It was midnight when a friend tried tempting me to stay out with a small bindle of MDMA. Accepting his offer would mean no football tomorrow; so, feeling tired from the diligence it takes to restrict a Friday night out with friends to four bottles of lager, I said my goodbyes and walked home. It was cold outside.
I was pleased to not be woken up on Saturday morning by a text message from Paul Dyke. If a game has been postponed he normally texts us between nine and eleven in the morning. This gives us time to make alternative plans for our Saturday afternoons. The BBC five day weather forecast had hedged its bets this week with promises of sunny intervals. The type of clothes I would need between these intervals was left entirely to my discretion. It rained hard on Tuesday. Wednesday was much the same. Thursday and Friday were dry, but it had rained during the early hours of Saturday.
We were scheduled to play Hythe Aztecs at Claypits Lane Sports Ground in Dibden. If ever anybody needs reminding where that is they are told something like, “You go past Staplewood, where Southampton train, then left at the round-about. You know, the one with good drainage,” and that will usually be enough to trigger a response like, “Yes, that's not a bad pitch. It has good drainage.”
The first thing I saw when I stepped out of my car at Claypits Lane Sports Ground was Paul Dyke, walking in the centre-circle of the pitch alongside who I guessed was the referee. Once they'd finished talking Dyke walked towards the car-park and sliced his palm in front of his throat. The game was off. The referee said there was too much surface water on the pitch. I joined the rest of our squad who were stood outside the clubhouse looking out toward the pitch longingly like fisherman looking out to sea.
Sam Schwolder arrived with his kit bag slung over his shoulder. Someone told him the game was off. He quickly identified a grey moustached man from the opposition's management who he could take his frustration out on.
“What the fuck's this all about then?”
“It's not us, it's the referee.” protested the moustached man.
“Wouldn't have taken much to check it this morning, would it?” Said Ryan Jones, who echoed our belief that it is the home side's responsibility to inspect their pitch first thing on a Saturday morning to see if it passes muster for play.
Driving home I wondered how to fill the two and a half hour chasm until Manchester United played Crawley Town on ITV. I decided to clean my bathroom. When I was done it looked as good as any you would see in a Barratt show home. This gave me as much satisfaction as I get from connecting cleanly with a volley, or making an important sliding tackle. It was at this moment I came to realise that middle-age was less of a giant leap and more of a gradual transition.
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