to stop without the use of a tranquillizer dart. Very often forgets to bring his own toiletries with him, leaving him to rely on the kindness of strangers in the post match shower.

Sam Schwodler
28 year old striker plays in the spirit of Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh.

Facebook status often reads as 'scores goals,' whereby when I log into Facebook I'm told by none other than Sam Schwodler himself, that Sam Schwodler scores goals. This posting tends to draw a fair bit of traffic to his Facebook page, with friends replying with comments like, 'at an appalling ratio of shots.' Bagged his best ever total of goals last season with 15, has 10 already this season. Found a new way to be sent off after getting a red card for simulation, which in old money means diving.

Kev Willsher 
32 year old centre back and club captain in shape of 1990 world cup winner Jurgen Kohler.

Remains quite insistent on not eating beef, but never been known to shirk any kind of challenge on the field of play. His silver Ford Focus still patiently awaits a replacement passenger side wing mirror. Kev likes Nurofen almost as much as likes strong lager, and  I've grown to get sick of the sight of his back as he has continued to beat me comfortably in every single one of 2010's Burridge training runs. This year Kev has bled more than a gangtsa rapper after a drive by; found himself in the wars, with one memorable concussion down at Green Park.

Jason Wilson
30 year old midfielder who plays just like Rino Gattuso.

Water carrier, ankle biter, and midfield anchor man; rumour has it that Jason owes his cardiovascular stamina to running his daily post round with his heavy Royal Mail pack on his back. Daniel Esfandiari caught sight of Wilson on the job last week delivering around Thornhill in his shorts and T-shirt. Unfortunately he wasn't able to able to confirm the rumour, because according to Essy, Wilson had emptied the contents of his sack onto the pavement, and was busy bent over trying to clear up his mess. A problem many gentleman can identify with I'm sure.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Road runner

Whereby training at Hamble School was cancelled for the second consecutive week because of the frozen conditions.....

My penis is the size of a walnut after the cold shower I've just had. It's 8:30pm and probably too late to make another telephone call to Solitaire, the property management company in charge of the maintenance of my block flats, who have already exposed their indifference to geothermal power's failure to run hot water to my shower during any spell of cold weather. Rather than fix the problem Solitaire far prefer writing letters to me about how to dispose refuse correctly, that always begin – Dear Resident.

Hamble school telephoned me out of courtesy this afternoon to say they were cancelling this evening's training session for the second week running because their Astro-Turf pitch was frozen. The caller, who did not give me the benefit of their surname, was quick to duck all responsibility when I enquired about a credit note for the previous two cancelled sessions we have already paid for. He instead referred me to Linda Heaver, whom I have never met, but have reason to believe is reliable, if her regular posted correspondence is anything to go by. Invoices have been sent to me in good time, as have reminders of our contract, stating that the wearing of any kind of studded footwear on the Astro-Turf would result in immediate cancellation of our booking. Whether she studies CCTV footage or relies upon a team of moles to spy upon us from the bushes in order to discover anyone wearing studded footwear remains a mystery. She had signed off by wishing us a Merry Christmas and successful New Year. Linda was now on leave.

Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, text us with alternative training arrangements. We would meet at Botley Recreation Ground at 7:30pm for what he described as a good old fashioned road run. This is a tough sell. Without a football in sight I was intrigued to see who would turn up. Not that this session was optional. We've nicked a number of last minute goals this season – Sam Schwodler's winner at Gang Warily against Forest Town, Sam Hewitt's equaliser at BTC, and Dan Esfandiari's late goal at home to Hythe Aztecs; none of which came as any coincidence to Paul Dyke, who takes pride in our fitness, which has been gained through five months of regular sessions. He wasn't going to allow a spot of bad weather whittle away the team's fitness to nothing.

Dyke knows that fitness is a personal responsibility, and therein often lies the root of the problem. I'm lucky enough to have access to a communal gym, situated in the bowels of my flat complex, but I seldom use it. The experience of running on a treadmill, which is effectively running on the spot in front of a mirror, is something I find extremely unrewarding. One of my neighbours knocked on my door for the code to get into this gym, which is strange as he normally goes to reasonable lengths to avoid all conversation with me. With his usual gym closed due to bad weather he was forced to get his fitness fix queuing up with all the other residents. I prefer to run outdoors, you can go whenever you want and there's no membership fee. Although until the last few days running outside would have been dangerous without a pair of tennis rackets attached to the soles of my shoes.

I went to collect the training gear from Kev Willsher on Monday night. It had been in his car for well over a week. Seeing the yellow training bibs spilling out the football bag in the back seat of his Ford Focus led me to assume that either he'd been cycling to work or he has no sense of smell. Kev was at work. He told me to pop across the street to his flat and get his car keys from his bedroom. They were on a chest of drawers alongside a post-it note, two lighters and a packet of cigarettes. It's no secret that Kev is fond of an occasional puff, much like Zinedine Zidane and Johan Cruyff, but what with it only being a ten pack of Benson and Hedges, and that he hadn't taken them to work confirmed that smoking was merely a recreational pursuit. Not that smoking effected Kev, he still left me for dead in tonight's running.

The ten to arrive at Botley were, Dan Allen, Paul Dyke, Lee Fielder, Kristian Hewitt, Marc Judd, Mark Reeves, Ben Rowe, Kev Willsher, Jason Wilson and myself. A pretty reasonable showing. Marc Judd rubbished me for wearing tracksters beneath my shorts, which to the uninitiated are skin tight Lycra running trousers. There's safety in numbers, so I was pleased to see both Jason Wilson and Mark Reeves wear similar items.We ran a brisk pace of two laps around the village, which came to just under three miles, the second lap of which felt considerably tougher on my calf muscles than the first when trying to keep up with the chasing pack of Jason Wilson, Kev Willsher, Lee Fielder and Dan Allen. This was followed by a flat out kilometre dash to Texaco, on the Maypole round-about and back again. Jason Wilson led from the front in both races. On completion, Dyke fed us all with Haribo sweets, (apparently they release sugar that's good for recovery. They taste nice too). We're due to host Durley on Saturday, but with frosty conditions forecast it's unclear if play will go ahead.

Verdict: 17/20

Scores: 1-9 time to take a long hard look at yourself, 10-11 get Paul Andrews back in the squad, pronto, 12 ok, 13 respectable, 14 worked hard, 15 good - Dejan Savicevic, 16 touch of class - Socrates, 17 capable of greatness - Michael Laudrup, 18 wonderful - Marco Van Basten , memorable - Johan Cruyff, 20 as good as it gets

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Anyone have any toilet paper?

Whereupon I review the facilities on offer at a football ground.

This week: Green Park, Millbrook

No football playing experience in Southampton is truly complete without a visit to Millbrook's Green Park. As well as playing for Burridge on Saturday afternoons, I also ply my trade turning out on Sunday Mornings for CFC Hillyfields, who just so happened to be playing at Green Park a few days ago, which encouraged me to review the council owned ground with some degree of objectivity it never seems to get from so many other local footballers who choose to vilify the place as nothing but pikey. Situated off the A33 flyover in Millbrook, the ground has four pitches that are home to all number of teams, who have no real ground of their own to speak of. So, let's take a look at what Green Park has to offer:


First thing I like to do when I get to Green Park is have a crap. Like the vast majority of Sunday morning players, I had got out of bed only minutes before driving to the ground. The previous night's consumption of wood pigeon (starter), steak (cooked rare), and goats cheese (dessert), washed down with Guinness and red wine, made this particular morning's visit absolutely imperative.

