Saturday 3rd October, BTC Sports Ground, Stoneham Lane, Southampton
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way - it does not exist.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher, writer, and as far as I'm aware not at all interested in football.
No dogs; that's what the sign-post at BTC sports ground said. Fallen brown leaves drowned in deep puddles on the road outside the steel blue gated entrance of a football club who are very particular about their three pitches. They forbid anyone to use them prior to kick-off, not even those who are due to be playing in those matches; so, we did our pre-match warm-up down by the ground's disused tennis courts. The rules that had kept the dogs away had done nothing to deter the foxes. What looked like a couple of sun baked liquorice toffees were what Kristian Hewitt identified to us as fox turds. With twelve years behind him spent keeping greens at East Horton Golf Club, time has taught Hewitt the difference between the faeces of a badger and a fox, or anything else with four, or even two legs.
BTC were dressed in their familiar royal blue and white striped shirts. One of their midfield players, perhaps wanting to gauge their first-half performance, asked me how we had got on last week. His blond fringe owed much to current teen heart throb Justin Bieber. It wasn't enough for me to tell him we had lost to Redbridge. I felt the need to put that defeat into context by adding that Redbridge play in the Southampton Premier League. Context was on Bieber's mind, too. The published results on the back pages of last week's Sports Echo had printed the score: Netley Central 8-2 BTC. They had neglected to make any mention of BTC playing the duration of the game with only eight men. I didn't ask why three players hadn't shown up. Maybe Bieber thought I might have given his boys a round of applause for their bravery. Whilst their shortfall went some way to explaining the score, I remained unmoved. Bravery is one thing, but stupidity is quite another. Our first-half performance against BTC amounted to what Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, described as the worst he'd seen us play this season. Disappointment could be heard in his voice, which was slightly hoarse, from forty-five minutes spent shouting out instructions to us.
Joe Hill's contribution to the second half came in three parts. Firstly, he pulled rank on Marc Judd's left foot. The ball had sat up nicely for Judd to test BTC goalkeeper's reflexes. At the moment Judd was about to strike, Hill got in his way. Judd was furious. Whether or not Hill meant to shoot for goal from the right-wing shortly afterwards, did not detract from our frustration at the ball not ending up in the net. Instead, BTC watched it bounce away having struck the underside of their cross-bar. Hill's reward came when he reached the ball a fraction before his opponent, taking the full impact of an opponent's swinging boot. By my estimations it was a size ten, with the clear objective of hoofing the ball sixty yards up field. It made do with Hill, who writhed on the floor with his face buried flat in the grass. Say what you like about Hill, and people normally do, but things are never straightforward when he's around. He was unable to continue.
When the ball dropped to Daniel Esfandiari from a corner kick it seemed certain that he was about to score with a controlled, powerful and well struck strike. BTC's goalkeeper was on the floor having fallen over his own feet, and knew nothing about how he'd saved the ball with his back. He was a large man who looked to be 240 pounds heavy, who by wearing a yellow flecked pink goalkeeping jersey was like some dirty great blancmange standing between us and a certain goal. BTC's second goal brought a look of resignation on our faces. With five minutes left to play I would have forgiven anyone in Burridge colours wishing the referee had put us out of our misery and blown his final whistle early.
BTC had opportunities at both ends of the pitch to finish the game off, each of which they squandered with the careless abandon of a newly discovered complacency. BTC's goalkeeper dropped Sam Schwodler's header. Marc Judd got to the loose ball first, knocking it over the goal line. BTC's linesman waved his flag out of desperation on the far side of the pitch. The referee had a long conversation with him, but ignored his subjective advice. The goal stood. With a minute left to play and the ball at his feet, BTC's left-back had a world of possibilities in front of him, but with freedom comes responsibility and more tellingly, consequence. Sam Hewitt was breathing down his neck. His poked and hesitant back pass inadvertently became the perfectly weighted through ball that had eluded us for the entirety of the game.
Sam Hewitt now had a clear run through on goal. His legs felt dead, but he had time; time to think back to the last goal he had scored for Burridge. It was over a year ago. A brief silence was perfectly observed as the ball left Hewitt's foot. Then the ball was in BTC's net. Paul Dyke ran onto the pitch, shouting and pumping his fists. BTC's manager let out a falsetto howl. His plastic bottle of mineral water bore the brunt of his anger, sending it crashing against the painted white brick wall of his dug-out. BTC's left-back stood with his hands on his hips and a blank expression on his face. Whilst there may not be a definitive right way to do things, there is always a wrong way.
Burridge lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.
GK: Jones, RB: S.Hewitt, CB: Willsher, CB: Hurst, LB: K.Hewitt, RM: Sanderson (Allen), CM: Esfandiari, CM: Wilson, LM: Judd, CF:Hill (Reeves), CF:Schwodler