John Burridge rails against 'crazy' reputation as ex-Hibs goalkeeper provides warning ahead of charity match
Charity matches, testimonials, select XIs. They are often tame and tepid affairs, really just an excuse to play football around a celebration or fundraiser.
On Sunday afternoon ‘Le Match’ will be taking place at Easter Road. Named after club legend Franck Sauzee, who disappointingly can no longer feature for health reasons, it will see a ‘Sauzee XI’ take on a select side from the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation, which is where the proceeds will be going to.
Regardless of who is lining up on each side, for the players it promises to be a day of lighthearted fun with nobody really taking it too seriously about who wins and who loses. Well, almost everybody.
“I don't care that it's a charity match, I want to win,” said former Hibs goalkeeper and 1991 Skol Cup winner John Burridge, who will fly over from his home in Oman to play in the match at the age of 70. “Back when we used to play five-a-sides at training, if I was on the losing side I would get the train home to Newcastle and I would be depressed. I have to win. Even if it's a karaoke competition, I have to win. I'm just built like that.
“I'm going to keep a clean sheet and that's what I'll do. I do have a groin injury so I can't kick it very far with my right, but I'll just launch it with my left instead.”
This competitive edge even promises to seep into the half-time entertainment, where Hibs supporters will get the chance to ‘Beat the Budgie’ from the penalty spot to win a scooter.
“They're going to have to do well to beat the Budgie. I don't care who it is, I'm looking to save it,” the larger-than-life character told the Evening News over a WhatsApp video call. “They're going to need to come and stick it right in the corner with a bit of pace, a bit of power, then they've got a chance. Otherwise nobody is getting that scooter.”
Having a conversation with Burridge is as entertaining an experience as you’ll find in football journalism. He doesn’t mince his words, he says it exactly how it sees it and does so with a real force of character. There’s also the occasional (OK, more than occasional) swear word thrown in.
This eccentricity has seen Burridge painted as someone who is madcap, a bit “crazy”. But he insists this is a reputation which isn’t deserved. He retains a real seriousness about his health (he remains in excellent shape) and the sport in which he loves. Even as he enters his eighth decade on this earth he’s still open to new opportunities. His love for the game hasn’t diminished at all. Nor has his affection for his former club from Leith, who he watches on a weekly basis. He’d even like to get the chance to come back to Edinburgh and teach a thing or two to the current Easter Road squad.
“People think I'm crazy. I'm not crazy. You can't play in the Premier League at the age of 43 if you're crazy. I went to Crystal Palace, I got them up. I went to QPR, I got them up. I went to Wolves, I got them up. I went to Hibs and won them the cup,” he said.
“I've got a big mouth – ‘fam kabir’ they call it over here in Arabic. I just try to entertain because you need characters in the game. There aren't enough characters in football these days. But with the way I talk and the way I act, people think I'm crazy. It's not that, it's dedication. It's how I played so long and how I'm still as fit as I am.
“I don't drink. I have one pint a week on a Thursday because the weekend over here is Friday and Saturday and then back to work on Sunday. I can't have any more because I'll get p****d. And I eat right.
“I know how to win football matches. If I got into Hibs I would be looking to coach mentality. You need to teach players what it means to have a winning mentality. However you want to play, you have to win.
“Having a big mouth is a skill. That was my biggest skill. I always used to push the defenders away from me, to get them up the park, to stay out of my f*****g box. Because if they didn't they knew they'd be getting it from me at half-time. I'd knock them out!
“I clashed with [former manager] Alex Miller a lot of times because he wanted the full-backs to show players down the wing. I told them to show them inside. Funnel them inside where there isn't much space and you can trap them. If you do that, then when a cross comes in they need to score from 15-16 yards with a header and that's not going to happen against me.”
Burridge revealed that he’ll only be in town for a couple of days during his week-long visit to the UK as he also plans on seeing his sister and potentially his grandkids in London. If there isn’t a party after the event, he’ll drive down through the night. He could never sleep after games, such was the adrenalin pumping through him. It’ll be the same on Sunday because, to him, “there is no such thing as a friendly”.
• Tickets are still available for the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation Hibernian Family Reunion match on Sunday November 20 from £5, available from the club website: https://www.eticketing.co.uk/hibernianfc/Events/Index
Fans can also take part in The Match Auction, with a host of prizes up for grabs including dinner for 10 with Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson, Franck Sauzee memorabilia, and VIP tickets to a Lewis Capaldi concert, with all funds raised going to the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation. Bids can be placed at: https://www.jumblebee.co.uk/thematch