Date: 24th October 2014 at 12:03am
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771 League appearances for Workington, Blackpool, Aston Villa, Southend United, Crystal Palace, Queens Park Rangers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Derby County

John Burridge: 771 League appearances for Workington, Blackpool, Aston Villa, Southend United, Crystal Palace, Queens Park Rangers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Derby County, Sheffield United, Southampton, Newcastle United, Hibernian, Scarborough, Lincoln City, Aberdeen, Dumbarton, Falkirk, Manchester City, Darlington and Queen of the South.

Some players assume legendary status through what they achieve on the field, and others by their unique character and personal approach to the game. Some do both. One man who can make a claim on both counts is John ‘Budgie’ Burridge, who played for 15 English League clubs and 5 Scottish League clubs in a professional career that lasted 30 years. He was on the books at a further 3 English League clubs and 5 non-league clubs without making an appearance, bringing his total number of clubs to an astonishing 28. His 15 League clubs is a record that still stands.

Although he only made 4 appearances for Lincoln towards the end of his playing days, it is well worth taking a few minutes to revisit the career of someone I consider to have been one of the most notable English goalkeepers of my lifetime.

Signing for his home town club Workington in 1967 at the age of 15, Burridge soon attracted the attention of the top clubs following his debut in 1969 and signed for then First Division Blackpool in 1971. One of his first games was Blackpool’s 2-1 Anglo-Italian Cup Final win in Bologna. He was just 19 at the time. Although his 4 years at Bloomfield Road coincided with a downturn in the fortunes of the once-famous club and relegation to the Second Division, Burridge was one of the stand-out performers and in 2006 was inducted into the Blackpool Hall of Fame as one of the 5 representatives from the 1970s.

A big money move to Aston Villa in 1975 resulted in a League Cup winners medal but competition from England international Jimmy Rimmer led to Budgie joining young Terry Venables’ revolution at Crystal Palace two years later. Having gained promotion from the Second Division at the first attempt, at one stage Palace sat on top of the First Division after a 4-1 win over Ipswich; Burridge celebrated by sitting on top of the crossbar.

Always a character, he was often ridiculed by (opposing) fans for his extrovert pre-match warm up routines and occasional histrionics on the pitch. However, hindsight now tells us that he was simply ahead of his time; every goalkeeper now trains the Burridge way.

Venables took Burridge with him when he moved to QPR in 1980 but the association ended when he was left out of the 1982 FA Cup Final against Tottenham. A move to Wolves was next on the Burridge world tour and immediate promotion to the First Division was the result; unfortunately immediate relegation also followed, and Budgie was on his bike again, this time to Sheffield United after a short loan spell at Derby. Having added Southampton and Newcastle to his cv, he moved north of the border to Hibernian where he won a Scottish League Cup winners medal in 1991.

Leaving Hibs at the age of 41 in 1993, he might have been forgiven for hanging up his gloves but his desire to continue playing was overwhelming, a trait that was to rear its ugly head later. A succession of moves around Britain followed as Budgie tried to prolong his playing days; by this time he had already taken up coaching and looked after three England goalkeepers – Tim Flowers, Nigel Martyn and Paul Robinson. Between 1993 and 1997 Burridge signed for no fewer than 14 clubs, usually as emergency cover. One of those clubs was Lincoln City, signing in December 1993 as cover for the injured Mike Pollitt, and in doing so became the oldest post-war Lincoln City player at 42 years 57 days. Despite his age and short term signing, his commitment to the job was clear and his enthusiasm infectious. He immediately endeared himself to the City faithful with a clean sheet in the 2-0 win over Scunthorpe on 27 December 1993.

Shortly afterwards he set another record that still stands: on 14 May 1995 during a spell at Manchester City he became the oldest player ever to play in the Premier League, at 43 years 162 days. Perhaps fittingly, the opponents were QPR.

After his playing career came to an end, Burridge became a top class goalkeeping coach with Leeds, Newcastle and others. His first spell in management came at the same time, with non-league Blyth Spartans. The wheel turned almost full circle when he took them back to Blackpool for an FA Cup First Round tie on 15 November 1997; despite a battling performance, Spartans lost 4-3.

Things took a nosedive when the time finally came to retire. Depression in the game thankfully has become well-publicised following the tragic loss of Wales manager Gary Speed but when the illness hit Newcastle coach John Burridge, no one really understood what was happening. A refusal to accept that his playing career was finally over, combined with an unfortunate conviction for unwittingly selling stolen goods, led to some potentially fatal problems. Fortunately Kevin Keegan and Budgie’s wife Janet intervened just in time, and John spent five months in The Priory.

“I am suicidal because I am 47 and can’t play Premier League football any more.”

Fortunately he recovered but knew he could no longer work in British football for fear that the depression would return. In the late 1990s he took a coaching job in Oman and has been in the Middle East ever since in a variety of capacities. Despite being knocked from his bicycle by a speeding car (resulting in 147 stitches, several operations, skin grafts and an addiction to Prozac), his roles have included Oman national team coach and club management. Originally becoming a pundit covering English Premier League football for a TV channel in Singapore, he now commentates on Champions League matches for Dubai-based Ten Sports. John currently lives with wife Janet in Muscat, Oman.

John Burridge published his autobiography ‘Budgie’ in 2011. If you have nothing else to do this weekend, you could do a lot worse than get hold of a copy.

Some say Burridge was unlucky to play at the same time as Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence; perhaps an England cap or two may have followed at any other time in football history, if only at under-23 level. In the modern age we are told we should respect the overpaid monosyllabics who seem to delight in disgracing themselves and the game. John Burridge represented a time when players gained obvious enjoyment out of simply being on a football pitch. With his palpable enthusiasm for the game and obsessive pursuit of personal excellence and fitness, he is a player who should not be forgotten. As well as doing a great job for every club he appeared for, John Burridge was one of those players that once gave the game some colour.

Lincoln City career:
27/12/93 v Scunthorpe United (H) W 2-0
01/01/94 v Scarborough (H) L 0-1
22/01/94 v Doncaster Rovers (A) L 0-1
29/01/94 v Rochdale (H) D 1-1

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