Monday, 24 January 2011

Burridge AFC 3-1 Durley Reserves

Saturday 22nd January: Burridge play their first game of 2011 in boggy conditions at Whiteley.

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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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

An audience with Burridge striker, Sam Schwodler

Once again, the weather denies Burridge's leading goalscorer the chance to get a game in, so is it time for local football leagues to be played at a different time of the year?

I had my reservations about sitting opposite Sam Schwodler in a restaurant that served Stella Artois. He has a reputation for getting lively where alcohol is concerned, often seen topping up his lager with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. He was sat in-between his mother and Burridge midfielder, Kristian Hewitt, at Pilgrim House, a Chinese restaurant offering an all you can eat buffet, situated on Canute Road, that backs onto Southampton's eastern docks, for Bryn Schwodler and Luke Sanderson's joint birthday celebrations. I needn't have worried. Over the course of the following three hours, Schwodler provided excellent company.  

Dressed stylishly in a dark blazer and scarf, which was tied neatly, under which he wore a light blue shirt beneath a thin navy sweater, an outfit which drew Hewitt in telling Sam he looked like David Essex. “Well, I thought it was posh here” replied Sam, looking momentarily self conscious as he helped himself to more noodles. Sam went onto share his insight on a wide spectrum of topics that his almost twenty-nine years have experienced, including fatherhood, plumbing, goalscoring and prison. Earlier, his eighteen month old son, Lennon, had mistaken the white walls of his flat as a blank canvass on which Sam had caught him enthusiastically drawing upon with crayon. Shouting at him to stop made Lennon cry, which Sam regretted, as much as he did picking him up to console him. “You shouldn't really do that after you tell them off,” he told me.

When asked about his short spell in prison, he spoke about the crushing boredom of being locked in a cell for all but an hour of the day. Refusing to dwell on the negative aspects of the experience he confessed to honing his pool game to such a degree he had to start letting some of the hard cases win for fear of retribution. Being voted the worst trainer by his fellow team mates on Thursday evening was still a matter for debate as far as Sam was concerned. Arriving twenty minutes late didn't help his cause, although he had warned Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, in advance, it cut no ice with the victors of the end of session six-a-side game, who cast their votes in Schwodler's favour unanimously. His reward will be to wear the fluorescent yellow jersey, that bears the name of previous winners in black marker pen, during our next training session. Whether or not previous winner, Joe Hill, has incurred the £3 fine that comes with washing it, is unclear.

The frustration at not having played since November 6th was compounded by his Dad, Pete, and oldest brother, Jay, playing that afternoon for Wildern Old Boys and Hedge-End Rangers Reserves, respectively. Both games took place at Wide Lane, over the road from Southampton airport. Pete Schwodler had his own theory on the glut of postponed matches. “They call games off too early,” he said, between sips of Stella.”Our pitch was absolutely fine.” Although Jay came on and played for half an hour, he suffered the indignity of being dropped to the substitute bench by Rich Allan, who will be best man at Jay's forthcoming wedding. On getting wind of this, Kristian Hewitt very nearly choked on his crispy duck. Hewitt had long taken rise out of Jay during many years playing alongside. Since Jay left in the summer, Hewitt has turned his attention to Marc Judd, who Hewitt can often be heard taunting, at both the training ground and the pub.

Another season hampered by wet and freezing weather will no doubt result in a last minute scramble to try and squeeze games in during the last two months of the season. This has been a familiar pattern over the past five years, when the months of December and January effectively become off season. Those with short memories can see how bad weather has disrupted Burridge's season over the last five years.

2006/2007: 5 games played between November 13th and March 11th.
2007/2008: 4 games played in December and January.
2008/2009: 4 games played in December and January.
2009/2010: 2 games played in December and January.
2010/2011: No game played since November 6th.

The solution seems simple. We can begin playing games on artificial surfaces once the weather worsens. Fleming Park, Hamble School, Southampton Sports Centre, and Wide Lane all have full size synthetic pitches. My gut feeling is that many players would be unhappy playing on all weather pitches, because both the run and bounce of the ball are completely different to that of a grass, or muddy, pitch. Therefore, is it time to beg the question for local leagues to be played during Summer? The season could be played during warmer months between March and August.

Some would say Summer is the holiday season rather than the football season, but that argument falls a little flat as a significant proportion of our team go on regular winter holidays. During the hotter months of June, July and August games could kick-off in the morning, which would also leave a larger part of the day free. There would also be the potential for regular mid-week games, that would be a more appealing prospect for casual spectators on a pleasant spring or summer evening. Most importantly, a summer season would allow teams to actually do what they really want to do - play regular games of football. Is it time to revert to a summer season?

