Saturday 12 March, Burridge, Botley Road - Burridge run league leaders close.
Getting caught short at Burridge can be an undignified experience. Dimly lit cubicles and a lack of toilet paper require an element of improvisation, which in Jason Wilson's case meant using the ample supply of paper towels. He confessed to one or two pre-match nerves, which was not unusual for him, or anybody else; although he blamed the curry from Tescos he had eaten the previous evening for the wretched smell.
He would have been far better off walking further up the corridor to the ladies, as I did. There you will find a bright and roomy space with a reassuring snow white porcelain bowl and several rolls of quilted toilet tissue. On this occasion my churning stomach had given me a false alarm, but one can never be too sure during the hour or so of limbo otherwise known as pre-match preparation. I am still haunted by the memory of former Burridge captain, Scott Burnet, who in deepest darkest Portsmouth, once had to rely on a modest handful of scrunched up receipts to wipe with. It is testament to the man's character that he got on stoically with the task in hand.
It felt good to be back amongst familiar surroundings. Cold and wet weather had prevented us playing at Burridge since early November. I urinated freely on a knot of tangled grass twenty yards away from the pitch. A rabbit scurried out from some nearby bushes, as all number of birds, none of which I could identify, sang their songs. The air was cool and the sky was overcast - it was a fine day for football.
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Come Sunday morning I was slightly miffed with the Southampton Sports Echo's summary of last week's 1-1 draw with today's opposition, in which they reported Allbrook were held by Burridge. I read on hoping to find further details about the spirited part we played in the game. When this was not forthcoming I decided to leave the paper in toiletry aisle of Tesco Express rather than part with 50 pence. Last week's game against Allbrook had become heated. So, when a strange quirk in the fixture list pitted us against them for the second week running, nobody would have been surprised at the spirit this game would be played out in.
The bad feeling was brought to the surface, in my opinion at least, by just two players. Firstly, by one of Allbrook's defenders, who I think wore the number five shirt. He only ever seemed to open his mouth to seek conflict, irrespective of whether or not it was with us, the referee, or one of his own team mates. The Chinese symbols tattooed on his arm had the dated look of a pair of Ellesse shoes, once all the rage, but now resigned to a place in the past. It was curious that somebody with a fairly basic grasp of English would choose such an incomprehensible language to have inked permanently into his arm. Of course, he could well have been, for all I knew, a multi-linguist, but every time he opened his mouth he gave me further reason to doubt that.
Allbrook's number seven was their other guilty party. Tall, talented and almost entirely pre-occupied with complaining, mostly to the referee about not being protected from the tackling of Mark Reeves and Jason Wilson, his defence mechanism was to broadcast several threats of violence, none of which he got around to carrying out. He demanded respect from everyone whilst giving none to anyone. In truth it wasn't our midfield, the referee, or his team mates he had a problem with - it was the entire world. Both players ended up in the referee's notebook. Number five could count himself lucky to still be on the field after wrestling Sam Schwodler to the ground and denying him a run through on goal.
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I had left the dressing room in rubber studs, which was perhaps no less optimistic than arriving to Burridge, as I had, dressed in shorts. The boots were made by Puma; the instep of which had been worn away to a thin under layer of non-descript material. They would not last to see next season, but at £24.99 from Sport Direct, inclusive of delivery charge, I wasn't going to quibble. Adidas, in my experience, always last longer than Puma. The pitch was still a little soft underfoot in places, so I fetched my metal studded Adidas, which I would go on to change into at half-time.
Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, was in his day an uncomplicated defender who held organisational skills in higher esteem than anything else. Therefore he would not have been pleased in the manner which we conceded our first goal. It came direct from a corner-kick at the near post. A spot of bickering between us followed and we did well to pick ourselves up and equalise when Lee Fielder overcame the frustration of an earlier disallowed goal to tuck away nicely.
So, it was a real shame to concede once more so close to half-time. Some voiced their disappointment at goalkeeper, Ryan Jones, for not coming off his goal line to narrow down the angle of the striker. Dyke, perhaps still sore from the first goal, picked up on this at half-time. “I don't know who did it,” he said, “but you don't call for your goalkeeper.” If Sam Schwodler believed he was defusing the mood by owning up he was sorely mistaken. He tried to explain his rationale, but it was drowned out by the sound of Dyke, who was now fast approaching Sir Ben Kingsley Sexy Beast mode. (Those not familiar with that reference need only click here.)
Allbrook went further ahead in the second half from another corner, this time via a near post header. Sam Hewitt seemed to be shouldering most of the responsibility. Later, in the West End Brewery, he called his performance a bad day at the office. What seemed to cheese him off most was not being able to replicate the shooting drills we had carried out during Thursday night's training session. He, along with everyone else, showed good character by digging in to create several good goal scoring chances. One of which fell to Chris Pye, who was finally making his debut after recovering from a long standing ankle injury. His close range header got stuck in the sandy goalmouth. He did, however, lay on another well taken goal for Sam Schwodler, which set up a good old fashioned grand stand finale, but unfortunately, on this occasion there was to be no last minute Burridge come-back. As Paul Dyke later remarked in the Burridge dressing room - it's difficult to win a game when you gift the opposition sloppy goals.
4-4-2: GK:Jones, RB:S.Hewitt, CB:Willsher, CB:Hurst, LB:K.Hewitt, RM:Reeves (Pye), CM:Wilson, CM:Sanderson, LM:Judd (Rowe), CF:Fielder (Andrews), CF:Schwodler