Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, marched up and down the centre-circle, inspecting the mud beneath his feet. Our last game was a 1-1 draw with Forest Town at Burridge on November 6th. Eleven weeks later and our pitch is still waterlogged. Dyke's black outfit of tracksuit trousers and thick quilted jacket made his white Adidas trainers stand out clearly from my view, sixty or so yards away, in the back seat of Kev Willsher's Ford Focus, as we arrived in the car-park shortly before 12:45pm. Dyke's trainers have seen better days, which was just as well, because within the first ten minutes of the game my boot laces were no longer visible under a layer of mud.
We were at Meadowside Leisure Centre in Whiteley, a shopping outlet tucked away in a dead end off junction 9 of the M27, almost four miles south-east from Burridge. The middle of the pitch was more like a swamp than a football pitch. Great fun to slide tackle in, but not ideal to pass or indeed run upon. This was, to me at least, further evidence, if necessary, to run the Southampton Football League season between March and September. I was surprised to read that the head of UEFA, Michel Platini, shares my views. Well, not with the Southampton Football League, but with the sport in general.
The perception that Platini has a vendetta against English football has been voiced regularly throughout the sports media, so that anything he says is treated with a certain amount of subjectivity. Mark Irwin of The Sun, was pretty sure were he stood if his headline from Friday's edition was anything to go by. It read, Michel is such a stupid Plat. You can read Mark Irwin's report by clicking here. The fifty-seven comments that followed the online copy echoed his sentiment unanimously. Although the more balanced comments asked what we, the football fan, would be left to look forward to during a long cold winter without the game. It's a good point.
My ideas differ slightly from Platini's. I am not calling for all football to be played between March and September, just local football. Burridge's fixtures have been decimated by bad weather during the winter months over the last five years. Some leagues in England are already addressing the situation. On Wednesday, representatives of the 150 teams in the Russell Foster Tyne and Wear Youth League will decide whether to begin their season on June 1st, starting this year. Click here for the full report. John Topping, secretary of the Durham FA expects an overwhelming majority to back summer football. In Saturday's Guardian, he was quoted as saying that, “there is widespread frustration with bitterly cold winters that are disrupting almost all matches between November and February.” A view that Burridge leading goal scorer, Sam Schwolder, echoed at a table in Pilgrim House Chinese restaurant last Saturday night.
Daniel Esfandiari, or Essy as he is commonly known, received by far and away the most attention from the rest of the squad before the game. He is going skiing in France with a holiday rep, a women I might add, with his girlfriend's blessing. Tit-bits like this are food and drink to the likes of Kristian Hewitt and Paul Dyke, who were on his case the moment he arrived in the dressing room. The crux of their teasing was based on whether or not Essy intended to have sex with this women, with obviously, the concept that a man and a women could go on holiday without doing so being even more preposterous than my summer football idea. Essy took the ribbing in good spirit. Hewitt had the last word on the matter, “just make sure to stick a condom on,” he said. “She's bound to have something.”
I put our shining white Mitre football and placed it in the mud, where the painted white centre-circle once stood, before Dyke supervised an extensive pre-match warm-up. Kristian Hewitt complained that he still ached from Thursday night's training session. Jason Wilson was more concerned with his fringe, which if not swept back, fell into his eyes. “I don't suppose anyone's got an Alice band?” He asked. Kristian Hewitt looked at him with a facial expression of his that I've come to recognise over the last decade, that suggests he's lost all hope in the human race, before suggesting to Wilson he get his hair cut.
The referee walked from the changing rooms up the shallow bank to the pitch. As he approached I heard Hewitt mutter, “Oh no, not him.” In truth, Hewitt's concerns could apply to scores of local referees. I put this to him by asking if there were any referees he would be pleased to see. “There's one or two.” he insisted, but I knew there were none he liked.
Durley were dressed in their familiar red and white jerseys. One or two of their players looked overdue for being put out to pasture in the veteran league; although one of which, at 43 years of age, was probably their best player. I was up against a far taller opponent in central midfield. He had the ruddy complexion that many with strawberry blond hair are cursed with. His shoulder length hair drew some of my team-mates to compare his appearance to that of Robbie Savage.
I was soon to discover that his lack of self awareness was not limited to his choice of haircut. I was impressed with his ability to continually convince himself that he was having any influence on the game. Fairly ineffectual in the air for a man of six foot plus, he was prepared to overlook his own short comings in order to concentrate on his team mates'. He spent the majority of the first-half stood on the half-way line with his arms held high above his head demanding the ball When it wasn't he would complain, when it was he was kind enough to return it to us.
Sam Schwodler gave us a one-nil lead mid-way through the first-half. His appetite for goals is all the motivation he needs to get himself into goalscoring positions. Although Marc Judd's twenty-five yard free-kick had neither the pace nor the direction to cause Durley's goalkeeper any problems, Schwodler was prepared to take a chance by following it towards goal. When it was fumbled by Durley's goalkeeper, Schwodler had the relatively simple task of tapping the ball in. This goal owed much to his willingness to take a chance on what might only occur on one or two occassions in twenty. Durley's 'keeper wore a bright fluorescent orange jersey which was in stark contrast to the grey skies, while his woolly hat kept his hair a secret. He denied Schwodler a second goal with a decent save, but in doing so he pushed the ball into the path of Lee Fielder, who stood seven yards away from an unprotected goal. Instead of ending up in the back of the blue net, the ball landed in somebody's driveway.
Half-time score: Burridge AFC 1-0 Durley Reserves
Marc Judd provided us with some much needed breathing space in the second-half, when a Schwodler cross missed its intended target of Lee Fielder. Judd, who'd been screaming for the ball from his oncoming position on the left-wing, gathered the ball in his stride and struck it low into the bottom right hand corner with his trusty left foot. Sam Schwodler made it three-nil with a well executed strike from the edge of the eighteen yard box, gathering Jason Wilson's pass, after some purposeful build up play led by Sam Hewitt.
There was some light hearted debate in the dressing room after game about who was at fault for Durley's goal. It came as a result of their right-back running unopposed down the slight slope for a distance of fifty or so yards, before slipping a perfectly weighted ball into the path of a Durley striker, who tucked it neatly inside Ryan Jones' right hand post. What hair the right-back had left was grey. If I were to hazard a conservative guess at his age I would say he is between 48 and 52 , but on the evidence seen this afternoon, still more than capable of outpacing either Marc Judd or Kristian Hewitt on the wing. Although it's worth noting that by this stage Durley had thrown whatever strategy they had arrived with in the waste paper basket, throwing men forward in order to try and get back into the game. By doing so they left plenty of space for us to exploit. It was perhaps of lack of match practice that prevented us from adding to our tally of three goals.
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