Shropshire Star

Wolves feature: John 'Budgie' Burridge was anything but dull

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

John Burridge in his playing days

Nah mate, it’s a goalkeeper.

But not just any goalkeeper. One of the best and most entertaining goalkeepers that there has ever been.

It was May 14th, 1983. Forty years ago, last weekend.

Wolves, having already sealed promotion to the top-flight by finishing runners-up in Division Two, were welcoming a star-studded Newcastle United side to Molineux which included Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott and Chris Waddle.

It was the final day of the season, a party atmosphere. But Wolves goalkeeper John Burridge- Budgie - decided to take it that little step further. As he so often did.

“We’d already clinched promotion and couldn’t win the league so there wasn’t really anything at stake in the final game,” he explains.

“I knew I was going to get the Player of the Season award and I was driving to the ground when I spotted a fancy dress shop.

“Well, I thought the fans were coming along for a celebration so I thought the crowd would enjoy something different – and I decided to dress up in a Superman uniform.

“’John don’t do that,’ my wife Janet told me. ‘You’ll look like an idiot’.

“But yep, I did it all the same, going out to warm up dressed as Superman and I think I wore the tights under my goalkeeping kit for the game as well.”

Funny thing is, that probably wasn’t even the daftest or most eccentric thing Burridge – ‘Superbudge’ – did during his two years at Molineux.

Or indeed during a career which also saw him jump up and sit on the crossbar during a game for Crystal Palace. Or be reported by a neighbour for late night noise when practicing his diving by flinging himself off his flat roof onto his garden. ‘Tales of Budgie’s madcap methods are legendary,’ said the then Express & Star reporter David Harrison. The two got on very well.

‘They don’t make characters like him anymore’, is a well-documented cliché about how football, and footballers, have perhaps changed over the last two or three decades.

In this case it’s not accurate. Purely because there is no past tense to the footballing trials and tribulations of John Burridge. He is still going strong. Very much so.

Now 71 years young, as recently as last November he was playing in a charity match at one of his many former stomping grounds, Hibernian’s Easter Road. And loving it.

Defending the Wolves goal from Tottenham Hotspur’s Mark Falco (right) with the help of team-mate John Pender in Division One game at White Hart Lane

We are speaking via video call to his hotel room on a lunch break during a week spent coaching goalkeeping coaches in Doha in Qatar. Burridge, who loves life in the Far East, is aiming to find the next talented keeper who might be able to head across to Europe, or England, and make a career. Just as he did in Oman, where he now lives, by discovering Ali Al-Habsi, who went on to become a success in the Premier League with Bolton and Wigan.

“I put so much into the career of Ali Al-Habsi and I had to pay to get him over to England,” says Burridge, who first spotted the keeper as a 14-year-old playing in the Omani Third Division.

He initially took him to train with Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson but was too young to have reached any of the criteria to land a work permit.

“He later went over to England and did brilliantly.

“I think I’ve had my reward with the opportunities I have had since and now opportunities like this workshop in Qatar.

“They have had the World Cup, and now I think they deserve a Premier League player.

“There is a magnificent stadium on every corner over here, and the country is sports mad.”

A fancy hotel room and the modern and plush new stadia in Qatar is certainly far cry from the extremely modest - to say the least - upbringing which Burridge experienced.

Spending his formative years in the small mining village of Great Clifton near Workington in Cumbria, the terrace house of the Burridge family had no hot water, no inside toilet, no cooker and certainly no television. It was a time when discipline was regularly delivered with a physical edge, especially if he hadn’t prepared a bath for his father when returning from a hard day’s graft down the pit.

It was also very much a rugby league area, but Burridge wanted to become a footballer. He wanted to be a goalkeeper.

“That’s the position where you stand out from the crowd,” he says. “The showman.”

He also got involved in boxing in his early teenage years, regularly fighting older opponents, experience which, coupled with that strong home discipline, shaped his personality.

“I’d say I had a bit of a strange upbringing, a bit different to most,” Burridge recalls.

“I had to learn how to fight, and I had to learn how to scrap.

“And that’s what I’ve always carried on doing, it’s what I’ve been doing all my life.”

As a goalkeeper he was soon attracting admiring glances and indeed visits to his house – 38 Concrete Terrace – including from Stoke City manager Tony Waddington.

Who was promptly told to **** off by Burridge senior on hearing the financial terms of his offer.

Blackpool received similar treatment, but when local club Workington Reds threw their hat in, with the help of Burridge’s mother, his father finally relented.

“He told me I’d got two years,” the man himself recalls.

“Two years to make a career, and if I didn’t, I’d have to go down the pit like everyone else.”

The rest is history. Plenty of history.

Burridge was soon in the Workington first team, making his debut at 16 in the old Fourth Division. The first of well over 800 senior appearances, the launchpad to a career filled with drama, and filled with fun.