Saturday 16th October, The Shed, Burridge
Burridge played hosts to Sholing Sports, who much like ourselves, have introduced many new personel since their last meeting on a Monday evening in April.
It was a little after five on Saturday morning when Sam Schwodler decided to call it a night. He chose Marc Judd's bed. It was empty. He'd spent the previous evening drinking with Judd's brother, Kev, at the Dolphin; a Hungry Horse chain pub in Botley High-Street, whose every conceivable surface is currently being used to advertise their Christmas menu, featuring all the traditional dishes, as well as a 10 ounce rump steak, all seasoned with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks and terms and conditions.
Schwodler woke up at around seven. He went home, packed his size eleven Adidas football boots into his kit bag, along with a vague sense of hope, rather than expectation, that October might give Burridge's football pitch its blessing and allow his metal studs to sink into its clay based earth, sparing the soles of his feet yet more blisters. Paul Dyke named him in his starting line-up to play up-front with Ben Rowe. Schwodler went out and stretched like the rest of us, tested the strength of our goal nets with one or two pre-game strikes, then proceeded to score three of our four goals that afternoon. On the evidence presented on this bright Autumn Saturday afternoon, one would have to concede that Sam Schwodler's desire for sleep is secondary in his pursuit of goals.
One of the first things he does after the game, if he has scored, is momentarily lose himself in the deep concentration of thumbing out a text message to his older brother Bryn. Bryn was our top goalscorer last season. He now lives high on the hog, playing for Hedge-End Rangers in the Hampshire League, where at half-time he'll be served a cup of tea, a wholly useless liquid for re-hydrating after 45 minutes haring around a football pitch, but confirmation, if needed, that he is playing at a higher echelon, where the hosts consider the needs of visiting teams. Bryn's enjoying his football at Hedge-End, and by all accounts he's playing well, but he's not scoring as many as Sam. Few are.
Sam has begun this season in much the same way he finished the last, carrying out his duties in a hurry, but with a clear sense of purpose - like a man laden with his wife's shopping bags and desperate to get back to his car. His long sleeved Burridge jersey hangs untucked outside of his shorts and short wisps of fair hair dance in the breeze, demanding the ball in a grunt coming from somewhere deep within his gut. Ben Rowe scored the first. It was a trade-mark wallop with his right foot. Sadly, he was unable to complete the game after aggravating a hamstring injury. By half-time Schwodler had two goals to his name, as Sholing demonstrated a refusal to acknowledge that their defensive offside trap strategy was as about as effective as European immigration control. Our game was all the better for it.
His third goal came in the second-half, after collecting a side-footed pass down the slope from Sam Hewitt and toe poking the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper. The handful of spectators, with their push chairs and winter coats, dotting the touchline, did nothing to dampen Schwodler's celebrations. His pleasure at completing his hat-trick, perhaps emancipated by a lack of any real sleep, brought new life into the swagger of a bygone era of Charlie George and Stan Bowles.
Later, in changing rooms, I spoke to Sam. “Well done, Schwods,” I said, drying myself with a towel marketing the positive aspects of holidaying in Majorca. Threadbare and ridiculous, it is now better fit for the rubbish bin rather than drying the lonely crevices of my skinny body. “That's eight now isn't it?”
“Nine,” replied Sam proudly. He pulled a crumpled five pound note from his pocket and gave it to me. I didn't let my lack of clothes stand in the way of collecting his match subscription. There was a time when getting it was like getting blood out of stone. Not anymore. I spoke to his Dad, Pete, about Sam's hat-trick at the West End Brewery. He leant over the dark wooden banister slats with a pint in his hand, dressed in trendy knitwear, smelling nice and drawing guffaws from the rest of the lads sat behind me when he told us that he'd played full-back earlier that afternoon. Fifty-odd years of age and still playing for Wildern Old Boys in a six-nil win.
After a difficult start in the intermediate cups, we are beginning to justify the Sports Echo's faith in predicting that we would be there or there abouts in this season's Southampton Senior Division title race. Currently nestled behind Forest Town and Netley Central Sports in third place it is still early days, but the foundations are being laid for a solid season.