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.
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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