John Burridge: 'I was thinking about ways to kill meself. Hang meself, take pills'

Thirty clubs and 800 games but 'Budgie' could not cope when it ended and contemplated suicide as the beautiful game turned into the crying game

Finally admitting defeat by Father Time and hanging up boots – or gloves in a goalkeeper's case – can be difficult for any footballer. Few have found it as hard to cope with as John "Budgie" Burridge. It could be said that, hyperactive obsessive or not, he was far more fortunate than most in carrying on until the age of 46 as player-manager of Blyth Spartans while working part-time as a coach at Newcastle United and Leeds United. No matter: "I was on the bench with Kevin Keegan and his staff at a game against Arsenal one day, and I just started crying. Kevin asked what was the matter and I said, 'I just want to play'."

Unsure what direction his life would take after becoming the oldest player to appear in the Premier League – at 43, a record that still stands – he had tried to cover every option simultaneously with coaching, management and a sportswear business. Physical and mental exhaustion was the outcome, compounded by embarrassing headlines after a court case for unwittingly selling counterfeit goods. Fined £16,000, he left the court "feeling sick and depressed" and shortly afterwards contemplated drastic action. "I locked myself in my room and was thinking about ways to kill meself – hang meself, take pills..."

If that sounds extreme, it seemed a logical response; for those who live for football, as Burridge claims to do a dozen years later, what happens without it? He spent several days shut away, refusing to eat, until professional help was summoned when his long-suffering wife Janet phoned Keegan. "It's always said it's men in white coats who come for you, but it's not," Burridge recalls. "They wear green boiler suits and stick a needle in your arse. When I woke up, I was in The Priory."

He stayed for five months, hearing tales from the real world and contrasting them with his own worries. "On the first floor were the depressives, the second floor the alcoholics and the third floor the 13 or 14-year-old girl drug addicts. In group therapy a woman would say she'd lost her husband and three kids in a car crash. And I'd have to stand up and say I was suicidal because I was 47 and couldn't play Premier League football any more.

"It made me think a bit and it did me good just to be away from everything, like being in a bomb shelter. But when I came out I thought, 'I can't go to another Premier League game, I'll start crying again'. I had to get away to another country."

Having earned coaching badges on Scottish Football Association courses while playing for Hibernian, he was able to find a job as goalkeeping coach with one of his many former managers, Ian Porterfield, in Oman. That was in the late Nineties and he has been in the Gulf ever since, in and out of jobs as is the way with football folk, but loving the lifestyle. He survived a potentially fatal accident when knocked off his bicycle by a car travelling in the opposite direction, requiring 147 stitches and "umpteen operations and skin grafts" while becoming hooked on Prozac, yet recovered sufficiently to become a local TV personality as a football pundit.

He is proud to have discovered the first player from the area to make a career in the Premier League in Ali Al-Habsi, the keeper currently on loan from Bolton to Wigan.

All this is recounted in a hugely entertaining autobiography which covers 30 clubs, almost 800 games and so many managers it is impossible to keep count. Ask for his favourite among them, or happiest time, and the two coincide: "Terry Venables by a million miles and playing for him at Crystal Palace in a great young team with kids like Kenny Sansom. Terry taught me more in six months than other managers in six years."

In the far-sighted Venables, he found a kindred spirit. If his regular somersaults and handstands were playing to the crowd, he can claim to have been ahead of his time in terms of diet, warming up on the pitch (which most grumpy groundsmen tried to stop), using gloves even on dry days and visiting a sports psychologist: "I used to get the piss taken out of me right, left and centre but now everyone's doing those things."

Beating Bobby Robson's Ipswich 4-1 at Selhurst Park, Palace sat briefly on top of the old First Division, which Burridge celebrated by sitting on top of the crossbar – while play was going on. Yet the supposed "team of the Eighties" lasted only one season into that decade before falling apart. Venables soon left for Queens Park Rangers, where Burridge would later join him, having had a not untypical row about wages. "I was selfish about money," he happily admits, while denying that it stemmed from a "horrendous" upbringing in Workington, Cumbria. "It wasn't insecurity, it was pride. If I'd had a good season and got a club like Wolves or Palace or QPR promoted, which I did, making them millions, I'd be first into the manager's office to ask for top wages or I was off." Sometimes the ploy would work, sometimes not, and he would be away on his travels once more.

His least favourite manager was no contest either; largely, it has to be said, through his own doing. In an era when goalkeepers received less protection than today, Burridge would employ specially sharpened studs to stand on the foot of anyone who came too close. Ossie Ardiles became an infuriated victim at Southampton, receiving a mouthful about the Falklands War at the same time, and never forgave him. Introduced as the new manager of Newcastle in 1991, he ignored Burridge's outstretched hand and simply told the club secretary to pay up his contract. On the road again.

The brief Blyth Spartans experience suggested he would have made an interesting manager, yet his reputation counted against him. "Chairmen thought I was a jackass, because I turned football into entertainment. I was regarded as a nutcase, but I was a totally dedicated pro, first in for training and last out. You don't play until 46 if you're not dedicated."

Since the Oman FA sacked their manager Claude Le Roy in January, Burridge, now 59, has spent more time than usual at one of his three houses in Muscat, looking at the Indian Ocean from a hammock. It is impossible to imagine him lying there for very long.

'Budgie: The Autobiography of John Burridge' (£16.99) is published by John Blake on 4 April

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes