Saturday 7th August, Portsmouth Road, Sholing - A combination of new and familiar faces, bound together by a month's hard slog on the training ground, got changed in the cramped away team dressing rooms, for Burridge's first pre-season fixture with Sholing Youth.
Burridge striker Ben Rowe reacted stoically to an absence of toilet paper. The pressing nature of his predicament helped him summon the determination to forage the building for a handful of paper towels, but not before he continued his ongoing tussle with Lee Fielder. We continued to get changed, as the two wrestled each other amongst a pile of football kit. Surely, it can only be a matter of time before the two decide to move in together.
The previous night's rain had done little to return any colour to the grass, which remained bleached blond. We were warming up when Sam Schwodler arrived, clutching his metal studded football boots in his left hand. He didn't need telling that his feet would be red raw by lunchtime if he were to play in them.
He asked if anyone had a spare pair of size ten rubber studded boots, out of hope rather than expectancy, saying he'd squeeze into a size nine if needs be. It had taken everybody's full concentration to arrive at Portsmouth Road at nine in the morning, nobody had a spare pair. Sam had also forgotten his shin pads. Rowe did have a spare set of those for him.
Jason Wilson took a break from delivering his postal round, to make his Burridge debut at right-back. He put his red Royal Mail sack into the dug-out, whilst I asked the referee if he was looking forward to the upcoming season. “Yes and no,” he said, tucking his black notebook into his chest pocket. His application to referee Hampshire League games had been delayed. “It's all very political,” he told me. “I'll take them to court if they mess me about.” Our conversation was enough for me to decide to leave him well alone during the game.
Sholing interchanged quick passes during their warm up as we sauntered about, until a voice boomed out and told them to start doing it properly, which seemed to mean really quickly. Sholing have coasted to the youth league over the last few years, and expectations and standards at their club remain high. It is not unrealistic that players from this squad may feature in the first team later on in the season.
With both Burridge goalkeepers absent, Sholing had kindly agreed for us to have one of theirs play for us in each half. The first of whom, I introduced myself to by offering my handshake. The goalkeeper seemed reluctant to respond to my good nature, which had my heckles up for a moment, until he told me the reason why. He'd just had a good spit on his gloves for extra grip. He was fifteen.
Paul Dyke started me in the left-back position. Irrespective of me being right footed, it remains unclear if I'm the best left-back in the squad. What's rather less of a mystery is that I'm not even the best left-back in my flat. My brother Luke is far more adept in the position, so I'm thankful that a combination of his work commitments and dodgy knee prevent me from having an even trickier situation on my hands than I do at present. With twenty-one enthusiastic players gunning for fourteen places in the squad things are tough enough as they are.
Sholing's management communicated on the sidelines in two ways: behind their hands in faint whispers, or at full blast. “Pass it, and stretch them,” shouted one. “There's only fifteen gone and they're all blowing out their arse.” I didn't feel that to be the case. Sholing continued to pass the ball but it didn't always do them any good. Chris Pye had a good opportunity to score before Lee Fielder gave us the lead, injuring his knee in the process.
Approximately thirteen minutes had passed. Kristian Hewitt, Kev Willsher and myself exchanged knowing looks as Lee laid out flat holding his knee. With his chequered injury history there was a terrible inevitability about it. Chris Pye scored with an identical chance to which he had earlier had saved, before Sholing scored on the stroke of half-time.
In the second half Paul Dyke removed his shirt and jacket, simultaneously revealing that he goes to the gym and he uses sunblock. He could often be heard appealing for free-kicks from the sideline, which the referee would almost always dismiss. Sam Schwodler laid on two more goals, both finished comfortably by Ben Rowe and Richard Lodwidge. It had been a surprisingly good start.
Paul Dyke's Burridge squad: Dan Allen, Paul Andrews, Daniel Esfandiari, Lee Fielder, Kristian Hewitt, Sam Hewitt, Joe Hill, Richard Lodwidge, Chris Pye, Ben Rowe, Mark Sanderson, Sam Schwodler, Kev Willsher ( c), Jason Wilson