Friday, 29 April 2011

Hare & Hounds 2-2 Burridge AFC

Saturday 23 April, Cutbush Lane, Southampton, Hampshire

Burridge play mid-table Hare & Hounds in their penultimate game of the season, knowing a win cannot alter their position of fourth in the senior division of the Drew Smith Southampton League.

"They might be used to bad language,” the referee told me, pointing at his two kids, “but that doesn't mean I want to hear it - not here, in a public place.” A sense of shame stopped me answering him back. Giving Ben Rowe a piece of my mind may well have passed unnoticed had I chosen to express myself differently; but it was a hot day and we were losing by two, largely self inflicted, goals to nil, after only ten minutes of play; and I had reacted to something Ben said from his position up-front, something I no longer remember, by effing and jeffing loud enough for residents on the nearby estate of semi-detached houses to hear.

Click to enlarge: Self conscious man can't stop his dog being gripped by game. (Picture by Luke Sanderson)

I looked toward the referee's kids - sat on a blanket, drinking out of plastic beakers to the side of the pitch. If I wasn't mistaken they were feeding themselves from a Tupperware container. They were no more than seven or eight years old, sitting with who I presumed to be their mother. She couldn't have more than thirty-five; no crime in itself, but the referee, with what hair he had left, growing white from the back of his head, was sixty if he was a day. Not that the age gap was objectionable, just from my maudlin perspective she faced a significant chunk of her life without him. Today, the sun shone brightly; and tonight, perhaps during the slower bits of Casualty, there was time to discuss the complexities of the offside rule together, but what about tomorrow? Are there rainy days spent alone on the horizon? Frankly, I should have been more preoccupied with imposing a pressing game higher up the pitch, but playing in the heat always gets to me this way.

Our usual appetite for the game was missing. Kristian Hewitt summed it up on his arrival in the dressing room. “There's twenty things I'd rather do today than play football,” he said, dropping his green Adidas kit bag on the floor. He didn't say what those things were, although I suspected one or two of them were not playing at left-back, a position he has grown tired of playing in of late. He says it's boring. I don't know why he doesn't take his grievance up with management, who think he shores up the back four beautifully. The changing rooms at Cutbush Lane offered another cramped environment in which fourteen men tried to get changed in. Although, as Lee Fielder pointed out, the other half don't live any differently. He was sat rubbing his personal stash of liniment into his thighs, whilst recalling the tour of Brentford's Griffin Park, which was part of Scott Burnet's stag weekend. There we were, in the home dressing room, with not enough room to swing a cat, and Brentford's leading scorer, Charlie MacDonald, who had arrived early, for what turned out to be a wretched nil-nil draw with Rotheram, struggling to find space to unpack his bag. I could vouch further, having visited Exeter's St James' Park, as part of my work commitments. The changing rooms there were best described as cosy. Stubborn streaks of grime clung to the grouting, and the toilet seat was cold.

As per usual, the floor was covered in all kind of football paraphernalia – boots, medical equipment, water bottles, but mostly our team kit, which spewed in all directions out of a black holdall. Ben Rowe surveyed the wreckage for electrical tape. His hands glided in and along it like Han Solo looking for Luke Skywalker beneath the wee and poo of the Death Star's garbage unit. He cannot rest until he's wrapped the tape around his socks to hold his shin pads in place, but he couldn't find any, and he was letting everyone know about it, which, in that cramped changing room, was getting a bit much for me; maybe, subconsciously, that's why I let him have it.

Kev Willsher got a run for his money by Hare & Hounds' centre forward,  a tall man whose hair was shaved at the back and sides. Although not much longer on top, he left nothing to chance, caking it in gel. Their players were very pleased with his contribution to the first-half, one of whom, whose torn neck of his red jersey, had been carefully repaired by seven or eight stitches, said he was doing us every time. Somehow, we pulled ourselves together. Lee Fielder scored twice. It was too hot to celebrate with any real imagination.

