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.