A man that soon, became the definition of eccentricity (for us), no sooner he walked inside our office premises singing, Johnny B. Goode, out and loud in a star-like stride. He walked straight to our office and greeted me warmly with words of endearment. “Tell me, love. What do you want to know about Ali?”, he asked.
Ali Al Habsi, was out of town and he was representing him, being his mentor for long. But that day more than Habsi it was this bald old man’s demeanour and story that fascinated us thoroughly.
John Burridge, or Budgie as he is popularly known as, began his long and successful career when he was just 15. He joined a club in his hometown, Workington. Within two years he got an opportunity to play his first Premier League in 1969. His journey ever since has been rocky and curvy with numerous ups and downs but they were always worthwhile. Today he has to his credit having played 771 league games, 28 clubs, and most of all the love and adoration of thousands of personalities.
Budgie always stood out from the rest for various reasons, ranging from his performance on field that brought him into the Blackpool Hall of Fame, his never-seen-before warm up routines before matches including somersaults, handstands, and single-handed push-ups, or just his larger-than-life personality. And it was his sheer love and dedication for the game that gained him name, fame, and laurels that lasted for nearly 30 years.
But somewhere in those 30 years, his love for the game gradually turned into an obsession, which he realised when one day he was sitting on a bench with Kevin Keegan at a game against Arsenal when he suddenly broke down in tears and said, “I just want to play”. He had realised that it was time to pack his boots and gloves and bid adieu to the field that had given him the buzz and the rush for the biggest chunk of his life. In fact, football had become his life. He has been luckier than the others as he holds the record of being the oldest player to play a Premier League game at 43, and play some more until 46.
After going through a tough time coping with the void that the absence of football had created in his life, he got back on track having realised that he couldn’t let go of football completely. He found a job as a goalkeeping coach with one of his former managers, Ian Porterfield in the late 90s. And it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Oman was blessed with Budgie on its raw, unclaimed soil. Right from the time he came, he was on the lookout — for talent, for attitude, and for trainees. Soon he came across a young boy who he thought had immense potential and he worked hard to train him.
He finally sent him to England to play for the Premier League and even paid for his travel and accommodation. He also helped him meet the right people and get into the right clubs and he was none other than the Asian Football Legend, Ali Al Habsi. Later Budgie was instrumental in nurturing talented player like Mohammed Huwaidi, another goalkeeper who is doing very well for the Oman National Football team.
Budgie, over the course of his giving years, managed to discover talent and give them all their well-deserved opportunities selflessly such as Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the first Indian to ever play in the Europa League, and coached other English national goalkeepers such as Tim Flowers, Nigel Martyn, and Paul Robinson.
While he is no longer associated with Oman Football Association since 2014, his watchful eyes are always on the hunt, even while he’s chilling by the terrace in his house in Oman that overlooks the Indian Ocean or when he’s at the beach playing with his Omani buddies. Having spent more than two decades in this nation that he calls home, Budgie is currently on a break in the Philippines but he will be back soon as he thinks his job in Oman isn’t over yet.