Plaudits must be given to the council for including a disabled toilet in their changing room designs, which is one of two toilet cubicles on offer. It certainly gets well used if the pebble dashed stains all over the basins are anything to go by. The locks work too, which is by no means a given at all local football grounds.

Toilet paper is scarce in these parts, so you would do well to bring your own. I hadn't. In the past I've been fortunate. A good friend of mine, Andrew Jopling, once sacrificed one of his Donnay socks, the left if memory serves, that he passed underneath the partition wall in order for me to carry out my necessary duties. This kind of generosity is unusual and should not be relied upon. Socks were unnecessary on this occasion.

Changing rooms

The high barred windows give off a vibe of mock 70's prison chic, which is set off against the delicious irony of the premise's relaxed security. It's worth reminding yourself that it's best to take any valuables with you if you wish to ever set eyes on them again.

The five by five foot shower tray gives you ample opportunity to mix with players from all eight teams. Wash the mud off to your heart's content whilst listening to local raconteurs discussing various criminal activity from petty violence to full blown GBH. It's strongly recommended you don't leave your shower gel bottles on the floor if you're at all squeamish about having a stranger's penis flapping around in your face.

Eating out and entertainment

If you have been drinking you may feel peckish, in which case you're in luck, as there are a two very well known restaurants within easy walking distance, both of which offer the local delicacy; they are McDonald's, (feeling a bit ropey you can always get a sausage and egg mcmuffin down you before kick-off), and for the more adventurous amongst you - KFC. If you're very lucky you may even catch a glimpse of one of the many locals. Sunday's game was momentarily halted in the second half as two masked men charged across the pitch on motorbikes, pulling wheelies. Sadly, no one was killed.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Unofficial winter break

No game for a third straight week for Burridge AFC

It was gone two on Saturday afternoon and a single degree shy of freezing outside, good enough reason to turn down my brother's offer of driving down the M27 to watch last season's Burridge top scorer, Bryn Schwodler, play for Hedge End. One look outside showed few people had left home without a woolly hat of some kind. I have a fur deerstalker for such occasions, but saw no reason in using it today when there was a Lion bar in the kitchen cupboard and a warm place on the sofa with my name on it.

Burridge captain, Kev Willsher, took my brother up on his offer. Being glued to the Ashes series has bitten a large chunk out of his sleep, resulting in him arriving at the office for a day's graphic designing on little more than four hour's shut eye. I called him to see how Bryn was doing. It was half-time and Kev was sat in the car. Burridge centre forward, Sam Schwodler, was parked alongside in his burgundy Fiesta, inappropriately dressed for the weather in a thin jacket. Apparently Bryn looked lively and had a few goalscoring chances.

Bryn left Burridge in the close season to try his hand playing at a higher level. The bitter weather had made some spectators think twice about coming to the Rodway; but being both a Hampshire League game, and a local derby with Botley, there were still more people watching then we tend to get on any given Saturday afternoon. I remember ten years ago and more, going on holiday with Bryn to places like Magaluf and Faliraki, when we'd be goofing around by the pool, and how it was virtually impossible to push Bryn into the water. Gifted with a low centre of gravity he was always able to pivot off of the ball of either foot and scamper away to safety. Kev reserved his most damning criticism for a Botley centre back for wearing a snood around his neck. Hedge-end went three up in the ten minutes before half-time. Sam Schwodler had disappeared to the pub by the time Hedge End had scored a fourth. My brother and Kev followed shortly. Coming home and warming their arses on the radiator.

This unofficial annual break recharges our batteries, as well as giving players the chance to get totally ratted on a Friday evening without fear of the consequences. Although today it was just a break in the schedule rather than bad weather that stopped us from playing. A quick glance at the Southampton league tables shows we are where we always seem to be – smack bang in the middle. Netley are top, having played the same amount of games as us and double the points. Michelmersh Reserves have turned their back on a history of being hopeless. Last season they lost 23 of their 24 league games. So far in 2010/11 they've won more games than we have. Not that the past should count for anything, but once you do something, even for a short period of time, the public start expecting it of you forever.

I had missed Thursday night's training session. Dykey ran the guys into ground while I ate steak and drank whiskey with my dad to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. I subsequently learnt that during the end of session game, Jonesy had launched into a four letter word fuelled rant at team mates for not tracking back to help defend his goal. The twenty year old now has the final characteristic of the greatest goalkeepers, cantankerism. Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, never one to waste an opportunity, had spent the afternoon checking out Netley against Hare and Hounds, and Allbrook versus Sholing. In the cut and thrust of the Southampton League there is no rest for the manager.

Click here so see the current Southampton League tables.

Monday, 22 November 2010

November Rain

It was the telephone that woke me at around 11:30 on Saturday morning. It was a text message from Burridge manager, Paul Dyke. The game was off. The game was off last week too. It tends to rain a lot at this time of year, and the pitch was waterlogged. The phone rang before I could go back to sleep. The moment to bask in this newly found popularity passed me by as I noticed I'd left my phone on the radiator over night. Blackberries are nothing if not resilient, but the thing was never destined to be the same again. Do mobile phone manufacturers ever test their products on radiators? Probably not. I scribbled this idea down and put it with all my others:

  • Tell Puma their football boots really ought to be able to last more than two months.
  • Write back to Ann Wallace, editor of Flybe's in-flight magazine, and ask her to reconsider my proposed article on the best places to play Russian roulette on New Year's Eve in Malaga.
  • Pitch your idea to Coca-Cola, on a largely untapped market, about a collaboration with Jack Daniels to release the JD and Coke in a can. (Not to my tastes, but I think it would sell.) 

There were plenty of other ideas too, just that I couldn't read the rest of my hand-writing. It was Barrie Becheley on the telephone. He's the Burridge chairman. He formed the club back in 1989, and wanted to make sure that Paul Dyke got his message that the game was off. I said he had. Barrie runs the Burridge Sunday morning side. They have the Burridge crest on the chest of their shirts. The Burridge crest is a red brick castle. I was curious what business red brick castles had on Burridge shirts. Barrie told me that the word Burridge actually means fortress, which is kind of like a castle. I told Barrie I'd drop his money off to him soon. He said there was no rush.

    I collect our team's subscription fees. They cover our running costs; things like pitch and referee fees, medical equipment and stuff like that. I've even got a bank account with HSBC to pay the money into. I don't know if it's my sheepskin jacket, or on this occasion, the four-pack of Fosters in a carrier bag that I rested upon on the counter, but once again the staff at HSBC asked if I was a signature on the account. They speak in the same slow tone I imagine custom officers do when asking if you've packed your bag, knowing full well you've got an ounce of Afghan Whig stashed in the lining of the side pocket. I tell them I am the only signature on the account. This being true doesn't stop me from getting nervous. I usually end up twiddling the thin silver chain that holds their Biros prisoner to the counter. I usually have to sign a bit of paper to prove I'm legit.

