Saturday, 27 November 2010

Unofficial winter break

No game for a third straight week for Burridge AFC

It was gone two on Saturday afternoon and a single degree shy of freezing outside, good enough reason to turn down my brother's offer of driving down the M27 to watch last season's Burridge top scorer, Bryn Schwodler, play for Hedge End. One look outside showed few people had left home without a woolly hat of some kind. I have a fur deerstalker for such occasions, but saw no reason in using it today when there was a Lion bar in the kitchen cupboard and a warm place on the sofa with my name on it.

Burridge captain, Kev Willsher, took my brother up on his offer. Being glued to the Ashes series has bitten a large chunk out of his sleep, resulting in him arriving at the office for a day's graphic designing on little more than four hour's shut eye. I called him to see how Bryn was doing. It was half-time and Kev was sat in the car. Burridge centre forward, Sam Schwodler, was parked alongside in his burgundy Fiesta, inappropriately dressed for the weather in a thin jacket. Apparently Bryn looked lively and had a few goalscoring chances.

Bryn left Burridge in the close season to try his hand playing at a higher level. The bitter weather had made some spectators think twice about coming to the Rodway; but being both a Hampshire League game, and a local derby with Botley, there were still more people watching then we tend to get on any given Saturday afternoon. I remember ten years ago and more, going on holiday with Bryn to places like Magaluf and Faliraki, when we'd be goofing around by the pool, and how it was virtually impossible to push Bryn into the water. Gifted with a low centre of gravity he was always able to pivot off of the ball of either foot and scamper away to safety. Kev reserved his most damning criticism for a Botley centre back for wearing a snood around his neck. Hedge-end went three up in the ten minutes before half-time. Sam Schwodler had disappeared to the pub by the time Hedge End had scored a fourth. My brother and Kev followed shortly. Coming home and warming their arses on the radiator.

This unofficial annual break recharges our batteries, as well as giving players the chance to get totally ratted on a Friday evening without fear of the consequences. Although today it was just a break in the schedule rather than bad weather that stopped us from playing. A quick glance at the Southampton league tables shows we are where we always seem to be – smack bang in the middle. Netley are top, having played the same amount of games as us and double the points. Michelmersh Reserves have turned their back on a history of being hopeless. Last season they lost 23 of their 24 league games. So far in 2010/11 they've won more games than we have. Not that the past should count for anything, but once you do something, even for a short period of time, the public start expecting it of you forever.

I had missed Thursday night's training session. Dykey ran the guys into ground while I ate steak and drank whiskey with my dad to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. I subsequently learnt that during the end of session game, Jonesy had launched into a four letter word fuelled rant at team mates for not tracking back to help defend his goal. The twenty year old now has the final characteristic of the greatest goalkeepers, cantankerism. Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, never one to waste an opportunity, had spent the afternoon checking out Netley against Hare and Hounds, and Allbrook versus Sholing. In the cut and thrust of the Southampton League there is no rest for the manager.

Click here so see the current Southampton League tables.

Monday, 22 November 2010

November Rain

It was the telephone that woke me at around 11:30 on Saturday morning. It was a text message from Burridge manager, Paul Dyke. The game was off. The game was off last week too. It tends to rain a lot at this time of year, and the pitch was waterlogged. The phone rang before I could go back to sleep. The moment to bask in this newly found popularity passed me by as I noticed I'd left my phone on the radiator over night. Blackberries are nothing if not resilient, but the thing was never destined to be the same again. Do mobile phone manufacturers ever test their products on radiators? Probably not. I scribbled this idea down and put it with all my others:

  • Tell Puma their football boots really ought to be able to last more than two months.
  • Write back to Ann Wallace, editor of Flybe's in-flight magazine, and ask her to reconsider my proposed article on the best places to play Russian roulette on New Year's Eve in Malaga.
  • Pitch your idea to Coca-Cola, on a largely untapped market, about a collaboration with Jack Daniels to release the JD and Coke in a can. (Not to my tastes, but I think it would sell.) 

There were plenty of other ideas too, just that I couldn't read the rest of my hand-writing. It was Barrie Becheley on the telephone. He's the Burridge chairman. He formed the club back in 1989, and wanted to make sure that Paul Dyke got his message that the game was off. I said he had. Barrie runs the Burridge Sunday morning side. They have the Burridge crest on the chest of their shirts. The Burridge crest is a red brick castle. I was curious what business red brick castles had on Burridge shirts. Barrie told me that the word Burridge actually means fortress, which is kind of like a castle. I told Barrie I'd drop his money off to him soon. He said there was no rush.

