Saturday 9th October, Gang Warily, Blackfield
"Forest Town suffered a shock defeat to Burridge AFC." Southampton Sports Echo, Saturday 16th October.
The concrete chimneys of Fawley Power Station climb high above the deciduous trees that separate it from Gang Warily. We stood far below the fumes disappearing into a deep blue sky, listening to Paul Dyke's pep talk. The referee blew hard on his whistle and waved both teams toward him. He was ready to get the game started.
“In a minute ref,” Dyke shouted back to him. Then he began speaking to us again. “Right fellas, we've been playing okay for eighty minutes, but I.....”
“Phweeeeeeeeppp...,” the referee blew Dyke's sentence dead with another whistle blast. He wanted to make one thing crystal clear; he was the star of the show. If you didn't like it, he put that plastic red whistle to his lips and blew.
“Go on then,” Dyke told us, looking at the face of his watch and shaking his head. There were five minutes until kick-off, but the chance to finish what he had to say to us was gone. Not a single hair sprouted from the referee's scalp. He got us to stand in a line facing him, then he gave us his spiel. “I won't accept any bad language, nor the wearing of any jewellery,” he told us, speaking with his hands as much as his mouth. Then he got both teams to shake hands. It was clear from the start that a beige streak of Graham Poll coursed deep through his veins.
Earlier, Marc Judd was laying back on the black leather dressing-room treatment table. He fished around his jean pockets for a cigarette. “I'm giving them up,” he said, starring into space, “once this packet's done.” His son wants him to stop smoking. His son's name is stitched into the blue tongue of his Adidas football boots, the boots that referees tend to show concern about during the pre-match stud check, worried that the length of the blue blades might have a sharp edge that could open up a leg like a tin of sardines. It was Judd's left boot that did the damage. He hit a diagonal pass right into the path of Ben Rowe. Forest Town's goalkeeper came rushing out of his penalty area for a handful of leather. All he got was fresh air. Rowe side footed the ball over his head. Forest Town's manager watched his goalkeeper bend down and pick up the ball from out of his own net. Somebody next to him asked if it had been too easy for Rowe to muscle his way through their defence. “Yep,” he nodded, bringing his hand down through his strawberry blond whiskers, “but, they're a big physical side.”
I've only heard Ben Rowe swear once. It was two summer's ago after he had twisted his knee in training. He stands over six feet tall, with three days stubble matching the length of his shaved head. We call him, Ox. On Sunday morning he goes to church, but Saturday afternoons are for scoring goals. Seldom has he lived up to his nickname so effectively when he bulldozed past two Forest Town defenders on his way to burying his second goal. When Forest Town pulled a goal back, one voice could be heard over everything else. I could hear its Southampton twang hang from every vowel. Marc Judd could hear it too. It belonged to Paul Dyke. Judd gritted his teeth and looked at me. He didn't want to face Dyke, who was cursing him for not getting back into the defensive position in time to stop Forest Town scoring. Then things got worse. Ryan Hurst has played well this season. Blond, fresh-faced and getting better with each game - these days, he can even beat Kev Willsher to the ball in the air, something I would need a step ladder and a large blotter loaded with chloroform to do. What a shame then, that the sheen was taken from Hurst's feat when his header finished in our net. It was now 2-2.
The collage of photographs that make up the mast head of this blog have been interpreted, by some, as a homo-erotic monument to Jason Wilson; with his hobo beard and jail-house tattoos, it his picture, to the left, with his arms outstretched in a red Burridge jersey, that features most prominently. In actual fact, the collage is the result of several hours spent hunched over my laptop, failing to grasp the finer points of Photoshop. When Wilson was hacked down by a mistimed and high Forest Town tackle it gave us the opportunity to get to know our opposition better, much better; at the kind of point blank range you wouldn't normally expect until a third or fourth date, as opposed to eighty or so minutes of football. Once the heavy-petting was over it was back to football. Hurst placed the ball, ready to hit the free-kick. Kev Willsher told him to aim for Essy. Twelve long years separate the two men, and as a result, Hurst respects Kev, taking on board most of what he has to say, but on this occasion he frowned back at Kev as if the old warhorse had taken one too many bludgeons to the head. Essy has many qualities - good dentistry and nice hair being some of them, but attacking the football with his head is not something he's renowned for. Hursty did it regardless. Essy closed his eyes and let his dark brown fringe do the rest. The ball reached Sam Schwodler who made it 3-2.
There wasn't long left. Three minutes to be precise. It may as well have been 3 days. We'd been chewing the referee's ear off all afternoon. As with everything else, he got the wrong end of the stick, thinking we wanted an encore, rather than his head. The resulting 7 minutes of injury-time passed slower than the time I had to do the night shift at a printing factory with an older, bigger, stronger man whose marriage did little to prevent word getting out that he had previous when it came to cottaging. Dan Allen is 17, which is not far off the same number of words he's said since joining the club in the summer. The closing minutes of this game were almost a rite of passage for him. I say almost because I sense his true rite of passage will come on his forthcoming eighteenth birthday. As a 32 year old, I am very much looking forward to the party. Sam Schwodler and myself were faffing over who of the opposition to mark. Dan put us straight, pointing his index finger and giving us, what was by Sam Schwodler's standards, nothing more than asking strangers for directions, but by his, there were no two ways about it, it was a bollocking. The final whistle was a relief. It was the day after Kev Willsher's birthday, so we went out into the bars of Southampton and drank what we could. Which turned out to be, with the help of a golf ball, enough to make everyone pretty far gone.
The Burridge line up:
4-4-2: GK:Jones, LB:K.Hewitt(Sanderson), CB:Willsher, CB:Hurst, RB:S.Hewitt, RM:Reeves(Allen), CM:Esfandiari, CM:Wilson, LM:Judd, CF:Schwodler, CF:Rowe