    Despite having a signature with all the imagination of a straight line, one look at it is enough to satisfy HSBC. By this time the queue behind me is massive. It's not just the bank, they're not crazy about me at Co-op. Even in the heady days of 2010, some people get ants in their pants when you ask for large silver Rizla and a bottle of red before eleven in the morning. Neither items were for me, I hasten to add. Not that that old chestnuts holds any water with these puritans. And Bukowski thought he had it tough in Post Office.

    Barrie's friendly manner may have taken a slight turn had he known that the only thing keeping me from what I consider naked was a pair of thick winter socks. I didn't drop that into our conversation. I was no more likely to share that information than I was revealing to him that whilst we spoke, albeit on the phone, I had a rather stubborn half mast. I'd rather that hadn't happened, but there it was, gaining height and all the while robbing me of my dignity as I tried my utmost to maintain pleasantries with our chairman.

    With no game I had time on my hands. I put on some music and some clothes and went out, stopping by at my local off license. They're called Cloud Wine. An independent store with a nice vibe about the place so when you do buy hard liquor you don't get made to feel like you have a problem, that in my experience you are made to feel like at say Threshers. Cloud Wine do this BY creating an atmosphere. Beethoven's fourth symphony was followed by the Misfits. I think it was Hybrid Moments. Sadly, they no longer have the monopoly on the Bedford Place area of Southampton. As well as a mini Tesco and Sainsbury's to contend with, there's also a Champagne Charlies down the road. This is a big draw for the students because they're open until midnight. Not that I would know because I have never set foot in the place.

    I know the guys at Cloud Wine. With his thick dark beard, Justin is a living answer for anyone wondering what Brian Blessed would have looked like if he joined The Doors. I hovered around the cash register eyeing up the Monkey Shoulder. Justin told me to keep my eyes peeled as they were bringing in a batch of Japanese whiskey in a week or so. I asked if it was any good. He told me by all accounts it was very good. He was fresh out of a fortnight spent in Southampton General with blood poisoning in his arm. His boredom was cured when his girlfriend brought in his laptop so he could watch the last series of The Wire. I left Cloud Wine empty handed.

    If nothing else, this week has taught me how to rattle Burridge skipper, Kev Willsher. Drive like an arsehole. It was on the way to training, and I was making a right turn out of Portsmouth Road toward Hamble. I was let out by an oncoming vehicle. My windows were a little steamed up so I couldn't see what was driving on the outside of that vehicle, but being an optimist, I felt my chances were as good as fifty-fifty, so I pulled out; the result of which was two-fold. The car passing on the blind side had to hit the breaks, and Kev was left jabbering like a nervous wreck.

    Click on any words in blue to go to something that might go some way to explain what I'm talking about. That just about leaves time for me to say Happy Twenty-First Birthday, to Burridge superstar - Sammy Hewitt (pictured to the right of Burridge centre-half, Ryan Hurst). Just where does the time go? 


    Saturday, 13 November 2010

    Burridge AFC 1-1 Forest Town

    Saturday 6th November, Southampton Senior Division One, The Shed, Botley Road, Burridge

    Kev Willsher told me to try and be ready for 12:20pm. His eyes are still black from getting kicked in the face during last week's game with Michelmersh. He's been lying low ever since; flicking through the sports pages of the tabloids with the lounge curtains shut tight. Strangers draw their own conclusions when they see a man with the bridge of his nose taped together. That doesn't sit well with Kev. A few weeks back he burnt a layer of flesh clean off his wrist after leaning down on his kitchen stove. Some, including himself, say it was an accident; but I have my reservations. I know he holds a grudge with his iPhone. The top of the screen is caved in. It never stood a chance against concrete. When people notice the state of his phone they ask if he's going to get it fixed. He always says no. If you're going to cross him be prepared to wear the scars. To put it simply, Kev Willsher is not a man to be fucked with. When he said try and be ready for 12:20pm, I made sure I was.

    Marc Judd has his penalty kicked saved in the first half (pic by LDS)
     I like to spend Saturday mornings lying in bed listening to the cars go by outside. Today was different. It was time to get dressed and remember what money smelt like. I forgot my PIN number three weeks ago, so HSBC posted it to me in a letter. They needn't have bothered, it didn't work. No matter, I thought. So what if the contents of my kitchen cupboards amount to little more than half a bag of monkey nuts and a jar of peanut butter. A trolley load of groceries were small beans compared to putting one up Forest Town. Here was a team used to getting their own way. The Southampton Football Association have allowed them to keep the Southampton Junior Cup after they won it for the third successive year in April. No team has done that in 100 years of competition. We'd beaten them 3-2 a few weeks ago. They didn't like it and one or two of them had tickets on themselves. One even played wearing a pair of black gloves. I'd sooner wear lingerie, at least I'd get something from it.

    Men in suits on the TV are calling this the age of austerity. It turned out I needed a dictionary a great deal more than a man in a suit describing the weather outside my window. Even so, less money has led to a change in our shopping habits: you've ditched Asda for Netto, toilet paper is less durable than it used to be, and things like kitchen roll are just an extravagance of the past. Just what would we do without Primark? In the case of Forest Town's goalkeeper the answer would be playing football in underpants. His green goalkeeping jersey was tucked into a pair of grey jogging pants, which drew many Burridge followers, including the injured Kristian Hewitt, into flat out laughing at him. Tracksuit bottoms have come a long way since Rocky. He wore them because he had little other choice, Sport Direct didn't exist yet. In the years since the jogging pant has come to represent not sporting endeavour, but a combination of blim holes, low quality hash and daytime TV.

    Essy has words with the referee. The referee wins.
    Sam Schwodler got every Forest Town player's back up when he found one of their legs to fall over. They said it was cheating. The referee said it was a penalty. When Greg Baker was around this meant a certain Burridge goal. He never missed. Sixteen straight penalties all scored. There are only two yards of green carpet that separate the front door of his flat from mine. It was the Tuesday after the Forest Town game and I was back from a run, coughing my guts up as I walked back down our corridor. There it was on the floor outside his front door, all what was left of Greg's stuff. A cardboard box filled with coat hangers. His dad was clearing out the last of Greg's stuff before he moves to London. Greg's dad used to referee our games as kids. There in the corridor we spoke about the flats' thermostat, (that neither Greg nor I have the faintest idea how to work), and the management company of the flats, Solitaire, who the fire department threatened with closing our block of flats down if they didn't fix something that could have killed us all but was never fully explained in the subsequent paperwork.

    All the while I was stuck with the image of his Dad's cock. Greg had told me, with that snorting laughter of his, how he'd been flicking through his parent's holiday snaps - innocuous shots of this and that, then all of a sudden bingo, bold as brass, there it was, a photo of his Dad in his hotel room with his mouse out the house. It still raises a smile whenever I mention it to Greg, but I chose not to mention it to his Dad on this occasion. Greg has missed a lot of games due to work. Now he has finally moved to London. In his absence Justin Newman, Kristian Hewitt and now Marc Judd have all failed to score a penalty. Ten years ago Judd was playing for Bashley alongside Jimmy Case and Wade Elliott. (Click here to see Jimmy in his pomp.) Judd hit his penalty kick well enough, smacking it with his trusty left foot, but Forest Town's 'keeper dived low to his left and pushed the ball away.

