Saturday 1st May: Titchfield Recreation Ground
I was driving east along the M27 towards Titchfield Recreation Ground with the radio tuned into Stuart Hall on 5 live talking about Manchester City's hopes of finishing the season in the fourth Champions League qualifying place. “If they don't win today,” he said, “the dream is over.” The same was true of Burridge. Had anyone said we still had a shot at second place in the rain at Hiltingbury, at the end of March, having lost 4-1, they'd have been given short change. However, five consecutive wins in April has made promotion to the Southampton Premier League a real and sober possibility. For that to remain so we had to beat the side who currently occupy second place, Redbridge.
(Click on pics to enlarge) Top: Sam Schwodler heads goalwards. Bottom: Kristian Hewitt tries to score his penalty rebound. (All pics by Roz Hutton)
An injured right foot sustained playing Sunday league football has prevented me from taking part in any of our five consecutive wins, something I haven't been keen to bring up in conversation. I was surprised when Pete Lyons asked me on arrival in the car park if I was okay to go on the bench. I would have liked to have believed that he was after a certain kind of cynical bit part performance that he felt was missing from those five wins in a row, but the look on his face suggested it was more likely he was just desperate. Fortunately, my boots and shin-pads were in the boot of the car, along with the team kit, that I'd collected earlier from the laundrette. I told him I was confident of giving him a good twenty minute account of myself, if needed, maybe an entire half if I went at my foot with half a can of freeze spray.
While Southampton Saturday League fixtures are allocated with referees, the responsibility of linesman lies with a volunteer from each team. Over the years I've seen many people go to great lengths to avoid running the line, but having been starved of play for a fortnight I was eager to escape my jeans into a pair of black Burridge shorts, even if it did mean spending the afternoon as a linesman.
Burridge goalkeeper Ryan Jones adjusts his boot laces.
The referee quickly established first name terms with me. His name was Adrian, and for a moment I wondered if I should expect to find a Facebook friend request waiting for me in my email. Marc Judd and Paul Dyke, neither who are strangers to referee's notebooks, and both on the bench today carrying injuries, stood behind taking the piss out of me as Adrian ran over what he expected of his linesmen. Referees be warned: be good, bad, or indifferent, but don't try to be be friendly to players, they will only use your good nature against you.
As the game kicked off it began to rain. Those who had been pessimistic enough to believe the weather forecast hid under umbrellas. Ben Rowe tested the Redbridge goalkeeper's reflexes, then Rich Allan's volley made the deeply satisfying pinging noise that only a newly pumped up Mitre thudding against a steel crossbar can produce, but after twenty-five minutes Redbridge had scored four goals. Burridge captain Kristian Hewitt was struggling to keep a lid on his emotions. When it was left to Paul Dyke, who was on the substitute's bench, to warn Rich Allan he had an opponent on his tail, Kristian exploded. When the whistle blew for the end of the half Marc Judd and I chose to knock a ball to each other on the pitch, rather than intrude on the first half post mortem.
Kev Willsher defends a Redbridge attack.
Sam Scwhodler didn't get a chance to run at Redbridge during the first half, so when he saw an opportunity to fall over the goalkeeper's leg in the second he devoured it like a hungry man. Adrian blew his whistle for a penalty. Redbridge's four goal lead didn't stop them from going ape about players diving to win penalties. Their number five's eyes bulged from their sockets. “I'll stab you,” he told Sam, who now no longer living in the shadows of life thought better of throwing caution to the wind by returning number five's stare with a head-butt. Another Redbridge player tried to calm things down with a much needed sense of perspective. “Don't worry,” he assured his number five. “We'll get him afterwards.”
The penalty was taken by Kristian Hewitt. When his strike was parried back to him by Redbridge's goalkeeper I didn't feel overly concerned; when it came to volleying a football Kristian is Burridge's very own safe pair of hands. When Kristian's second stab at the penalty kick did finally come to a standstill a good walk behind the corner flag I was left with the hollow feeling I imagine boxing fans felt after seeing Muhammad Ali lose a split decision against Leon Spinks at the Hilton Sports Pavilion in 1978; shaken with the nasty doubt that this might be the final curtain for somebody you could always count on to produce the goods, and with this feeling came grim confirmation that this entire afternoon would end in a crushing defeat and another unnecessarily long wait to be served a pint at the Bugle Inn in Botley.
Dyke, Judd and myself failed to establish who could manage the longest playing time between us. When Pete did make make a change to Burridge's line up it was Mike Reed, ten years younger and neither balding or grey, who came on as substitute. Rich Allan's left wing delivery deserved the neat finish Bryn Schwodler gave it, heading in his nineteenth goal of the season, but Burridge's unbeaten eight match run had come to an abrupt end in twenty-five minutes of drizzle. Two games are now left in Burridge's season before Pete Lyons calls it a day as manager, and Saturday afternoons once again become wide open spaces.