Saturday, 24 July 2010

Sign on the dotted line

Burridge Rec, off A3051, Hants, Wed 22 July - Lee Fielder sat squeezed tightly between Kev Willsher and Ben Hutton, two far taller men, in the back seat of my car, hoping that there was no cricket match being played at Burridge recreation ground. If there was, it would prevent Paul Dyke from taking us for laps around the flat clipped surface of the cricket circle. We would use the football pitch instead, where rabbit holes hid in the long grass like snipers, ready to take anyone down with tweaked ligaments.

As we drove closer, the view of the pitch was, as always, blocked by tall hedge rows. Marc Judd's DHL van was denied access to the car park by the steel height restricting barrier that frames the entrance like a set of yellow goalposts. He'd left it mounted on the curb on the main road.

“Oh fuck,” muttered Lee, as deep furrows sank across his forehead at the sight of a full car-park. This meant cricket was being played. He could be forgiven for sulking, having had his football continually interrupted during the last decade by injuries that were often sustained in far more innocuous circumstances than planting a foot in rutted turf.

Paul Dyke was handing out club signing-on forms, knowing, as we all did, that once a signature was on the dotted line you were committed to the club for the season. A pale blue short sleeved Manchester City jersey hung from Sam Schwodler's body. His thin predominant nose beneath a tussle of hair give him the appearance of Paul Weller crossed with Johan Cruyff.

His absence at two of the last three training sessions led some to believe he had followed his elder brothers Bryn and Jay away from the club to play for Hedge-End. Sam was reminded of that assumption by Lee Fielder as he leant on the bonnet of Dyke's silver Vauxhall to fill out his form in blue ink. “Fuck Hedge-End,” replied Sam, as he walked towards Dyke with his completed form. “Burridge all the way.”

Training lasted two hours, after which we laid collapsed on the grass amongst our bags and discarded pairs of cleats, in various states of exhaustion. I had four passengers in my car for the ride home. Ben Rowe pulled up closely alongside me and gestured that I unwind my passenger window. It was though a horde of ants had congregated around his face, with his thick dark stubble still a few days away from growing into a full beard. “Get this, boys,” he said, as he turned up the volume on his car stereo. He was playing 'The Chain' by Fleetwood Mac.

The music did little to distract my nose from the five of us sat in my car being in urgent need of a good shower. “Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night,” sang Rowe, his eyes now closed, his fingers tapping his steering wheel in time to the music.

His passenger, a young man called Dan, sat next to him. He wore no facial expression, as though frozen by the kind of terminal embarrasment caused by Dads to their teenage children. “Wait, wait for it,” said Rowe, “here comes the drop.” A smile broke out across his face and his front teeth rested on his bottom lip as the bass, that the BBC use on their Formula One coverage, kicked in. Now satisfied, Rowe drove off.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Smells like training

Burridge's second pre-season training session was carried out at the Recreation Ground alongside the empty two lanes of the A3051. Once again, both Kev Willsher and Lee Fielder left me for dead in a sprint finish during the last of ten laps of the cricket pitch.

Stood by the water bottle carrier and short of breath, I tried to act in a dignified manner that suggested losing to them in such a way had neither bruised my ego or tired me out, despite it doing both. The pair are now both in their thirties, but beat the entire squad, some of whom are more than a decade younger, a fact to which I am still clinging to.

During the following forty-five minutes I heard a number of people speak with cheerful regret about what and when they had dinner. Shepherds Pie or any kind of dish involving meat and two veg is never a sensible choice an hour before two hours of strenuous exercise, which ended finally under an overcast and muggy sky.

Sam Hewitt's polyester training shirt was damp from toiling around on the sun baked grass. It was time for a practise match. Sam's team would differentiate themselves from his opponents by wearing the yellow Nike bibs that were slung in a Tesco's carrier bag on the sidelines.

They'd been there in the boot of my car since being used in last week's sweaty training session. They stank. Wearing them was out of the question. Sam's team would instead go skins. He peeled off his training shirt. “Look at that,” he said proudly, thumping his pale toned chest. At this moment I did not have the foresight that a forty degree wash was insufficient in making those bibs smell tolerable.