    I collect our team's subscription fees. They cover our running costs; things like pitch and referee fees, medical equipment and stuff like that. I've even got a bank account with HSBC to pay the money into. I don't know if it's my sheepskin jacket, or on this occasion, the four-pack of Fosters in a carrier bag that I rested upon on the counter, but once again the staff at HSBC asked if I was a signature on the account. They speak in the same slow tone I imagine custom officers do when asking if you've packed your bag, knowing full well you've got an ounce of Afghan Whig stashed in the lining of the side pocket. I tell them I am the only signature on the account. This being true doesn't stop me from getting nervous. I usually end up twiddling the thin silver chain that holds their Biros prisoner to the counter. I usually have to sign a bit of paper to prove I'm legit.

    Despite having a signature with all the imagination of a straight line, one look at it is enough to satisfy HSBC. By this time the queue behind me is massive. It's not just the bank, they're not crazy about me at Co-op. Even in the heady days of 2010, some people get ants in their pants when you ask for large silver Rizla and a bottle of red before eleven in the morning. Neither items were for me, I hasten to add. Not that that old chestnuts holds any water with these puritans. And Bukowski thought he had it tough in Post Office.

    Barrie's friendly manner may have taken a slight turn had he known that the only thing keeping me from what I consider naked was a pair of thick winter socks. I didn't drop that into our conversation. I was no more likely to share that information than I was revealing to him that whilst we spoke, albeit on the phone, I had a rather stubborn half mast. I'd rather that hadn't happened, but there it was, gaining height and all the while robbing me of my dignity as I tried my utmost to maintain pleasantries with our chairman.

    With no game I had time on my hands. I put on some music and some clothes and went out, stopping by at my local off license. They're called Cloud Wine. An independent store with a nice vibe about the place so when you do buy hard liquor you don't get made to feel like you have a problem, that in my experience you are made to feel like at say Threshers. Cloud Wine do this BY creating an atmosphere. Beethoven's fourth symphony was followed by the Misfits. I think it was Hybrid Moments. Sadly, they no longer have the monopoly on the Bedford Place area of Southampton. As well as a mini Tesco and Sainsbury's to contend with, there's also a Champagne Charlies down the road. This is a big draw for the students because they're open until midnight. Not that I would know because I have never set foot in the place.

    I know the guys at Cloud Wine. With his thick dark beard, Justin is a living answer for anyone wondering what Brian Blessed would have looked like if he joined The Doors. I hovered around the cash register eyeing up the Monkey Shoulder. Justin told me to keep my eyes peeled as they were bringing in a batch of Japanese whiskey in a week or so. I asked if it was any good. He told me by all accounts it was very good. He was fresh out of a fortnight spent in Southampton General with blood poisoning in his arm. His boredom was cured when his girlfriend brought in his laptop so he could watch the last series of The Wire. I left Cloud Wine empty handed.

    If nothing else, this week has taught me how to rattle Burridge skipper, Kev Willsher. Drive like an arsehole. It was on the way to training, and I was making a right turn out of Portsmouth Road toward Hamble. I was let out by an oncoming vehicle. My windows were a little steamed up so I couldn't see what was driving on the outside of that vehicle, but being an optimist, I felt my chances were as good as fifty-fifty, so I pulled out; the result of which was two-fold. The car passing on the blind side had to hit the breaks, and Kev was left jabbering like a nervous wreck.

    Click on any words in blue to go to something that might go some way to explain what I'm talking about. That just about leaves time for me to say Happy Twenty-First Birthday, to Burridge superstar - Sammy Hewitt (pictured to the right of Burridge centre-half, Ryan Hurst). Just where does the time go? 


    Saturday, 13 November 2010

    Burridge AFC 1-1 Forest Town

    Saturday 6th November, Southampton Senior Division One, The Shed, Botley Road, Burridge

    Kev Willsher told me to try and be ready for 12:20pm. His eyes are still black from getting kicked in the face during last week's game with Michelmersh. He's been lying low ever since; flicking through the sports pages of the tabloids with the lounge curtains shut tight. Strangers draw their own conclusions when they see a man with the bridge of his nose taped together. That doesn't sit well with Kev. A few weeks back he burnt a layer of flesh clean off his wrist after leaning down on his kitchen stove. Some, including himself, say it was an accident; but I have my reservations. I know he holds a grudge with his iPhone. The top of the screen is caved in. It never stood a chance against concrete. When people notice the state of his phone they ask if he's going to get it fixed. He always says no. If you're going to cross him be prepared to wear the scars. To put it simply, Kev Willsher is not a man to be fucked with. When he said try and be ready for 12:20pm, I made sure I was.

