Burridge on a sunny afternoon in mid-October and not a cloud in the sky. Comrades reserves are today's opponents – a side we beat 2-1 after extra-time in a Trophyman Cup tie earlier this season. One man chooses to watch the game alone, walking slowly around the perimeter of the pitch, stopping occasionally to whisper into his microphone headset. Somewhat conspicuous in a baseball cap, tinted glasses, and despite the heat, a black mac, he fills out various forms attached to his clipboard. He is here to assess the performance of today's referee. Assessors are usually identifiable by a clipboard, a flask of hot drink, and an aloof demeanour. This one hadn't brought a flask of hot drink.
As one of our three substitutes I decided to take the opportunity to ask him about his role. Sadly, he wasn't keen on conversation, which on reflection is probably an occupational hazard, what with the headset. For all I know he could have been in on a conference call with a host of delegates from FIFA's head office in Zurich. This is unlikely though. I would expect an organisation as spendthrift as FIFA to be more generous with the quality of employee trousers. By all accounts Sepp Blatter is a tolerant man, but badly pressed black trousers would not reflect well on FIFA. No, a far more plausible explanation was that his headset was plugged into a cassette player. The assessor would spend his evening listening to the recording in order to write his report on the referee's performance. Let it be said, the role of referee's assessor isn't all glamour.
The first-half was notable for two seemingly clear cut penalties for either team. Sam Schwodler was tackled from behind, then Burridge goalkeeper Ryan Jones brought down an opponent with his arms. Neither side were awarded spot kicks. A busy night of paper work no doubt beckoned for the assessor – had he been anywhere near either of the incidents. One Comrades follower was outraged that his side weren't given a penalty. Burridge manager, Paul Dyke told him that this tied the bad decisions at one-each. The Comrades supporter didn't agree, and the two of them began debating at twenty paces. It was a bit of a stalemate given that the Comrades supporter was similar to Dyke, in being gruffly spoken and forthright with his opinions. Although by the sounds of it the one thing missing from Dyke's opponent was any form of secondary education. So, on reflection, a spilt decision win for Dyke.
We went into half-time leading 3-1, with goals from our younger contingent of twenty-one year olds, Chris Pye and Ryan Hurst, and twenty-year old Ali Ingram. There was further room for refereeing analysis in the second-half, when Chris Pye had a goal disallowed for offside. Chris was extremely cheesed off. Having already accepted the congratulations of his team mates, and back in his own half for the re-start, he could only assume he'd made the score 6-2. Comrades' linesman had other ideas. Dressed in deck shoes, jeans, shirt and a grey Ralph Lauren tank top – naturally, he was quite adamant that the goal was offside, leaving his flag raised until the referee saw it. A long discussion between the referee and linesman followed, presumably one about a brand new ruling meaning two men and a goalkeeper between you and the goal can play you offside. If the assessor really was on the FIFA hotline, this was surely the perfect opportunity to check the rule book and pull rank. He didn't. The disallowed goal had no bearing on the outcome of the game either. Chris Pye later hit the post, then Ryan Hurst, up from a corner, came within whiskers of completing his hat-trick. This is our first league win of the season, and having now scored ten goals in the previous two games, we look to have found some momentum.
Burridge played a 4-4-2:
GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Kristian Hewitt, CB: Marc Judd, CB: Ryan Hurst, RB: Sam Hewitt, LM: Chris Pye, CM: Martyn Barnett, CM: Ali Ingram (Mark Sanderson), RM: Daniel Esfandiari, CF: Ben Rowe (Lee Fielder), CF: Sam Schwodler (Paul Andrews)
1-0 Chris Pye, (tapped in from a right-wing Daniel Esfandiari cross).
2-1 Ryan Hurst, (smashed in the loose ball from a corner).
3-1 Ali Ingram, (low accurate shot from twenty-five yards into goalie's bottom right-hand corner).
4-1 Ryan Hurst, (another corner, another goal – this time arriving on the back post to steer in).
5-2 Sam Schwodler, (walloped the ball against the underside of crossbar and in).
Kristian Hewitt, (ran thirty yards to speak his mind to the referee, who duly showed him a yellow card).