Saturday 7 August, West End High Street, SO30 - There was standing room only by the time we arrived at the West-End Brewery. It was shortly after 12:30pm and the place was packed full almost entirely of men, all here to watch Sky Television's coverage of Southampton, who were kicking-off their 125th football season at home to Plymouth Argyle, four miles up the road at St Mary's.
I have never seen the Bugle Inn, where we used to drink after our games, this busy on either Christmas Eve or New Years Eve, let alone a Saturday lunchtime, which is just as well, seeing as getting served at the Bugle often required the patience of a BBC film crew in the Himalayas, waiting to capture footage of the Yeti. I've seen people walk out of there without drinking a drop, having spent thirsty minutes leant over the bar looking for signs of life. They usually ended up over the road in the Dolphin, which is even worse.
There was plenty of room at St.Mary's. Although just over 21,000 spectators had forked out between £19 and £27 for tickets, there was still over ten-thousand empty red and white seats, despite Southampton being, for the first time in my entire life, the bookie's clear favourites to win the title, or what is in old money the division three championship. Ruddles at £1.99 a pint went some way in explaining why people in here had stayed away.
Latecomers asked each other why Rickie Lambert wasn't playing up front for Southampton. Rickie had told Burridge captain Kev Willsher's Dad why, in an unexpected Friday night exclusive at Asda in Chandlers Ford, when he spotted the footballer doing his shopping, and decided on having a chat, rather than follow ten paces behind him, like some of the other people who'd recognised him preferred to do. It was a groin strain that was keeping him from playing.
I wondered if Rickie had sustained the injury in the supermarket, much like I did, when I lost the trolley coin token my gran gave me, along with a significant amount of finger nail, in the car-park at Netto. This happened when I attempted what seemed the reasonable task of retrieving the token from its slot. Success didn't completely elude me that day, I did buy a box of eight fish fillet steaks for £3.
I have walked past Kev's Dad many times on a Saturday afternoon dressed in my Burridge kit en route to the field of play, and on each of those occasions he has uttered nothing more to me than what could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but then again, I didn't score 36 goals for Southampton last season.
When Plymouth scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game, a man sat on the table nearest wearing last season's Southampton shirt, starting moaning about the home team's performance to an even greater degree than he had been doing since we'd arrived.
His was the God given talent of being able to maintain a pissed off facial expression, with the thick spectacle lenses resting on his ruddy nose powerless to prevent him from squinting at the flat screen television, which in turn, caused his mouth to gape open and reveal a set of teeth that Desert Orchid would have been proud of. Bloody crap, was all he could be heard to keep saying. He wasn't the only one.