    Marc Judd has his penalty kicked saved in the first half (pic by LDS)
     I like to spend Saturday mornings lying in bed listening to the cars go by outside. Today was different. It was time to get dressed and remember what money smelt like. I forgot my PIN number three weeks ago, so HSBC posted it to me in a letter. They needn't have bothered, it didn't work. No matter, I thought. So what if the contents of my kitchen cupboards amount to little more than half a bag of monkey nuts and a jar of peanut butter. A trolley load of groceries were small beans compared to putting one up Forest Town. Here was a team used to getting their own way. The Southampton Football Association have allowed them to keep the Southampton Junior Cup after they won it for the third successive year in April. No team has done that in 100 years of competition. We'd beaten them 3-2 a few weeks ago. They didn't like it and one or two of them had tickets on themselves. One even played wearing a pair of black gloves. I'd sooner wear lingerie, at least I'd get something from it.

    Men in suits on the TV are calling this the age of austerity. It turned out I needed a dictionary a great deal more than a man in a suit describing the weather outside my window. Even so, less money has led to a change in our shopping habits: you've ditched Asda for Netto, toilet paper is less durable than it used to be, and things like kitchen roll are just an extravagance of the past. Just what would we do without Primark? In the case of Forest Town's goalkeeper the answer would be playing football in underpants. His green goalkeeping jersey was tucked into a pair of grey jogging pants, which drew many Burridge followers, including the injured Kristian Hewitt, into flat out laughing at him. Tracksuit bottoms have come a long way since Rocky. He wore them because he had little other choice, Sport Direct didn't exist yet. In the years since the jogging pant has come to represent not sporting endeavour, but a combination of blim holes, low quality hash and daytime TV.

    Essy has words with the referee. The referee wins.
    Sam Schwodler got every Forest Town player's back up when he found one of their legs to fall over. They said it was cheating. The referee said it was a penalty. When Greg Baker was around this meant a certain Burridge goal. He never missed. Sixteen straight penalties all scored. There are only two yards of green carpet that separate the front door of his flat from mine. It was the Tuesday after the Forest Town game and I was back from a run, coughing my guts up as I walked back down our corridor. There it was on the floor outside his front door, all what was left of Greg's stuff. A cardboard box filled with coat hangers. His dad was clearing out the last of Greg's stuff before he moves to London. Greg's dad used to referee our games as kids. There in the corridor we spoke about the flats' thermostat, (that neither Greg nor I have the faintest idea how to work), and the management company of the flats, Solitaire, who the fire department threatened with closing our block of flats down if they didn't fix something that could have killed us all but was never fully explained in the subsequent paperwork.

    All the while I was stuck with the image of his Dad's cock. Greg had told me, with that snorting laughter of his, how he'd been flicking through his parent's holiday snaps - innocuous shots of this and that, then all of a sudden bingo, bold as brass, there it was, a photo of his Dad in his hotel room with his mouse out the house. It still raises a smile whenever I mention it to Greg, but I chose not to mention it to his Dad on this occasion. Greg has missed a lot of games due to work. Now he has finally moved to London. In his absence Justin Newman, Kristian Hewitt and now Marc Judd have all failed to score a penalty. Ten years ago Judd was playing for Bashley alongside Jimmy Case and Wade Elliott. (Click here to see Jimmy in his pomp.) Judd hit his penalty kick well enough, smacking it with his trusty left foot, but Forest Town's 'keeper dived low to his left and pushed the ball away.

    It was tough luck on Martin Barnet, starting his first game for us, who headed the ball into his own net to make the score 1-1. This goal was the result of umpteen corner kicks and crosses into our penalty area, during which our every tackle on Forest Town caused them to crowd around the referee and pester him for our players to be booked. All in all a draw was probably fair. Few were happy with the temperature of the post match showers, which were described by some of our players as freezing cold. I prefer to call them bracing. They provided an invigorating experience, the perfect tonic to anyone battling with rising sap. Once we'd cleaned up we headed to The West End Brewery. They cooked us up a big plate load of beef-burgers and chips. This didn't fit with Kev Willsher's dietary requirements. Kev doesn't eat beef. He made do with a plate full of chips. I really ought to warn the chef.

