It had been another wet week in Southampton. Although the sun had shown its face on Thursday afternoon, the streets were still dotted with puddles. This did not bode well for the chances of our home game with BTC Reserves going ahead as scheduled. My weekend began shortly after 10am with the muffled ring tone of my mobile coming from beneath my pillow. It was Burridge chairman, Barrie Becheley. Our pitches were still waterlogged so he arranged for our game to be switched to BTC's ground. BTC's pitch fairs better than most. They have not only the machinery to maintain it, but also, more crucially, the volunteers prepared to give up their spare time to operate that machinery.
I arrived five minutes earlier than our manager had requested. Some BTC players were already limbering up on the grass, fully kitted up in their blue and white stripped kit. Many of ours might have been doing likewise had I not had our kit in the boot of my car. They sat crammed in the small away team changing room, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the kit bag, in which they would dive into and try and fish out the best pairs of shorts, and not the discounted silky ones Paul Dyke had ordered at the beginning of the season.
BTC's toilets surpassed my low expectations. During previous years I have been left to make do with rinsing my hands under the cold tap before drying them on the back of my shorts. On this occasion I was pleasantly surprised after pressing the soap dispenser to see a dollop of pink gel squirt into the palm of my hand. There was also a full complement of green paper towels. When I returned to the dressing room most people had changed and gone outside to warm up. Of the few shirts left on the floor, one was the number ten, which is synonymous with some of the creative greats of world football, the names of Maradona and Pele springing to mind as the most obvious examples. Wearing it comes with a weight of expectation to be able to give a competent and skillful display. I, however, decided to go against tradition and wear it myself.
BTC joined together in a huddle before kick-off. This was in stark contrast to how we stood alone in our separate positions. BTC's public show of unity was put to the test in the first ten minutes of play, as we managed to keep them penned in their own half through a combination of neat passing, hard work, and in my case, dirty play.
Chasing an opponent down our left wing seemed like the perfect opportunity for a sliding tackle. The referee wasn't impressed and gave me a good ticking off. “You have left the ground with your studs raised,” he said, describing events in some form of the present perfect tense footballers like to use when discussing their goals in post-match interviews. “Keep on and you'll be having an early bath.” Confidence in keeping my nose clean for the remaining eighty minutes of the game was dented when the referee beat me in a five yard race to retrieve the ball for a free-kick. This wouldn't have been quite so crushingly disappointing had he not been at least 70 years old. His a trimmed white moustache and friendly face made him a Werthers Original advert casting director's wet dream. (Anyone not familiar with those adverts can click here.)
If, for the sake of argument, the referee was 70, he could well have been refereeing since 1970. It beggars belief just how many times a man could be told to fuck-off during the course of those forty-one years. If, for example, he's been told to fuck off on average ten times per game, which is I'm sure you'll agree is a fairly conservative estimate, and refereed around twenty-five games per season, he is on course to be told to fuck off a total of 250 times per season. Multiply that by 41 years would mean he's been told to fuck off ten-thousand two-hundred and fifty times, throughout the decades by people in a variety of different hair cuts and fashions and trends.
Our front two of Lee Fielder and Sam Schwodler provided a valuable outlet for our midfield of myself, Jason Wilson, Marc Judd and Mark Reeves, whose accumulative age is something in the region of 120 plus. Sam Schwodler's tenacity turned my speculative hoofed clearance into a half decent through ball. Schwodler was barged off the ball in the penalty area. Nobody on our side appealed, but the referee gave us a penalty kick anyway. Kristian Hewitt trotted up field from his position of left-back and casually side footed the penalty into the goalkeeper's bottom right corner. As always, it is considered something of a faux-pas to concede a goal so soon after scoring one of your own. So when we gave away a disputed free-kick on the edge of our penalty area, naturally, we became rattled. This demonstrated itself in the curious sight of a throng of our players haranguing a 70 year old referee. Even more curious was the sight of Marc Judd, who is normally more than capable of getting a yellow card when doing something as innocuous as taking a throw-in, advising players to bite their tongue. Almost inevitably BTC scored from the free-kick with a well executed shot over our wall and into Ryan Jones' top left hand corner.
It was a great relief when Lee Fielder scored our second. Sam Schwodler was involved again, laying the ball onto Lee, who still had plenty to do before he rounded the goalkeeper and rolled the ball into an empty net. He is in his elemenet in these situations; and while on occassions he does miss, like he did in the second half when he shanked a shot high over the cross bar, he does not shy away from the responsibility of trying to score, which is something he does not get credit for. Many of his colleagues tend to focus on other aspects of his character; particularly his dress sense, which has drawn some to make comparisons with teenage boybands.
Thirty-something Mark Reeves is currently Burridge's oldest player. He threatened to score our third goal by killing a cross field ball dead with his right foot and jinking inside to his left with the poise and elegance of an Olympic skier. This alone was enough for myself and Kristian Hewitt to show our appreciation for Reeves' skill with the kind of involuntary groans not becoming of grown men outside of the bedroom. Reeves has shed the pounds and reinvented himself as a wide midfielder this season. Last Sunday he beat his personal best 10k time in Winchester's annual race with 43:54, but had his thunder rather stolen from him by Jason Wilson, who broke the 40 minute barrier. Scuffing his volley took nothing away from the split second Reeves threatened to step out of Jason Wilson's shadow. Wilson's midfield performance epitomised Dyke's footballing philosophy . He didn't so much play the game, but spoil it for BTC. Rather like a small dog who has decided to intrude on a kick-about at the park, as an opponent you admire his tenacity for getting to the ball, but you really wish he would go away. Sam Schwodler scored the third with a goal his performance merited to seal a hard fought win, which nestles us nicely into fourth place.
4-4-2: GK:Jones, RB:S.Hewitt, CB:Hurst, CB:Willsher, LB:K.Hewitt, RM:Reeves (Allen), CM:Sanderson, CM:Wilson, LM:Judd (Rowe), CF:Fielder (Andrews), CF:Schwodler
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