Burridge kicked off the 2011/12 Southampton Football League season on Saturday 3 September, against Netley Central Reserves, at the Shed, Botley Road, Burridge. This blog was written on the electric daisy wheel of a Canon S200 typewriter, whilst listening to the soundtrack to the film, Inception, by Hans Zimmer.
During the first-half, one of Netley's centre-backs - who had quickly established himself as the game's voice, gave his own unique assessment on our defensive line: "They're awful at the back." His verdict of our defensive capabilities chose to omit any of his own
shortcomings, which were later showcased in the sequence of play leading
up to our equalising goal. By describing us as awful, I assumed he meant to gee up his attacking players, who looked frustrated at having to make, what they deemed, unscheduled runs deep into their own half to chase after Chris Pye and Dan Jackson.
"Keep working," he reassured his players, "we're not going to win ten-nil today." This statement would prove to be the height of his powers of perception.
Our opponents were defending Southampton senior division champions, Netley Central Reserves, who hit something of a glass ceiling by winning last season's championship. This is because the Southampton League does not allow reserves teams in the premier division - its highest level. One of the reasons being that if such a reserve side was seriously challenging for the title, they would be able to field players from its first team, who play at higher standards of football, which would serve only to undermine and compromise the integrity of the competition. Although there's nothing stopping Netley pulling in first teamers this year. So, here we were, a little under five months since we last played each other in a match in which we had snatched a two-all draw.
We were wearing our brand new kit. Manufactured by Nike, and sponsored by the West-End Brewery, the blue and black stripes have been the team's colours since 2003. (Prior to that we wore a very loose fitting red and white hooped outfit.) The blue stripes are a slightly lighter shade than previous incarnations, more in keeping with the Internazionale jersey worn by both Jurgen Klinsmann and Nicola Berti during the early 1990s. I'm happy to report that the thin and lightweight black stockings are a far cry from the thick Norwegian fishing socks that former manager, Colin Barfoot, provided us with back in the club's Meon-Valley League days at the turn of the century.
One of the many clear distinctions between playing for Burridge, in the fourteenth tier of the English pyramid structure, and the higher echelons of football, is how games are officiated. Southampton League games are allocated a referee, but his assistants - which tend to still be called linesmen at this level of football, are volunteers from each team. Usually one of the team's substitutes, and in this case the duty of responsibility fell on me. Once you get over the fact that both of the assistants have hugely vested interests in the game everyone can get on with giving them plenty of grief for making bad decisions, which ironically enough is exactly what seems to happen in professional football.
Our goalkeeper, Ryan Jones, was unhappy about Netley's goal. It came mid-way through the first-half, after an aerial challenge between himself and a Netley striker, who got to the ball fractionally earlier than Jones, who was left in heap, watching in vain as the ball trickled beyond his reach and over the goal line. Jones then made a memorable save as Netley pushed hard to increase their lead. A cross from their left was met by the head of an opposing striker, who as the coaching manuals suggest, headed the ball back towards the side of the goal it had arrived from. It is within these fleeting moments that Jones is in his element. In what looked as smooth as a choreographed stunt, he flung himself to his right, scooping the ball wide with the fingers of his right hand, when it seemed destined for the bottom corner of our net. It was of Netley's opinion that the game should have been dead and buried as we approached the final few minutes.
Dan Allen was partly responsible for our equalising goal. He
replaced Dan Jackson at half-time, after the latter's strength had been sapped by the hot afternoon sun. This led Dyke to question if the nineteen year old had spent the previous evening out drinking. Eighty-eight minutes of the game had passed when Allen found himself with the ball on the edge of the penalty area, looking to create space for shot on goal. His attempt was only partially blocked by Netley's centre-back, and Sam Schwodler, who seconds earlier was cursing his luck at Dan's decision to shoot rather than pass, pounced onto the loose ball to score. It was vindication for Schwodler, who left the field during the first-half clutching his ear in pain after getting clattered. A rather drawn out verbal rally of fuck-off had followed between Schwodler and one or two of the opposition, who doubted the severity of his injury.
With the captain's armband pulled up around his bicep, Martyn Barnett, drove us on for a winner, in what was another confidant display in the centre of our midfield, which was dovetailed nicely by Kristian Hewitt, who played alongside him. Running on the fumes of his healthy appetite for goals, Barnett nearly won the game for us, surging beyond Netley's last defender at an angle that still favoured the goalkeeper's hands. His left foot shot looked set for the bottom corner, but sailed narrowly past the far post. A draw wasn't a bad start to the season. We hadn't set the world alight, but showed grit and resilience in the face of defeat with another late goal.
Those who left the West-End Brewery before 6pm missed out on a eye catching spread of food, including two large dinner large plates stacked high with fries and sausages, as well as an intimidating heap of buttered and thickly sliced white bread, which was all served with the best wishes of the pub landlord, who apologised for not getting down to catch the game. Next week we should have a photographer, so it will no longer be necessary to trawl through the club's extensive photographic archive in order to add some much needed colour to these match reports.
Burridge line-up: 4-4-2 - GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Marc Judd, CB: Sam Hewitt (Mark Sanderson), CB: Ryan Hurst, RB: Mark Reeves, LM: Chris Pye, CM: Martyn Barnett (captain), CM: Kristian Hewitt, RM: Dan Jackson (Dan Allen), CF: Ben Rowe, CF: Sam Schwodler.