Monday, 5 April 2010

From Southampton league to the Football League

I am walking alongside the St James' Road terrace toward the reception at Exeter City on a blustery Thursday afternoon. The red gates are wide open, exposing the full length of lush green turf to a knot of four students, who are stood on the pavement and muttering to themselves behind cupped hands. Without warning, one bolts into the open space of pitch. The flimsy grip beneath his plimsolls are no match for the groundsman's mower, who resists the urge to use his pronged fork as a makeshift bayonet, and instead, gets rid of the student with a few carefully chosen words that are lost to my ears over the sound of the mower's engine.

I am here to meet the club's marketing manager Rob Paddon. Afterwards, he takes me on a tour around the ground. Angry looking clouds congregate above us as we walk along the touchline. I make a joke about tomorrow's game with Colchester United being postponed due to heavy rain, which causes Rob to shake his head and wince. Postponed games can result in a significant loss in revenue to a club that counts on every penny to remain solvent. This is professional football, but not as we know it.

The first thing to notice in Exeter City's away dressing room is the smell of florescent yellow disinfectant pucks from the urinal bowls. That, and a lack of space for a football team to get changed in without getting to grips with exactly what the person next to them ate for lunch. Here in the bowels of the grandstand it is clear that the changing facilities are no different from the kind that Burridge players like to complain about before their games in and around the Southampton area. Exeter City don't have the likes of Hythe & Dibden reserves to worry about. They share Football League One with Norwich City, Southampton and Leeds United, who they beat 2-0 in front of 8,549 people in January.

Stood in the cove doorway that leads to the showers I can imagine Leeds' players after that loss with their stares fixed on the cold stone floor, as their manager Simon Grayson slams the red wooden door behind him, subjecting the room to ten seconds of silence before he goes ape. Once it's over, Australian international Paddy Kisnorbo would win the race to get out of his soiled yellow kit and dredge the last remaining splodges of his shower gel under one of five showers, before the four and a half hour coach journey back to Yorkshire.

What remains beyond my imagination, even when I'm stood close enough to see a stubborn layer of limescale clinging to the base of one of the shower fittings, is any of Leeds United's players using a wet sock to whip their naked bodies with. But, that's exactly what Burridge forwards Ben Rowe and Lee Fielder did after the recent 2-2 draw with Hiltingbury, in a very similarly sized, more modern changing room. Once you step away from the Premier League there are more similarities between the amateur and professional game than many might realise.

Despite that, Burridge's game with Redbridge was postponed on Saturday. Exeter City had a fine 2-0 win over Colchester United on Good Friday.


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