    It was tough luck on Martin Barnet, starting his first game for us, who headed the ball into his own net to make the score 1-1. This goal was the result of umpteen corner kicks and crosses into our penalty area, during which our every tackle on Forest Town caused them to crowd around the referee and pester him for our players to be booked. All in all a draw was probably fair. Few were happy with the temperature of the post match showers, which were described by some of our players as freezing cold. I prefer to call them bracing. They provided an invigorating experience, the perfect tonic to anyone battling with rising sap. Once we'd cleaned up we headed to The West End Brewery. They cooked us up a big plate load of beef-burgers and chips. This didn't fit with Kev Willsher's dietary requirements. Kev doesn't eat beef. He made do with a plate full of chips. I really ought to warn the chef.

    Click here for the current Southampton Senior Division league tables.


    Saturday, 6 November 2010

    Michelmersh & Timsbury 3-2 Burridge AFC

    Saturday 30th October, Timsbury Recreation Ground

    By the time the game was over the rain had passed. I was struggling to peel my shirt off when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was from a man with a head full of swept back white hair. Alongside him stood the referee, who'd warned me three times during the game before eventually showing me a yellow card. She was much younger than he was. Either she was his daughter or there was a more sinister element to their relationship, all aside one that had my full approval.

    Michelmersh score very late on (pic by LDS)
    As anyone will tell you, I have a high moral code on the football pitch and conduct myself in the manner of a gentleman. So naturally my booking wasn't for something as unsavoury as bad language. It was for persistent foul play. She had a pencil with a pink eraser on one end. As she booked me I watched her write my name in her little black notebook. Not only did she ignore the lines in her notebook, she didn't press the lead down very hard on the paper either, leaving my name scrawled sideways in faint capitals. She even apologised, which I thought was nice. In my opinion, any referee gung-ho enough to just jot my name down willy-nilly with something as temporary as a pencil, is probably capable of going to bed with a far older man. There was no doubt in my mind, she was a maverick.

    Unfortunately, we live in a world whereby a man cannot be tapped on the shoulder without suspicion of impending violence. Without so much as a set of keys I put my faith in my bare hands. My mind was put at ease when I noticed he was armed only with a Thermos flask. In my experience those who use Thermos flasks are a gentle people. My intuition served me well and I relaxed in the knowledge I didn't have to fight with an old man after ninety gruelling minutes of football. Losing would have been difficult for my ego.

    “Just how did you lose that game?” He asked me. At first I wondered if he was taking the piss, then I remembered he was carrying a Thermos flask. As a rule those who use Thermos aren't ones to make snide remarks. I shrugged. I didn't know the answer. I ended up giving him a really boring reply like some of the jerk footballers on the telly. “You completely monopolised the second half,” he continued, as we made our way to Michelmersh's timber clubhouse. That was true. “If Michelmersh's keeper hadn't of made those cracking saves it might have been different.” Michelmersh's first came after about fifteen seconds. The player who scored it will not hit one sweeter this season. Maybe not ever. From then on their peckers were well and truly up, which in my opinion is the best way to have them. We had our work cut out.

    Kev Willsher is Burridge captain. He's an uncompromising footballer who leads by example, but in my opinion he'd make a lousy boxer, he bleeds way to easy. It's becoming an almost weekly occurrence. On reflection it's what tends to happen when you throw your head where people are kicking their feet. If the blood running down his face represents his commitment to the cause, then his nose is his Victoria cross. That conk of his has seen plenty of action. Marc Judd had equalised twice and was very unfortunate not to complete his hat-trick, as he saw his header bounce back off Michelmersh's crossbar. We'd all live to rue that because Michelmersh scored a third late on. Time was our enemy.

    Some of the younger lads took the defeat hard. I remember when I was their age. It was ten years ago and I was working in a call centre for a large health insurance company where vaginal prolapse and adult circumcision were a daily occurrence. The job wasn't all laughs though. Having my days filled with calls from other seriously ill people provided my young self with unwelcome stress. As a consequence I hit the bottle. Some days I'd be unable to face anymore calls, so I'd sit at my desk with my headset on but unplugged, making conversations up with imaginary policy holders as to appear busy. If memory serves I got quite good at it.

    There was a man who worked with me who was undergoing chemotherapy. He got a lot of time off. The sympathy ran dry when it turned out he had made the whole thing up. People in the office were really angry when they found out. I thought if anything it showed he was far sicker than any of us ever imagined. Despite it all, I still liked him; he had charisma. He was fired on the spot and I never saw him again. If there's any wisdom I picked up from that period of my life, it's don't take acid on a cold Tuesday night in November. Getting sent home from work the next day won't stop spoons from judging you. I didn't pass this nugget on to our younger players, I didn't think it was appropriate. We went back to the West End Brewery for our sausage and chips.

    Saturday, 30 October 2010

    Burridge AFC 2-2 Hythe Aztecs

    Saturday 23rd October, The Shed, Burridge

    Jason Wilson's toenails glistened like a shoal of tropical fish against the brown backdrop of nylon carpet. He pulled off his Converse All-Stars, looked down at his feet, and lapsed into a momentary bout of self consciousness. To his left was our club medical bag, its plastic zipper broken long ago by the crammed contents of mostly empty cannisters of pharmaceuticals, all manufactured to mask pain, not remove nail polish. He had chosen a subtle blend of light blue and orange shades; the kind that say: I believe in the healing power of crystals.

    Wilson stood in front of the showers waiting for an interrogation from his fellow players. It never came. Perhaps for fear of what answers it might dig up. So one man's attempt at injecting a little of the bohemian spirit into the dressing room was ignored. Probably for the best. It could take some time before it catches on with the likes of Sam Hewitt, who is far more at home with an Elizabeth Duke bicycle chain around his neck, than he is raiding his girlfriend's make-up drawers for blusher.

    An iPod nano sat in its docking bay on the dressing room's high window sill. Despite singing about sex and drugs, Mick Jagger wasn't getting through to the younger lads, so Kristian Hewitt stuck the Rocky soundtrack on. Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, was forced into shuffling his pack. A dodgy knee sustained against Sholing prevented Ryan Hurst from playing, while Ben Rowe's hamstring tweak was a good week or so from full repair. Aztecs bought with them down the M27 a cavalier and attractive style of play, but whether or not they were worth a first-half 1-0 lead was dubious as we fluffed a slew of reasonably good goal scoring chances. The frustration at not taking any of these opportunities began spilling out in cross words between us. But just where else can you call friends useless fucking wankers at the top of your voice for missing the target? In an ever dwindling list the football pitch remains a reliable outlet for doing so.

    Going up from eight to ten quid has done nothing to stop our lot incurring the Hampshire Football Association's fine for getting booked by referees. Marc Judd, Kristian Hewitt ad Sam Schwodler had all been given yellow cards for dissent, when Mark Reeves was given what he later described as the worst booking he's ever received, and a complete waste of £10. He could have given me the money and I would have washed his car, or better still darned his underpants, for the white pair with red piping he chooses to wear for football matches leave very little to the imagination, but do at least provide an ample view of the soft pink wrinkles of his scrotum.

