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