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|
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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