    Reeves, who my brother and I have already decided would be played by Matt Damon in Burridge the Movie, (it's all there in the eyes and the cheeks, if not the hair), got involved in a bitchy conversation with the referee. With both parties eager to get in the last word, it went something like this:

    Referee: “Why don't you put a lid on it?”
    Reeves: “Tell you what, why don't we both stop?”
    Referee: “No, why don't you stop?”
    Reeves: “Like I said, why don't we both stop?” It ended with the referee asking for Reeves' name and giving him a yellow card. In some countries this technique is called foreplay, and it certainly did Tom Hanks' character no harm in films like You Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle.

    It was Reeves who took the photograph of me in this post with his smart phone. Opposition don't tend to like going near blood. The bleeding all came from an innocuous bash to head. Paul Dyke was kind enough to stick two bits of bandage up my hooter and off I went. Bleeding in sport has much the same effect of being naked in public, as my brother was in the early hours on the the rather grotty beach in Kavos seven years ago. Another holiday maker, not as liberal as our intoxicated rabble of anything-goers, was disgusted to the extent he wanted to fight my brother, who, delighted in this proposition, span his todger round and round like a propeller blade, and promptly chased the man down the beach. Nobody wants to fight the naked man.

    One Hythe goal became two after a neat volley. I spared Ryan Jones the indignity of picking the ball from his own net. I could see Kristian Hewitt out the corner of my eye about to blow his top. Running around the astroturf at Hamble School on Thursday evenings now means that shooting up the slope against a two-nil deficit with twenty minutes left is not an impossible task. With the finishing line in sight, Hythe capitulated in the autumn sun. Sam Schwodler, who else, who scored his tenth goal of the season. We dashed back to half way line. Both teams asked the referee how long was left. Not long. A Hythe defender, partially blinded by panic made the mistake of hitting the ball towards his own keeper. The ball ricocheted out to Esfandiari, who guided the ball toward goal. It rolled over the unguarded line in slow motion.

    Sam Schwodler now had the bit between his teeth. He sauntered past the goalkeeper and fell over. The referee ran towards him and pulled out his yellow card, Sam's second of game, followed by his red and sent Sam off. The referee got a good old earful after that. How could be certain that Sam had dived? The final whistle went to sound another spirited Burridge come back. Hythe's linesman had our sympathy, insisting that it was definite a penalty. Hythe's centre half disagreed, promising me that Schwodler had taken a dive. Taking into consideration the referee's fee, and our bookings, it was a good £75 down the swanny, but a vital point gained.

    Burridge lined up in a 4-4-2 formation:

    GK:Jones, LB:K.Hewitt, CB:S.Hewitt, CB:Willsher, RB: Sanderson (Allen), RM:Reeves (Barnett), CM:Wilson, CM:Esfandiari, LM: Judd, CF:Schwodler, CF:Hill (Fielder)


    Sunday, 24 October 2010

    Burridge AFC 4-0 Sholing Sports

    Saturday 16th October, The Shed, Burridge

    Burridge played hosts to Sholing Sports, who much like ourselves, have introduced many new personel since their last meeting on a Monday evening in April.

    It was a little after five on Saturday morning when Sam Schwodler decided to call it a night. He chose Marc Judd's bed. It was empty. He'd spent the previous evening drinking with Judd's brother, Kev, at the Dolphin; a Hungry Horse chain pub in Botley High-Street, whose every conceivable surface is currently being used to advertise their Christmas menu, featuring all the traditional dishes, as well as a 10 ounce rump steak, all seasoned with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks and terms and conditions.

    Schwodler woke up at around seven. He went home, packed his size eleven Adidas football boots into his kit bag, along with a vague sense of hope, rather than expectation, that October might give Burridge's football pitch its blessing and allow his metal studs to sink into its clay based earth, sparing the soles of his feet yet more blisters. Paul Dyke named him in his starting line-up to play up-front with Ben Rowe. Schwodler went out and stretched like the rest of us, tested the strength of our goal nets with one or two pre-game strikes, then proceeded to score three of our four goals that afternoon. On the evidence presented on this bright Autumn Saturday afternoon, one would have to concede that Sam Schwodler's desire for sleep is secondary in his pursuit of goals.

    One of the first things he does after the game, if he has scored, is momentarily lose himself in the deep concentration of thumbing out a text message to his older brother Bryn. Bryn was our top goalscorer last season. He now lives high on the hog, playing for Hedge-End Rangers in the Hampshire League, where at half-time he'll be served a cup of tea, a wholly useless liquid for re-hydrating after 45 minutes haring around a football pitch, but confirmation, if needed, that he is playing at a higher echelon, where the hosts consider the needs of visiting teams. Bryn's enjoying his football at Hedge-End, and by all accounts he's playing well, but he's not scoring as many as Sam. Few are.

    Sam has begun this season in much the same way he finished the last, carrying out his duties in a hurry, but with a clear sense of purpose - like a man laden with his wife's shopping bags and desperate to get back to his car. His long sleeved Burridge jersey hangs untucked outside of his shorts and short wisps of fair hair dance in the breeze, demanding the ball in a grunt coming from somewhere deep within his gut. Ben Rowe scored the first. It was a trade-mark wallop with his right foot. Sadly, he was unable to complete the game after aggravating a hamstring injury. By half-time Schwodler had two goals to his name, as Sholing demonstrated a refusal to acknowledge that their defensive offside trap strategy was as about as effective as European immigration control. Our game was all the better for it.

    His third goal came in the second-half, after collecting a side-footed pass down the slope from Sam Hewitt and toe poking the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper. The handful of spectators, with their push chairs and winter coats, dotting the touchline, did nothing to dampen Schwodler's celebrations. His pleasure at completing his hat-trick, perhaps emancipated by a lack of any real sleep, brought new life into the swagger of a bygone era of Charlie George and Stan Bowles.

    Later, in changing rooms, I spoke to Sam. “Well done, Schwods,” I said, drying myself with a towel marketing the positive aspects of holidaying in Majorca. Threadbare and ridiculous, it is now better fit for the rubbish bin rather than drying the lonely crevices of my skinny body. “That's eight now isn't it?”
    “Nine,” replied Sam proudly. He pulled a crumpled five pound note from his pocket and gave it to me. I didn't let my lack of clothes stand in the way of collecting his match subscription. There was a time when getting it was like getting blood out of stone. Not anymore. I spoke to his Dad, Pete, about Sam's hat-trick at the West End Brewery. He leant over the dark wooden banister slats with a pint in his hand, dressed in trendy knitwear, smelling nice and drawing guffaws from the rest of the lads sat behind me when he told us that he'd played full-back earlier that afternoon. Fifty-odd years of age and still playing for Wildern Old Boys in a six-nil win.

    After a difficult start in the intermediate cups, we are beginning to justify the Sports Echo's faith in predicting that we would be there or there abouts in this season's Southampton Senior Division title race. Currently nestled behind Forest Town and Netley Central Sports in third place it is still early days, but the foundations are being laid for a solid season.