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

No credit

The weather's not getting any better so the chances of Burridge playing this Saturday are slim.

There was a letter waiting for me when I got home from work. It was unnecessary to open the envelope in order to find out who it was from, I recognised the rounded consonants my name and address had been written in. It was January's invoice from Hamble School, whose synthetic sports pitch facilities we use for our training sessions for an hour each week on Thursday evenings. It is £160 in total for four sessions. Missing in the envelope was any credit note for the two sessions the school cancelled in December due to sub-zero weather conditions that had frozen the pitch. Maybe my request for that credit note had not been taken seriously because it was written in green felt tip pen. If they'd rather it came printed off in Times New Roman, then fine, £80 is still £80.

Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, had requested Saturday 8th's game to be postponed as a significant chunk of our squad, including goalkeeper Ryan Jones, were in Disneyland, Paris, to celebrate Ryan Hurst's twenty-first birthday. Years ago, my peers and I were satisfied in marking the occasion by going drinking in town and ending the evening hugging the toilet bowl in a nightclub cubicle. Clearly things have altered since we reached that landmark age. We have the opportunity to improve on our current position of seventh place, with games in hand on all teams placed above us in the Senior Division of the Southampton Football League.

My drive home from work at around five-thirty was marred by poor visibility, as my windscreen was forever steaming up. This was a result of various items of football kit in the boot, much of it that had been there for some time, the guilty parties being a pair of size eight and half metal studded Adidas, and a set of shin pads, all left to fester in a Nike sports holdall that is slung deep in boot of my car underneath a canvass bag of leather Mitre footballs. The boots need the attention of a good clean that I have been delaying for over a month.

I drove down Basset Avenue alongside the Common and tried to ignore the partially blocked windscreen, the thought of my filthy boots, as well as my fuel gage, that once has once again dropped perilously close to empty. As per usual I will wait as long as possible to part with hard earned cash to fill the tank with diesel. During my short walk from my car to my flat the roads and pavements were testament to the day's weather forecast, with any slight camber or dip filled to the brim with rainwater. With further heavy rain forecast for the remainder of the week it is unlikely that the opportunity to improve on seventh place will arrive this coming Saturday.

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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Back in the saddle

Burridge returned to training on Thursday 6th January, bringing with them an enthusiasm, although given the Christmas break perhaps not a high level of fitness.

Lee Fielder hunched over the low wooden picket fence that separates the pathway leading to the astroturf at Hamble School from a bunch of fragile looking shrubbery, and tried to vomit. Hearing the dry heave from behind him, Ryan Hurst turned around, “You alright, mate?” He asked, all the while being sure to keep his distance. “I've definitely got a puke in me,” said Lee, his eyes fixed downwards towards the wet grass. We had just finished our first training session of 2011, after a fortnight off over Christmas and New Year. Manager, Paul Dyke, had put us through a gruelling session, with circuit runs around half of a full size pitch, whereby he'd call out a number between one and four, in relation to the number of sides of the pitch he wanted us to sprint around. We did this exercise for what seemed a very long time. It was in fact for ten minutes.

Further circuit training continued, on each exercise Dyke would periodically glance at his stop watch, assuring us that we were nearly done. Of course, all this running around is for our own good. Even here, in the depths of the thirteenth tier of the English football pyramid system, a good level of fitness is paramount, especially seeing as many of our bellies were still full from the excess food and drink of the Christmas holidays.

This session was the first in my new yellow and green Adidas Adi-5 trainers, the colour of which were described by some manufacturers as lemon fizz and fairway green. This was topped off with a bright yellow snood, the much maligned piece of clothing worn around the neck by some Premier League footballers to keep warm. To my surprise, these two items drew less attention than my new dark turquoise Umbro shorts, that I found whilst scouring the sale racks at JJB's warehouse outlet in Southampton. Despite being medium boys' size, with an inner pant lining, I managed to squeeze into them quite snugly; or so I thought. Kristian Hewitt wasn't impressed. He said I looked like Mr Motivator, the fitness instructor who became famous for his daily appearances on the breakfast television show GMTV, dressed in skin tight and highly colourful spandex. I insisted that the tightness of the short was the style. Kristian wasn't convinced.

Reward for our hard work was the end of session six-a-side game. Dyke granted us a few moments to traipse behind the goal and fish out refreshments from our sports bags. I reached into my battered old black ruck sack and pulled out a plastic bottle filled with almost a litre of Asda's orange and mango juice, which was enough to make Joe Hill, stood behind me in a black Southampton shirt, that was letting off more steam than a Corby trouser press, to pretty much beg me for a sip. I obliged. Two full calendar months have now passed without a Burridge game, for which every player is chomping at the bit for.

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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...