At half-time we sat in the shade underneath some trees. The club's plastic drink bottles sat in their carrier, which, frankly, is in a sorry state. The handle snapped long ago. I can't say I'm not disappointed, because it's made by Umbro, a manufacturer I have come to expect a little bit more from. Electrical tape had been wrapped around the fracture to hold it in place. Quite sad really. They didn't really deserve to be filled with anything other than luke warm tap water from the changing room toilets, but luke warm tap water is more than adequate when you are as thirsty as we all were. The second half was a test of endurance. Sam Schwodler saw his header come back into play from the underside of the crossbar. All in all it was another credible come back. The league table has a strange look about it, with everyone else having completed their fixtures, ourselves and WellowWellow's perspective it is a party they would like to get a taxi home from, because they are rock bottom. Their only league win from this season came when Sholing Sports failed to turn up for a game. Click here for the Southampton Football League tables.

Burridge lined up in a 4-4-2: GK: Jones, LB: K.Hewitt, CB:Willsher: CB:S.Hewitt (Allen), RB:Reeves (Wilson), LM: Judd (Hughes), CM:Barnett, CM:Sanderson, RM: Sam Schwodler, CF:Rowe, CF:Fielder

Friday, 22 April 2011

Hythe Aztecs 1-3 Burridge AFC

Saturday 16 April, Clayfields Sports Centre, Claypits Lane, Dibden, Southampton, Hampshire.

There was twenty minutes left when the referee called me over by the number on the back of my shirt. Somewhere within the creases of his tired face was a mouth.“Come here, three,” he demanded, in the kind of creaking baritone I imagine oak trees would use if only they could speak. “That's your last warning, understand?” I nodded. Prior to the game I watched him jog a solitary lap around the pitch. Towards the end he showed signs of fatigue, slowing the pace to a gentle trot, before using a trellis fence as leverage for some rudimentary stretches to his hamstrings. He held his pencil to the sky. Once satisfied with the sharpness of its lead he sounded his whistle to begin the game. Both teams' appeals for decisions to go their way were dismissed with a groan to get on with it. Here was a man who had long since given up on a world where younger men bicker with one another during a football match nobody had come to see.

Click to enlarge: Sam Schwodler puts the ball through the goalkeeper's legs to make it three-nil (by Luke Sanderson).

The player I had fouled remained on the floor, looking surprised and disappointed that I had not been booked. What was once soil had been eroded into a fine brownish-grey sand. It clung to the kangaroo leather of his white Joma football boots, as well as covering most of the penalty area Hythe were about to attack. The free-kick, forty yards out from our goal, got the faintest of flicks off a head and into the back of our net. I had my suspicions about their number eleven from the start. He didn't let me down. Rather than congratulate his colleagues, he jogged alongside me on his way back to the half-way line. “Cheers mate, that's your fault,” he told me. For a brief moment I tried to summon up the wit of Oscar Wilde, but seeing as we were already winning by three goals to one, I made do with telling him to fuck off. He spent much of the game telling our centre-half, Ryan Hurst, how he was going to dribble around our defence and score. The wait continues.

There was still time for me to showcase some truly abysmal volleying. Twice in space of a minute the ball dropped out of a cloudy sky, begging to be tanned at Hythe's goal. My first attempt caused a delay to a Hythe throw-in. No sooner had the ball been retrieved from a thicket of bushes I had an opportunity to redeem myself. This time I made a marvellously clean connection. Unfortunately, the connection was with fresh air. Later, in the West End Brewery, I confided in Kristian Hewitt. Age was robbing me of my ability. Kristian offered some consolation. With his hand on my shoulder he told me that age wasn't a factor. "You've never been any good at shooting," he laughed.

I had arrived at Claypits Lane forty-five minutes before kick-off. The majority of our squad were congregated around a park bench on a small patch of grass outside the changing rooms. Some of them fretted about whether or not Hythe would turn up; but with the goal nets already up there was no great rush. In the car-park, a paper picture of Jesus lay abandoned at the foot of a sapling birch tree. His hair was significantly shorter than more traditional artistic interpretations, and rather curiously parted to one side. He was dressed in shades of mostly green – which is a far more traditional colour for a goalkeeping jersey than the mess I clapped eyes on later, in the veteran's game, which was taking place on the pitch adjacent to ours. On it stood a goalkeeper, whose size prevented him from playing anywhere else, wearing a jersey which I believed to be of mid to late 90's design. Purple and grey had collided on extra large nylon. It was finished off with spatters of yellow and green, which all came together to prove, if at all necessary, that the goalkeeping jersey is not suited for an homage to the art of Jackson Pollock.