    Sunday, 17 October 2010

    Forest Town 2-3 Burridge AFC

    Saturday 9th October, Gang Warily, Blackfield

    "Forest Town suffered a shock defeat to Burridge AFC." Southampton Sports Echo, Saturday 16th October.

    The concrete chimneys of Fawley Power Station climb high above the deciduous trees that separate it from Gang Warily. We stood far below the fumes disappearing into a deep blue sky, listening to Paul Dyke's pep talk. The referee blew hard on his whistle and waved both teams toward him. He was ready to get the game started.
    “In a minute ref,” Dyke shouted back to him. Then he began speaking to us again. “Right fellas, we've been playing okay for eighty minutes, but I.....”
    “Phweeeeeeeeppp...,” the referee blew Dyke's sentence dead with another whistle blast. He wanted to make one thing crystal clear; he was the star of the show. If you didn't like it, he put that plastic red whistle to his lips and blew.
    “Go on then,” Dyke told us, looking at the face of his watch and shaking his head. There were five minutes until kick-off, but the chance to finish what he had to say to us was gone. Not a single hair sprouted from the referee's scalp. He got us to stand in a line facing him, then he gave us his spiel. “I won't accept any bad language, nor the wearing of any jewellery,” he told us, speaking with his hands as much as his mouth. Then he got both teams to shake hands. It was clear from the start that a beige streak of Graham Poll coursed deep through his veins.

    Earlier, Marc Judd was laying back on the black leather dressing-room treatment table. He fished around his jean pockets for a cigarette. “I'm giving them up,” he said, starring into space, “once this packet's done.” His son wants him to stop smoking. His son's name is stitched into the blue tongue of his Adidas football boots, the boots that referees tend to show concern about during the pre-match stud check, worried that the length of the blue blades might have a sharp edge that could open up a leg like a tin of sardines. It was Judd's left boot that did the damage. He hit a diagonal pass right into the path of Ben Rowe. Forest Town's goalkeeper came rushing out of his penalty area for a handful of leather. All he got was fresh air. Rowe side footed the ball over his head. Forest Town's manager watched his goalkeeper bend down and pick up the ball from out of his own net. Somebody next to him asked if it had been too easy for Rowe to muscle his way through their defence. “Yep,” he nodded, bringing his hand down through his strawberry blond whiskers, “but, they're a big physical side.”

    I've only heard Ben Rowe swear once. It was two summer's ago after he had twisted his knee in training. He stands over six feet tall, with three days stubble matching the length of his shaved head. We call him, Ox. On Sunday morning he goes to church, but Saturday afternoons are for scoring goals. Seldom has he lived up to his nickname so effectively when he bulldozed past two Forest Town defenders on his way to burying his second goal. When Forest Town pulled a goal back, one voice could be heard over everything else. I could hear its Southampton twang hang from every vowel. Marc Judd could hear it too. It belonged to Paul Dyke. Judd gritted his teeth and looked at me. He didn't want to face Dyke, who was cursing him for not getting back into the defensive position in time to stop Forest Town scoring. Then things got worse. Ryan Hurst has played well this season. Blond, fresh-faced and getting better with each game - these days, he can even beat Kev Willsher to the ball in the air, something I would need a step ladder and a large blotter loaded with chloroform to do. What a shame then, that the sheen was taken from Hurst's feat when his header finished in our net. It was now 2-2.

    The collage of photographs that make up the mast head of this blog have been interpreted, by some, as a homo-erotic monument to Jason Wilson; with his hobo beard and jail-house tattoos, it his picture, to the left, with his arms outstretched in a red Burridge jersey, that features most prominently. In actual fact, the collage is the result of several hours spent hunched over my laptop, failing to grasp the finer points of Photoshop. When Wilson was hacked down by a mistimed and high Forest Town tackle it gave us the opportunity to get to know our opposition better, much better; at the kind of point blank range you wouldn't normally expect until a third or fourth date, as opposed to eighty or so minutes of football. Once the heavy-petting was over it was back to football. Hurst placed the ball, ready to hit the free-kick. Kev Willsher told him to aim for Essy. Twelve long years separate the two men, and as a result, Hurst respects Kev, taking on board most of what he has to say, but on this occasion he frowned back at Kev as if the old warhorse had taken one too many bludgeons to the head. Essy has many qualities - good dentistry and nice hair being some of them, but attacking the football with his head is not something he's renowned for. Hursty did it regardless. Essy closed his eyes and let his dark brown fringe do the rest. The ball reached Sam Schwodler who made it 3-2.

    There wasn't long left. Three minutes to be precise. It may as well have been 3 days. We'd been chewing the referee's ear off all afternoon. As with everything else, he got the wrong end of the stick, thinking we wanted an encore, rather than his head. The resulting 7 minutes of injury-time passed slower than the time I had to do the night shift at a printing factory with an older, bigger, stronger man whose marriage did little to prevent word getting out that he had previous when it came to cottaging. Dan Allen is 17, which is not far off the same number of words he's said since joining the club in the summer. The closing minutes of this game were almost a rite of passage for him. I say almost because I sense his true rite of passage will come on his forthcoming eighteenth birthday. As a 32 year old, I am very much looking forward to the party. Sam Schwodler and myself were faffing over who of the opposition to mark. Dan put us straight, pointing his index finger and giving us, what was by Sam Schwodler's standards, nothing more than asking strangers for directions, but by his, there were no two ways about it, it was a bollocking. The final whistle was a relief. It was the day after Kev Willsher's birthday, so we went out into the bars of Southampton and drank what we could. Which turned out to be, with the help of a golf ball, enough to make everyone pretty far gone.

    The Burridge line up:

    4-4-2: GK:Jones, LB:K.Hewitt(Sanderson), CB:Willsher, CB:Hurst, RB:S.Hewitt, RM:Reeves(Allen), CM:Esfandiari, CM:Wilson, LM:Judd, CF:Schwodler, CF:Rowe


    Thursday, 7 October 2010

    Southampton BTC 2-2 Burridge AFC

    Saturday 3rd October, BTC Sports Ground, Stoneham Lane, Southampton

    “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way - it does not exist.”

    Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher, writer, and as far as I'm aware not at all interested in football.

    No dogs; that's what the sign-post at BTC sports ground said. Fallen brown leaves drowned in deep puddles on the road outside the steel blue gated entrance of a football club who are very particular about their three pitches. They forbid anyone to use them prior to kick-off, not even those who are due to be playing in those matches; so, we did our pre-match warm-up down by the ground's disused tennis courts. The rules that had kept the dogs away had done nothing to deter the foxes. What looked like a couple of sun baked liquorice toffees were what Kristian Hewitt identified to us as fox turds. With twelve years behind him spent keeping greens at East Horton Golf Club, time has taught Hewitt the difference between the faeces of a badger and a fox, or anything else with four, or even two legs.