    Click here for the current Southampton Senior Division league tables.


    Saturday, 6 November 2010

    Michelmersh & Timsbury 3-2 Burridge AFC

    Saturday 30th October, Timsbury Recreation Ground

    By the time the game was over the rain had passed. I was struggling to peel my shirt off when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was from a man with a head full of swept back white hair. Alongside him stood the referee, who'd warned me three times during the game before eventually showing me a yellow card. She was much younger than he was. Either she was his daughter or there was a more sinister element to their relationship, all aside one that had my full approval.

    Michelmersh score very late on (pic by LDS)
    As anyone will tell you, I have a high moral code on the football pitch and conduct myself in the manner of a gentleman. So naturally my booking wasn't for something as unsavoury as bad language. It was for persistent foul play. She had a pencil with a pink eraser on one end. As she booked me I watched her write my name in her little black notebook. Not only did she ignore the lines in her notebook, she didn't press the lead down very hard on the paper either, leaving my name scrawled sideways in faint capitals. She even apologised, which I thought was nice. In my opinion, any referee gung-ho enough to just jot my name down willy-nilly with something as temporary as a pencil, is probably capable of going to bed with a far older man. There was no doubt in my mind, she was a maverick.

    Unfortunately, we live in a world whereby a man cannot be tapped on the shoulder without suspicion of impending violence. Without so much as a set of keys I put my faith in my bare hands. My mind was put at ease when I noticed he was armed only with a Thermos flask. In my experience those who use Thermos flasks are a gentle people. My intuition served me well and I relaxed in the knowledge I didn't have to fight with an old man after ninety gruelling minutes of football. Losing would have been difficult for my ego.

    “Just how did you lose that game?” He asked me. At first I wondered if he was taking the piss, then I remembered he was carrying a Thermos flask. As a rule those who use Thermos aren't ones to make snide remarks. I shrugged. I didn't know the answer. I ended up giving him a really boring reply like some of the jerk footballers on the telly. “You completely monopolised the second half,” he continued, as we made our way to Michelmersh's timber clubhouse. That was true. “If Michelmersh's keeper hadn't of made those cracking saves it might have been different.” Michelmersh's first came after about fifteen seconds. The player who scored it will not hit one sweeter this season. Maybe not ever. From then on their peckers were well and truly up, which in my opinion is the best way to have them. We had our work cut out.

    Kev Willsher is Burridge captain. He's an uncompromising footballer who leads by example, but in my opinion he'd make a lousy boxer, he bleeds way to easy. It's becoming an almost weekly occurrence. On reflection it's what tends to happen when you throw your head where people are kicking their feet. If the blood running down his face represents his commitment to the cause, then his nose is his Victoria cross. That conk of his has seen plenty of action. Marc Judd had equalised twice and was very unfortunate not to complete his hat-trick, as he saw his header bounce back off Michelmersh's crossbar. We'd all live to rue that because Michelmersh scored a third late on. Time was our enemy.

    Some of the younger lads took the defeat hard. I remember when I was their age. It was ten years ago and I was working in a call centre for a large health insurance company where vaginal prolapse and adult circumcision were a daily occurrence. The job wasn't all laughs though. Having my days filled with calls from other seriously ill people provided my young self with unwelcome stress. As a consequence I hit the bottle. Some days I'd be unable to face anymore calls, so I'd sit at my desk with my headset on but unplugged, making conversations up with imaginary policy holders as to appear busy. If memory serves I got quite good at it.

    There was a man who worked with me who was undergoing chemotherapy. He got a lot of time off. The sympathy ran dry when it turned out he had made the whole thing up. People in the office were really angry when they found out. I thought if anything it showed he was far sicker than any of us ever imagined. Despite it all, I still liked him; he had charisma. He was fired on the spot and I never saw him again. If there's any wisdom I picked up from that period of my life, it's don't take acid on a cold Tuesday night in November. Getting sent home from work the next day won't stop spoons from judging you. I didn't pass this nugget on to our younger players, I didn't think it was appropriate. We went back to the West End Brewery for our sausage and chips.

    Looking back (bringing back the blog)

    I haven't posted here since 2012 – that’s five years of not blogging. The blog is/was about Burridge AFC, the football team I played f...