I haven't posted here since 2012 – that’s five years of not blogging. The blog is/was about Burridge AFC, the football team I played for between 1997 and 2012. When I started it in 2005 I told friends it was like an online notice board, somewhere for players to check our upcoming fixtures, but really I wanted to use the blog to write. And that's what I did. I enjoyed it, too. Then the Burridge team I played for disbanded in 2012. We'd reached a bit of a crossroads. A growing number of players were no longer able to play for various reasons - work, bad knees, needy girlfriends, indifference. Spending Saturday afternoon playing for Burridge didn't seem to be a big enough priority to the number of people required to keep a local football team going.
|Burridge circa 2006|
With interest dwindling, results suffered. There was also this underlying feeling that a contingent of our players were eyeing up a move to Hedge-End Rangers. Unlike Burridge, who played in the Southampton League, Hedge-End played county football in the Hampshire League. They had won it the season before. They also had better tracksuits. They had a perimeter fence around their home pitch, too. These perks and features help create the illusion of a better standard of football – something all local players aspire too and ultimately, the level of football Hedge-End’s first team was of a higher level than Burridge.
Burridge manager Paul Dyke wanted to make a go of the 2012/13 season with the players we had left. I seem to remember him trying to press-gang me into this over the telephone. Dykey is a difficult man to say no to - persistent and seemingly unwilling to read between the lines, I had a job saying no to him; mainly because I can be quite weak in these situations. But I felt what was left of Burridge was a lost cause I wasn’t prepared to fight for anymore. For all intents and purpose Burridge had largely been a team of friends. The idea of being the whipping boys in a team of strangers didn’t cut it with me. On reflection, my ego was dented because I hadn’t been on the field as much as I would have liked. One incident sticks out: getting subbed off away to Netley for someone called Rob who I didn't think could kick a football properly.
But Dykey had reason to chop and change me. At Netley I was blowing out of my arse in the second half and already on a yellow card for a late tackle. In a nutshell, a liability, forcing his hand in taking me off. Nor was I as fit as I could or needed to be in 2012. Yes, I was 33, but that wasn’t an excuse that stood up to any real scrutiny. If challenged on my level of fitness at the time I would probably have said I didn’t have time to go out running – I was working in Salisbury at the time, making regular trips to the Midlands. Getting in late more often than not I didn’t fancy going out running. What this translated to was I didn’t deem it a big enough priority to get fit.
Frankly, if we did have the fresh blood we needed at this time it would have probably reduced my role to bit part player. Our last game - away to Comrades reserves. They were the sort of committed, but limited side we would have wiped the floor with a season earlier. We lost 3-2. I think I got 10 minutes. No one said that this was our last game, but they didn’t have too – you could feel it. Piss taking or moaning about the game – two staples of the previous 15 years – was distinctly lacking.
END OF ERA
It was the end of an era and it was a bit sad, going out like this, on a inconspicuous municipal pitch in Chandlers Ford. I still wanted to play though. Although not ready to admit it, I was hurt that so many decamped to Hedge-End in the months that followed the end of the 2011/12 season. I lined up a move to Warsash Wasps instead, a side a few divisions down the Southampton League ladder. I didn't know any of their team, but having moved into the area I convinced myself that playing half of the season’s games within walking distance of my house made sense.
But as July became August they had yet to start pre-season training. This cavalier attitude to preparation made me doubt if I was making the right decision. The idea of not having committed to a team by this time caused me to drop any principals I might have had and call Rich Allan, who I had played with for years at Burridge, and was now running Hedge-End’s reserves. Within a few weeks I'd signed for them. The standard of Hampshire reserve league was much the same as what I’d experienced at Burridge, but the league itself better organised. Better still, if you were substitute you were ineligible to run the line, so often the salt rubbed into wound of not being selected to play. I didn't have to collect the subs money as I did at Burridge, which I always found a hugely tedious task.
I had a nice little Indian summer at Hedge-End. I wrote about the experience. The article won the 2013 When Saturday Comes writers’ competition. I was chuffed with that, although it was a shame the winning article hadn’t come a year earlier and about Burridge. By the end of 2013 I had played my last game. It’s quite sad how vividly I can remember the closing stages of that match. I can play it back in my mind every bit as clearly as the other most significant moments of my life. It was December 2013 and we were away to Overton – a village out towards Basingstoke. I was given a yellow card as we chased an equalising goal. It was for one of those tackles when you’re a bit too keyed up and you really want to get the ball back, but will settle for kicking a lump out of your opponent.
I'd been playing right-back. Their centre forward had a tendency to drift out to my side. He was a tricky customer. Our left-back then came off injured. Jay Schwodler came on to replace him, but, shuddering at idea of going on the left, went into right-back with me going out to left-back. Jay didn’t have time to assess his new opponent. Within a few minutes he had the opportunity to make his mark on the tricky striker, but in his eagerness he missed the tackle. The Overton striker played a quick one two then struck first time from outside of the box low and hard into the bottom corner. We lost 2-1.
It was somber in the dressing room after the game. In the bar I noticed I had several missed calls from my girlfriend. This was unusual on match day, I wondered briefly if she had a pressing interest in the score, but no, she wondered when I was coming back. She wasn’t feeling great and had our daughter to look after. It was at this precise moment I thought I would stop playing. I couldn’t justify giving up a large chunk of my Saturday to it anymore – not with a baby.
Within a few days I texted Rich Allan about my decision. His reply confirmed to me he wasn't as devastated as my ego had hoped he would be about this. That said, he did try and convince me to carry on until the end of season. Looking back, I should have done. For the remainder of the season I felt lost. Try as I might, I was unable to glean as much pleasure from Saturdays spent at the supermarket or whatever I happened to be doing instead of playing football. What I learnt from the experience is that having spent a certain chunk of the previous 23 years shouting and kicking it’s quite hard to exist in a world where there is no shouting and kicking. And although I could probably adapt to a new world I needed a new outlet. I soon found one. It took up more time than playing football.
The combination of winning the writing competition and a few other articles armed me with the delusion necessary to believe I could write a book in my spare time. I had an idea in April 2014. By September of the same year I had a publisher, with the book being published in May 2016. I loved doing the whole thing. Without doubt it's the best thing I’ve done. It certainly helped me get over no longer playing football. But when the book came out I once again found myself a bit lost. Some bloke from Portsmouth got in touch, he wanted me to write his life story because he was impressed with my other books? He’d got me mixed up with the other Mark Sanderson. It makes me wonder if I should add my middle initial to any future books so this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.
People often ask about the book. I bumped into an old school friend recently, who told me him and his wife knew an author – a successful one. What did he mean? Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to come up with the idea for the next Harry Potter or Star Wars and make loads of money, but I have found that I like writing because I like writing, not because I can make money from it. Just as well really. So I think I'll continue reminiscing. Any got anything Burridge-related they want me to blog about?