    BTC were dressed in their familiar royal blue and white striped shirts. One of their midfield players, perhaps wanting to gauge their first-half performance, asked me how we had got on last week. His blond fringe owed much to current teen heart throb Justin Bieber. It wasn't enough for me to tell him we had lost to Redbridge. I felt the need to put that defeat into context by adding that Redbridge play in the Southampton Premier League. Context was on Bieber's mind, too. The published results on the back pages of last week's Sports Echo had printed the score: Netley Central 8-2 BTC. They had neglected to make any mention of BTC playing the duration of the game with only eight men. I didn't ask why three players hadn't shown up. Maybe Bieber thought I might have given his boys a round of applause for their bravery. Whilst their shortfall went some way to explaining the score, I remained unmoved. Bravery is one thing, but stupidity is quite another. Our first-half performance against BTC amounted to what Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, described as the worst he'd seen us play this season. Disappointment could be heard in his voice, which was slightly hoarse, from forty-five minutes spent shouting out instructions to us.

    Joe Hill's contribution to the second half came in three parts. Firstly, he pulled rank on Marc Judd's left foot. The ball had sat up nicely for Judd to test BTC goalkeeper's reflexes. At the moment Judd was about to strike, Hill got in his way. Judd was furious. Whether or not Hill meant to shoot for goal from the right-wing shortly afterwards, did not detract from our frustration at the ball not ending up in the net. Instead, BTC watched it bounce away having struck the underside of their cross-bar. Hill's reward came when he reached the ball a fraction before his opponent, taking the full impact of an opponent's swinging boot. By my estimations it was a size ten, with the clear objective of hoofing the ball sixty yards up field. It made do with Hill, who writhed on the floor with his face buried flat in the grass. Say what you like about Hill, and people normally do, but things are never straightforward when he's around. He was unable to continue.

    When the ball dropped to Daniel Esfandiari from a corner kick it seemed certain that he was about to score with a controlled, powerful and well struck strike. BTC's goalkeeper was on the floor having fallen over his own feet, and knew nothing about how he'd saved the ball with his back. He was a large man who looked to be 240 pounds heavy, who by wearing a yellow flecked pink goalkeeping jersey was like some dirty great blancmange standing between us and a certain goal. BTC's second goal brought a look of resignation on our faces. With five minutes left to play I would have forgiven anyone in Burridge colours wishing the referee had put us out of our misery and blown his final whistle early.

    BTC had opportunities at both ends of the pitch to finish the game off, each of which they squandered with the careless abandon of a newly discovered complacency. BTC's goalkeeper dropped Sam Schwodler's header. Marc Judd got to the loose ball first, knocking it over the goal line. BTC's linesman waved his flag out of desperation on the far side of the pitch. The referee had a long conversation with him, but ignored his subjective advice. The goal stood. With a minute left to play and the ball at his feet, BTC's left-back had a world of possibilities in front of him, but with freedom comes responsibility and more tellingly, consequence. Sam Hewitt was breathing down his neck. His poked and hesitant back pass inadvertently became the perfectly weighted through ball that had eluded us for the entirety of the game.

    Sam Hewitt now had a clear run through on goal. His legs felt dead, but he had time; time to think back to the last goal he had scored for Burridge. It was over a year ago. A brief silence was perfectly observed as the ball left Hewitt's foot. Then the ball was in BTC's net. Paul Dyke ran onto the pitch, shouting and pumping his fists. BTC's manager let out a falsetto howl. His plastic bottle of mineral water bore the brunt of his anger, sending it crashing against the painted white brick wall of his dug-out. BTC's left-back stood with his hands on his hips and a blank expression on his face. Whilst there may not be a definitive right way to do things, there is always a wrong way.

    Burridge lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.

    GK: Jones, RB: S.Hewitt, CB: Willsher, CB: Hurst, LB: K.Hewitt, RM: Sanderson (Allen), CM: Esfandiari, CM: Wilson, LM: Judd, CF:Hill (Reeves), CF:Schwodler


    Thursday, 30 September 2010

    Burridge 1-3 Redbridge

    Saturday 25th September, Trophyman Cup, Burridge, Botley Road

    "Burridge AFC always flirt around the edge. They might go one further this year."

    Quote taken from page 36 of Saturday 18th September's Sports Echo, reporting on Burridge's chances of promotion from the Southampton Senior Division.

    Stung in the bushes

    I was surrounded by stinging nettles when Lee Fielder got whacked. My involvement in the game had ended after being replaced by Dan Allen after an hour. We were losing three-nil. As I jogged off the pitch, Dyke said: “You were starting to look tired out there, Sandy.” I made myself useful by searching for one of our footballs. A stray pass had embedded it within a tangle of unkempt plants that cover the slope that runs adjacent to our pitch. I tried convincing myself that I was not tired as I shimmied down it's steep bank. My Granddad is 84 and tells me he feels no different to when he was a young man. Last week I sat with him in his lounge eating a chip butty, whilst he urinated into a Tupperware container held close to the open fly of his pyjama bottoms. Neither of us are young men any more.

    Once I found the ball I made my way back up the slope with it in my hands. Loose stems clung to my black football socks and the stinging nettles had made no concession for my bare legs. The game had stopped. I noticed one of our players was laid on the grass on the other side of pitch. Players from both sides congregated either side of his body to exchange bad language as Kev Willsher's Dad and I stood side by side trying to identify which of our players was laid out. Whoever it was was wearing the number eleven. Kev Willsher's Dad's initial concern evaporated once he realised that number eleven was Lee Fielder. He'd seen Lee Fielder laying in the grass many times before. The referee hadn't seen Lee getting kicked. Nor had we.

    First-half: back on home turf

    This was our first game of the season at Burridge. The grass stood tall and thick like an overgrown crew-cut, then the wind picked up and Redbridge threatened to make the game an anti-climax by scoring two quick goals. The first came from a long thrown in from the right flank that flicked off a head and into the far corner of the net. The second was a long range strike that skimmed off Kev Willsher's leg on its way past Ryan Jones. Ben Rowe rolled the ball against Redbridge's goalpost, then Marc Judd surrendered to the stereotype of his shaven head. The referee was happy to oblige him with a yellow card for dissent.

    Redbridge had a central defender who I would hesitate to call fat, in case he read this and wanted to kill me. His yellow jersey stretched tight around his gut. He used chunks of the first-half to demonstrate his long range passing abilities. During a stoppage in play I took the opportunity to listen to him complain to one of his team-mates about how lazy their centre forward was. I was stood very close. I looked down at the grass so as not to appear nosy. It seemed too work. I couldn't help noticing that the defender's colleague wore Adidas football boots. One of his boot laces had shed free of its aglet. It's frayed end hung limply on the boot's red leather tongue. The defender's team-mate limited his communication to a nod of the head. Happiness didn't seem to be a mood that suited him.

    Linesman etiquette

    Redbridge's third goal almost drew my applause. It came from a hard shot from outside the penalty area. It always seems so final when a ball that's travelling so fast is stopped by what is essentially string. I remember telling Ryan Hurst that I thought it was a good goal. Ryan wasn't ready to clap other teams' goals. On my return from the stinging nettles I took over as linesman from Joe Hill. I took my position a yard or so in front of the seven or eight who had come to watch Redbridge. I tried lightening the ugly mood that had taken hold of the game by asking them what I had missed whilst rooting through the undergrowth. Where they came from, they told me, they didn't talk about things like that. I left it at that, feeling fairly certain that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon a group of people who described themselves to me as thugs.

