Saturday 25th September, Trophyman Cup, Burridge, Botley Road
"Burridge AFC always flirt around the edge. They might go one further this year."
Quote taken from page 36 of Saturday 18th September's Sports Echo, reporting on Burridge's chances of promotion from the Southampton Senior Division.
Stung in the bushes
I was surrounded by stinging nettles when Lee Fielder got whacked. My involvement in the game had ended after being replaced by Dan Allen after an hour. We were losing three-nil. As I jogged off the pitch, Dyke said: “You were starting to look tired out there, Sandy.” I made myself useful by searching for one of our footballs. A stray pass had embedded it within a tangle of unkempt plants that cover the slope that runs adjacent to our pitch. I tried convincing myself that I was not tired as I shimmied down it's steep bank. My Granddad is 84 and tells me he feels no different to when he was a young man. Last week I sat with him in his lounge eating a chip butty, whilst he urinated into a Tupperware container held close to the open fly of his pyjama bottoms. Neither of us are young men any more.
Once I found the ball I made my way back up the slope with it in my hands. Loose stems clung to my black football socks and the stinging nettles had made no concession for my bare legs. The game had stopped. I noticed one of our players was laid on the grass on the other side of pitch. Players from both sides congregated either side of his body to exchange bad language as Kev Willsher's Dad and I stood side by side trying to identify which of our players was laid out. Whoever it was was wearing the number eleven. Kev Willsher's Dad's initial concern evaporated once he realised that number eleven was Lee Fielder. He'd seen Lee Fielder laying in the grass many times before. The referee hadn't seen Lee getting kicked. Nor had we.
First-half: back on home turf
This was our first game of the season at Burridge. The grass stood tall and thick like an overgrown crew-cut, then the wind picked up and Redbridge threatened to make the game an anti-climax by scoring two quick goals. The first came from a long thrown in from the right flank that flicked off a head and into the far corner of the net. The second was a long range strike that skimmed off Kev Willsher's leg on its way past Ryan Jones. Ben Rowe rolled the ball against Redbridge's goalpost, then Marc Judd surrendered to the stereotype of his shaven head. The referee was happy to oblige him with a yellow card for dissent.
Redbridge had a central defender who I would hesitate to call fat, in case he read this and wanted to kill me. His yellow jersey stretched tight around his gut. He used chunks of the first-half to demonstrate his long range passing abilities. During a stoppage in play I took the opportunity to listen to him complain to one of his team-mates about how lazy their centre forward was. I was stood very close. I looked down at the grass so as not to appear nosy. It seemed too work. I couldn't help noticing that the defender's colleague wore Adidas football boots. One of his boot laces had shed free of its aglet. It's frayed end hung limply on the boot's red leather tongue. The defender's team-mate limited his communication to a nod of the head. Happiness didn't seem to be a mood that suited him.
Redbridge's third goal almost drew my applause. It came from a hard shot from outside the penalty area. It always seems so final when a ball that's travelling so fast is stopped by what is essentially string. I remember telling Ryan Hurst that I thought it was a good goal. Ryan wasn't ready to clap other teams' goals. On my return from the stinging nettles I took over as linesman from Joe Hill. I took my position a yard or so in front of the seven or eight who had come to watch Redbridge. I tried lightening the ugly mood that had taken hold of the game by asking them what I had missed whilst rooting through the undergrowth. Where they came from, they told me, they didn't talk about things like that. I left it at that, feeling fairly certain that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon a group of people who described themselves to me as thugs.
Lee Fielder's perpetrator was then substituted. He pulled off his shirt, complaining bitterly to himself about being kicked all afternoon. Tempting as it was, I decided against questioning him on the thought process behind swinging for Lee. I'm not sure there was one. Joe Hill had a shot that hit the inside of both of Redbridge's goal posts. It rolled toward Sam Schwodler who scored his fifth goal of the season. It looked odd to see Ben Hutton, a Burridge player of four years as recently as two weeks ago, coming on as striker for Redbridge. We hadn't just lost a versatile player - with his wife, Roz, no longer coming to games, we'd lost our photographer too. It was that kind of day.
Burridge (4-4-2): GK: Jones, RB: S.Hewitt, CB: Hurst, CB: Willsher, LB: K.Hewitt, LM: Judd (Fielder), CM: Wilson, CM: Sanderson (Allen), RM: Reeves, CF: Rowe (Hill), CF: Schwodler.