Temperatures rose further when it was leaked that Burridge manager Paul Dyke had arranged a pre-season friendly with Hedge-End, the team who Bryn Schwodler, his brother Jay, and Rich Allan, have left Burridge to join.


Monday, 5 July 2010

Heavy Breathing

Wednesday 30th June, Burridge Recreation Ground – Twenty of us were stood on the yellow tinged grass, listening to Paul Dyke explain how he was going to run things as Burridge manager. I didn't recognise half of them. When I arrived in the car park earlier I was convinced I'd gate-crashed another team's training session. I took out the cones and footballs from the boot of my Peugeot and walked towards them to find out. It wasn't until I noticed several amongst them wearing black and white Burridge training shirts before being certain I was in the right place.

Two of them were being worn by Ryan Jones and Sam Hewitt. Neither of them are yet to turn 21. They spoke with some of the new younger faces about their holiday in Zante, an island off the Greek peninsula, where other young people stay up all night having fun. Their conversation served as vivid reminder of the ten year age gap between us, the grey hair that frames my temples, and the aches and pains I have begun to accumulate, as opposed to get over these days.

Lee Fielder and Ben Rowe greeted each by wrestling one another to the ground. The reasons why were never made clear, although their motives for doing so seemed nothing other than cordial. With neither of them able to gain the upper hand they fumbled for grip on each other's clothes, as I wondered if anybody else, particularly those present who had never met either of these two before, thought that they resembled a drunk couple who were too eager to bother with foreplay.

Dyke wore a support bandage around his knee. "We'll be training here every week until the season begins in September," he began. "If you're not at training I can't guarantee you'll be in the team.” Pre-season games were arranged at Whiteley throughout August. He told us that he wouldn't name any more than three substitutes for league games, on account of being unable according to the rules of making any more than three substitutions per game. On today's attendance that would leave six who would not be required, without even taking last season's captain Kristian Hewitt into consideration, who was on holiday in Swanage. Competition for first team places had already begun.

After spending five minutes stretching, we ran laps around the cricket pitch in pairs. Dyke joined us. On his command the back two would sprint to the front of the line, or the front two would sprint to the back of the line. Whatever we did we were supposed to do fast, or as fast as we could. This went on for fifteen minutes, it felt like longer. The final two laps were to be run flat out. Many, including myself, were just that once we had finished. It was still hot and few people spoke. Those who hadn't bought their own refreshments searched the grouping of sport bags to the side of the pitch for water. I pointed them in the direction of the eight club bottles I'd filled from my kitchen tap. Sam Hewitt made a face when he drank from one. He questioned whether I'd actually replaced the contents of the bottles since our last game against Durley over six weeks ago. I didn't answer.

The cardiovascular work continued for over an hour. Dyke walked up and down to inspect what we were doing, offering his encouragement whilst telling us to carry out the exercises at our own speed. Our hard work was rewarded with shooting practise at a makeshift set of goalposts that Dyke had made from two length of white plastic piping. Two new goalkeepers took turns to face our shots. In the absence of any goal net, the tall hedge row behind the goal took the occasional battering.

Next was a game between current players and new.

Despite approaching his third season with the club, Marc Judd was made captain of the newcomers by Paul Dyke. During the game I was too tired to make any real assessment of the ability of the new players I was up against. My opposing number maintained a position on his right wing. On several occasions he voiced his unhappiness about his team mates not giving sufficient support to whoever had the ball. He would have his back to me facing his own goal when calling for a pass. Each time it was fed into his feet I wrestled with the urge to send him flying with the kind of meaty tackle from behind that the experts on television call cynical.

Football is often called the beautiful game, but I've always thought it can be a very ugly one too. On this occasion I didn't give into temptation. The game was competitive but not spiteful. The current players edged it by two goals to one. Playing any competitive sport is a great deal easier if you're relatively fit, but despite the diets and the fads that tell you otherwise, short-cuts to becoming so still remain very much elusive.

Burridge 2009/2010 Honours

Players' player of the year: Sam Hewitt
Manager's player of the year: Bryn Schwodler
Clubman of the year: Ryan Jones


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...