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