Martin Barnett opened the scoring. Having taken a position outside the penalty area from a corner-kick he smashed into the corner. Ben Rowe made it two, out muscling a defender on his way to rolling the ball past the goalkeeper. With his stubble and shaven head, that has now grown long enough to gently comb back, he is beginning to resemble a young version of Popeye's nemesis, Bluto. In the second-half, Sam Schwodler caught Hythe's goalkeeper by surprise by putting the ball through his legs from a tight angle. It was his sixteenth goal of the season. We are still in fourth position in the league and will remain there irrespective of the outcome of our final two games. Not that our manager, Paul Dyke, will allow this to have any bearing on our motivation.

Click here for the Southampton League table

The Burridge line-up was: GK: C.Limburn, RB:S.Hewitt, CB:Hurst, CB:Willsher, LB:K.Hewitt, RM:Reeves (Hill), CM:Barnett, CM:Sanderson, LM:Judd (Andrews), CF:Rowe, CF:Schwodler

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Burridge AFC 2-2 Netley Central Reserves

Saturday 9 April, The Shed, Burridge, Botley Road - Burridge AFC hosted Drew Smith Southampton Senior League leaders, Netely Central Reserves, who would have sealed the league title with victory on a sunny afternoon in April.

There was barely time for Netley to restart the game after Ben Rowe's equalising goal. After sneaking the ball through a busy crowd of legs he was chased out of the penalty area by his team mates. He got as far as the half-way line before they caught up to offer their congratulations by wrestling him to the ground. It took two or three to knock him off balance, then he fell beneath the weight of the rest. Disappointment has been an unusual experience for Netley this season. Their players stood glued to the spot. Some of them looked down at the grass, others pointed fingers of blame at one another. It was odd to see them, a side who would have sealed the title with a win, succumbing to a last minute equaliser from a goal mouth scramble via a free-kick Kristian Hewitt admitted was far from his best. One of Netley's substitutes demanded they adopt a conservative strategy for the remainder of the game. “Keep the ball in the corners,” he screamed. There were five seconds of the match left.

Ben Rowe (number 9), runs off after equalising against Netley on Saturday afternoon.

 Netley could have been forgiven for thinking the game was over at half-time. Having won sixteen of their previous eighteen league games, they can also include reigning Southampton Premier League champions, Bush Hill, as one of their scalps, having beaten them in the semi-finals of the Trophyman Cup. They trounced second placed Allbrook 4-0 last week in a game that went some way to decide who would win the divisional title. Perhaps the confidence they had taken from the victory turned to complacency in the spring sun. Our mood at the final whistle was in stark contrast to the silence of half-time. Although Paul Dyke reminded us that we had come back from two-nil down twice this season, albeit against inferior opposition, the statistic didn't seem to register with us. We looked embarrassed at having believed we could give Netley a run for their money.

Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the specific qualities required to make a comeback without entering the realms of cliché. While determination and self belief did have something to do with it, the transformation in our fortunes was largely due to a singular moment. It wasn't simply Martin Barnett's goal early in the second-half, but the manner in which it was scored - it gave us the impetus to believe we could compete with Netley on a level playing field. When the chips are down there can be a tendency to delegate responsibility in front of goal with a sideways pass.  This can be fatal for momentum, and all to often a chance to shoot will wither away to nothing. Martin's opportunity came from Marc Judd's slightly shanked cross field ball, which one Netley spectator had described fairly loudly as a load of fucking crap. No sooner had the words left his mouth, Martin struck the pass past Netley's 'keeper with the potent combination of power and accuracy from the edge of the penalty area. The spectator had the presence of mind to keep any further opinions to himself for the rest of the game.

This was the fifth occasion we had scored a last minute goal to either win or avoid defeat; and the third time we had come back from two goals down. It was also vindication for Rowe, who had endured a fairly miserable afternoon in front of goal last week at Durley. With fifty points on the board Netley can now afford to lose their final game and still win the league by goal difference over Allbrook - not that you would have known it at around 4:10pm on Saturday. At the final whistle Netley players quickly disappeared into the dressing rooms. If there were any celebrations they were kept behind closed doors and somewhat muted. Perhaps it is because despite winning the title there will be no promotion. The Southampton Football League does not permit reserve teams in its Premier League. If the previous four years of playing against Netley Reserves have been anything to go by very few of these players will stick around next season when the fixture will take place once more. Whether or not that fixture is against an entirely different set of personnel, it is unlikely to produce a game as exciting as what took place on Saturday.

