Wednesday 11 August - We'd escaped from work on an overcast afternoon to sit patiently in our cars shortly after 5pm, on a lay-by on Portsmouth Road, waiting for somebody to arrive and unlock the padlocked gates leading to Sholing's ground on the opposite side of the road. Some of the opposition weren't old enough to drive. They got lifts from their parents.
Not that age would have been cited as an excuse for defeat by Sholing's youth team manager Brad Whitman, who brought in several players to his starting line-up to plug the gaps that we had exploited in our 4-1 win over them last Saturday.
Sholing were a sterner prospect compared to the side we'd faced four days earlier. The right-back, whom we'd enjoyed plenty of success against on Saturday morning, often from nothing more complicated than lofting the ball in his general direction, had been replaced by a far trickier customer, who rarely wasted an opportunity to get forward and create problems for us.
I spent my time trying to keep their left winger quiet. On the occasion I did manage to dispossess him of the ball, my momentum brought me far closer than I'd intended to three spectators. I used the opportunity to break the ice with a quick joke: “He's a bit quick, isn't he?” I said, motioning my sweaty head behind me. “He's only fifteen,” they laughed back.
Moments later, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to properly induct the young fellow into the men's game. There was even a chance I might win the ball in the process. He had his back to me on the half-way line, waiting to receive his goalkeeper's punted clearance that I had already anticipated bouncing just short of his control. If I hit him hard enough, within the rules of the game, he'd be out of my hair for the evening. It was to my surprise and great disappointment that he didn't stay on the floor for very long. With my main skill-set rendered obsolete I knew I had a difficult evening ahead.
The referee, a well tanned man, looked like a leather version of Warren Clarke from Dalziel and Pascoe. A thatch of grey hair sprouted from the collar of his shirt. His match-fee was £23 and he had a nice firm handshake.
Sholing knocked the ball around in a hurry, but their haste rarely resulted in inaccurate passes. It paid dividends when they took the lead mid way through the first half, the ball hitting the far post before crossing the goal-line. Sholing's second goal owed more to good fortune, when the ball squirmed free of Ryan Jones' grasp into the top corner. It was his first game in goal since having the ball of his shoulder cracked out of his socket during a game in May.
In the second half Sholing put the game out of our reach by scoring a third. Then they sent on another fast winger. Although talented, his inexperience was never more apparent than after I'd had a few hacks at him. Instead of seeing out the game quietly, he had the temerity to fly past me down the left wing and score Sholing's fourth goal.
Historically, teenage Sholing players have used the youth team as a spring board to the first team, where consolation for having to travel to midweek games in Bristol or Worcestershire comes in the contents of a brown envelope.