    Lee Fielder's perpetrator was then substituted. He pulled off his shirt, complaining bitterly to himself about being kicked all afternoon. Tempting as it was, I decided against questioning him on the thought process behind swinging for Lee. I'm not sure there was one. Joe Hill had a shot that hit the inside of both of Redbridge's goal posts. It rolled toward Sam Schwodler who scored his fifth goal of the season. It looked odd to see Ben Hutton, a Burridge player of four years as recently as two weeks ago, coming on as striker for Redbridge. We hadn't just lost a versatile player - with his wife, Roz, no longer coming to games, we'd lost our photographer too. It was that kind of day.

    Burridge (4-4-2): GK: Jones, RB: S.Hewitt, CB: Hurst, CB: Willsher, LB: K.Hewitt, LM: Judd (Fielder), CM: Wilson, CM: Sanderson (Allen), RM: Reeves, CF: Rowe (Hill), CF: Schwodler.


    Wednesday, 22 September 2010

    Totton & Eling Reserves 4-1 Burridge AFC

    Saturday 18th September, Southern Gardens, Totton

    Paul Dyke starred down hard at the face of his digital watch. He was stood on the wooden balcony outside Totton & Eling's first floor changing rooms, with his back turned against the view of the well maintained suburban gardens that hug the sports ground's perimeter. Flowering petunias weren't his concern; time was.

    Totton's sports ground in distance
    We were due to meet at 1:40pm, and it was very nearly so. His eyes darted from his watch to the top of the staircase, and as the seconds ticked he began counting down out loud, “five, four, three, two, one.” Satisfied that time was up he walked out of the sun into the away team dressing room. “Right, anyone who arrives now is late.” Under Dyke's management, arriving late carries a fifty pence penalty fine. Today the club's coffers swelled to £4.

    Dyke had given the latecomers a fighting chance, but his texted warning of delays on the motorway didn't stop Dan Allan, Sam Hewitt, Kristian Hewitt, Ryan Hurst, Ryan Jones, Ben Rowe, Sam Schwodler and Jason Wilson, all crawling to Totton along an M275 laden heavy with traffic headed for the Southampton Boat Show.

    Standing in our way of a place in the second round of the Southampton Senior Cup were Totton & Eling reserves. Some might classify the term 'reserves' as inferior. This would be incorrect. Being in the Southampton Senior Division, we represent the lowest tier of sides in the competition amongst teams from the Southampton Premier League, the Hampshire Leagues and the Wessex Reserve Leagues, all of which will eventually be whittled down to two teams in the final at Southampton's St Mary's stadium.

    Ryan Hurst heads clear another Totton & Eling attack

    The topic of conversation within the Burridge changing room is varied, but although far from being a cultural wasteland it does sometimes fall short in content when compared to the likes of the Southbank Show, or even Newsround. Despite this, the Pope's visit to the UK hadn't gone unnoticed to some of the Burridge squad, which exposed one or or two holes in some players' general knowledge.

    Once that it was established that the Pope wasn't the head of the Anglican church, further questions were raised, such as: do Catholics believe in the Jesus thing? A moot opening question that was sadly never fully debated. There were more pressing questions to grapple with, like: where have all the kit's black socks gone? Will the changing rooms be locked? And the perennial rhetoric that Burridge players have struggled with since the start of the club as we know it, which is: if indeed we're to leave our belongings in the changing rooms, is there a separate place, perhaps a bag of some sorts, that we can keep are valuables safe in during the game? Answers to all of which were once again provided, but no doubt wiped clean from collective memory banks by next Saturday afternoon.

    As is customary, the referee asked to check the soles of our football boots for any sharp studs. Lee Fielder wore white Nike cleats. Black rubber blades jutted from their soles like the blunt teeth of a herbivores mammal. “Blades,” said the ref, raising his scrawny grey eyebrows. “Never tried them. What are they like?” Lee seemed keener to get warmed up than enter into a conversation with a referee about footwear. “Yeah, they're fine.” The referee wore a pair of non gripped black trainers, the make of which I couldn't decipher without sinking down to his feet. He pointed down at his shoes, “these flats are perfect for this time of year.” This strangely friendly attitude showed no evidence of quite how irritable he can and would become during play.

    It was clear from kick-off that Totton & Eling wanted to flex their Wessex League muscles. They made quick passes with tidy ball control. In an eagerness to stamp their mark on the game further, one of their defenders mistook technical superiority with incompetence. Defenders aren't there to ponce about, their primary function is to destroy. Their defender's careless pass across his penalty area was seized upon by Ben Rowe who poked us into the lead. Totton & Eling didn't let this mishap stifle their confidence, and at times their quick play tied us in knots. By half-time they were 2-1 up, which was a fair reflection of the half.

    We stayed outside at half-time and sat under the shade of a tree. Dyke emptied a carrier bag full of Mars Bar Duos onto the grass in front of us. Several players tucked in. I stuck to water. Our efforts continued to be commendable in the second-half, but getting the run around on a warm September afternoon isn't always conducive to maintaining good relations with one another. Baiting or indeed any other general unpleasantness amongst ourselves was kept to a minimum. By in large it was a good spirited game between the two teams, which is always a bit of a shame.

    Totton did not take their foot off the pedal and we were unable to prevent them from scoring two further goals in the second half. It was during a stoppage in play that I offered the referee a swig of water from one of our bottles that lay on the dry grass beyond the touchline. I don't know what came over me, it must have been the heat. As he guzzled from it, low guttural sounds resonated from somewhere deep in his throat. It sounded as though he were trying to sink a particularly stubborn handful of Mandrax.

    He only stopped mouthing the bottle's yellow plastic teat after noticing a far younger blond women sat on a bench beyond the perimeter's fence; one he seemed to know. "What are you up to," he asked in an all to familiar tone of voice. The women took her eyes off her mobile phone screen to look up towards him for the briefest of moments. "Sudoku," she replied. Obviously. There are some things that aren't meant to be understood by man.

    Click here to see full results from the first round of the Southampton Senior Cup

    Burridge line up: GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Sam Hewitt, CB: Kev Willsher, CB: Ryan Hurst, RB: Dan Allen (Greg Baker), RM: Sam Schwodler, CM: Mark Sanderson (Joe Hill), CM: Jason Wilson, CM: Kristian Hewitt, LM: Marc Judd, CF: Ben Rowe (Lee Fielder) 

    Burridge goalkeeper Ryan Jones, shortly before making an athletic save from a Totton free-kick
    Annual predictions

    The annual Southampton League prediction were on page 36 of Saturday's edition of The Sports Pink. There it was, one page after a voucher for Tosca's Italian restaurant on Commercial Road, predictions for the top three in each of the eight divisions.

    This season Burridge have been given the wild-card, and I quote:

    “Burridge AFC always flirt around the edge and might go one better this time around.”

    Netley Central Reserves are predicted to win the title
    with Forest Town in second,
    and Allbrook in third.

    Looking back (bringing back the blog)

    I haven't posted here since 2012 – that’s five years of not blogging. The blog is/was about Burridge AFC, the football team I played f...