Burridge played in a 4-4-2 formation:
GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Kristian Hewitt, CB: Ryan Hurst, CB: Kev Willsher, RB: Sam Hewitt, LM: Chris Pye, CM: Martin Barnett, CM: Mark Sanderson (Mark Reeves), RM: Marc Judd (Joe Hill), CF: Lee Fielder (Ben Rowe), CF: Sam Schwodler


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Durley Reserves 0-3 Burridge AFC

Saturday 2nd April, Durley Reacreation Ground, Kytes Lane

I drove to Durley with the window down and my radio tuned to BBC Radio Five Live. Manchester United were making hard work of a visit to Upton Park. Graham Taylor, who earns his living as a pundit these days, couldn't see any way back for them at two-nil down. "They don't have any leaders on the field," he said, seemingly oblivious to both West Ham's indifferent season and the possibility of the four goals Manchester United would go on to score.

Lee Fielder predicted the comeback. His blind spot was the exact location of Durley Recreation Ground, which remains a mystery to some of our players. Playing there on each of the previous four seasons does little to jog memories. Lee sat in my back seat and admitted having no idea how to get there. Kev Willsher did not fare much better. We passed through West-End, over the M27 and past the Southampton Arms; a pub that, as the crow flies, is no more than two miles away from his childhood home, which until this precise moment Kev had no previous knowledge of.

It was clear to me from this observation that no matter how implicitly I trusted Kev's abilities to head a football, I would require his services as an explorer no more than I would need Fielder's as a navigator. I suggested dropping Fielder off in the Durley countryside to make his own way home, much like Richard Branson's parents did to their eight year old son; but not wanting manslaughter on my conscience, I resisted.

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Kristian Hewitt scores his second penalty kick in successive weeks
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Luke Sanderson arrived shortly after kick-off. Dressed in a pair of sack cloth coloured trousers, with an expensive looking Olympus camera slung casually over his shoulder, he could have easily passed as a photographer commissioned by the Pink for some action shots to brighten up its stilted match-reports. He took up a position behind Durley's goal, which clearly wasn't something their 'keeper was entirely comfortable with.

For whatever reason the goalkeeper felt it necessary to make a confession, not so much to Luke, but to his lens. He admitted to being the manager of BTC Reserves, and continued to stress that far from being a 'ringer,' he was registered legitimately for Durley, who are his local team, having signed for them at the beginning of the season. Quite what the chain of events leading him to simultaneously becoming BTC reserves' manager was a complete mystery to me.

Regardless of whether or not he was operating within the rules, a picture in the much read Pink, (which is a weekly sports newspaper that comes out on Saturday nights in the Southampton area), of him playing in goal for a side who are two points ahead of the team he is managing, would severely compromise his integrity, as well as being very confusing. As I cast my mind back I remember him hurling a water bottle in anger, after his left-back made a blind back-pass that put Sam Hewitt clean through to score a last minute equaliser at BTC. He did not have a much better afternoon today.

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The first-half followed a fairly rigid pattern of set pieces. I lost count of the number of corner-kicks we had. On each occasion I would fill in for our central defensive pair of Ryan Hurst and Kev Willsher on the half-way line as they took their place in Durley's penalty area. It was from one of these corners we eventually took the lead. There was some initial speculation on who would be credited with scoring the goal. This wasn't helped by two Durley defenders who made a dog's dinner of clearing the ball off the goal-line. Between them they carried out an inquest, while Kev Willsher jogged back to the half-way line with his arm raised in celebration. There was no doubt in his mind that it was his goal. Although one goal alone wasn't enough to neuter Durley

Kristian Hewitt is not usually an advocate of refereeing decisions, but on this occasion he was willing to make an exception. “That is just dumb,” he said, shaking his head in reaction to his younger brother's yellow card. Having conceded a free-kick on the half-way line I attempted to prevent any initiative Durley hoped to gain from a quickly taken set piece by gently kicking the ball away towards our goal. Dan Allen had other ideas. At only seventeen he is still a little wet behind the ears. He got in my way, giving the ball straight back to Durley. “That's your fault, Dan!” shouted manager, Paul Dyke, in reference to Sam's booking. His voice, loud as a klaxon, managed to convey a sense of injustice at all times. Dan's naivety drew Sam Hewitt into the evasive action. Although his intention was no different from mine, his execution was weighty, sending the ball too far away and therefore rendering his strategy to slow things down obvious to all and sundry. That my greatest assets were acts of cynicism and gamesmanship said all that was needed about my contribution to the team. Unlike Dan Allen I have had plenty of practice to hone my craft.

Durley could count themselves unlucky to not have scored from the one opportunity they created during the first-half. Ryan Jones sprung to life and finger tipped the ball over the cross bar. In hindsight this may have knocked the wind out of Durley's sails. I was having another fairly indifferent afternoon with the ball, and it wasn't long before the referee asked for a quiet word. I wasn't entirely sure what I had done until I saw an opponent limp off the field. I cannot say I was unhappy at seeing him do so. It looked as though I had caught him in the small of the back after jumping to head the ball clear. I remained silent while the referee spoke to me. This had nothing to do with respect, I just consider it beneath my dignity to argue with those in authority. “I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt, but any more and it will be a yellow card.” So much for the benefit of the doubt, I thought. At half-time Durley served us with freshly brewed tea in plastic white beakers. I loaded mine with two sugar cubes and sat on the grass.

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Sam Schwodler scores his fifteenth goal of the season

This was a weaker reserve team than we had faced in previous years, which wasn't to say Durley were without any capable players, but as the second-half progressed it was clear we had the legs over our opponents. Kristian Hewitt's precise through ball found Lee Fielder, who managed to remain on his feet despite being frisked by an on rushing goalkeeper. The referee gave us a penalty and Kristian Hewitt tucked in his third goal in two games. Sam Schwodler followed this up with his fifteenth goal of the season. When Sam Schwodler has time and space on his hands his instinct takes over, usually the instinct to be flamboyant. He's never been one to be put off by a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, even if that means an attempted lob ending up safely in the 'keeper's hands. This time he was sensible enough to choose power over nonchalance. Dan Allen nearly supplied the icing on the cake with a pile driver which whistled just over the crossbar.

I felt I had cause for complaint for being booked. Whilst there was no waving of imaginary yellow cards from Durley players, it was doubtful I would have been punished if several of them had not made a song and dance about a tackle their left-back called disgusting. The referee called me over rather belatedly. In my opinion the coming together of legs was a minor indiscretion, but Durley wanted their pound of flesh. What they seemed to forget was that with a good fifteen minutes still left to play the question was not would I be disciplined enough stay on the field, but would they be able to walk on Monday. I fought manfully against the impulse to do something silly.

Ben Rowe made a cameo appearance from the substitute bench. On another day he could well have scored three, maybe even four goals. His afternoon, and perhaps even the latter part of his season, was summed up when he skewed the ball wide six yards from goal. A goal would have been the ideal tonic for his current lack of self belief. Some spectators may have gone home thinking his contribution amounted to nothing more than a series of botched goal scoring opportunities, but the more shrewd would have understood that these opportunities were of his own making.

Unlike Lee Fielder, who is an out an out goal poacher, and Sam Schwodler, who is something of an opportunist, Rowe offers the team something different. He demonstrated the ability to win the ball from deep and run forward with both power and purpose. His first miss gave him sufficient reason to retreat into his shell. What a shame then that the courage he showed in pursuing a goal led only to more snatched attempts at goal. It was a sad sight to see him at end of game, laid out on the floor with his jersey covering his face. It would be a great shame if he was not able to harness his undoubted ability once more for Burridge this season. There is still time. Third place is still a possibility, but we will have to win all of our remaining four games. What better incentive to beat league leaders, Netley Central, at home this Saturday afternoon. 

Burridge beat Durley Reserves three-nil in a 4-4-2 formation:

GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Sam Hewitt, CB: Kev Willsher, CB: Ryan Hurst, RB: Dan Allen, LM: Marc Judd (Martin Barnett), CM: Kristian Hewitt, CM: Mark Sanderson, RM: Mark Reeves (Ben Rowe), CF: Sam Schwodler (Paul Andrews), CF: Lee Fielder 

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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...