Whitehawk’s Enclosed Ground is always colourful and noisy on a matchday, but today was different. The colour wasn’t just the red of the home side and the blue of their opponents, Bishop’s Stortford. The noise wasn’t only coming from the irrepressible home supporters. It was Community Day for the Hawks, so on this occasion the action started long before the action started! Music, activities, chips, mascots everywhere; and a traditional football hen party (well, all traditions have to start somewhere), the bride in Whitehawk shirt and white veil. We even had glorious sunshine and blue skies- a far cry from our last visit here, when the rain came down in biblical proportions and the match got called off after half an hour. As three o’clock arrived we had everything you could possibly need at a football match.
Well, apart from football. Bishop’s Stortford had been delayed by an accident on the motorway. You can’t have everything, can you?
Still, this gave us more time to enjoy the festivities. Community is very important to Whitehawk, and although to a casual onlooker today would have been the day when the two came together, the truth is that the two are together all season long. An hour before the scheduled kick off Commercial Manager Kevin Miller explained that amongst those taking part in the activities were Met College, Brighton & Hove Council, Brighton Festival, Sussex Police, the local bus company, and the local youth club. As he was delivering this explanation a man walked past with an ironing board under his arm.
DJ Ironing Board, and his, erm, ironing board!
“Oh, that’s the DJ. He’s called DJ Ironing Board. He DJ’s on an ironing board.”
And so he did, as you can see from our image. He gave us a mixture of Mod and Ska music that brought an enormous amount of nostalgia to many of those present. Which does a great job of helping you gauge the age of a significant number of the spectators, including your scribe. There was more music in the clubhouse, Met college band Shizz Banizz (don’t ask for an explanation, we don’t have one) livening up proceedings and entertaining the bar and burger queues.
Anyway, back to the football. We did eventually get some of that, after the Blues arrived at around ten to three.
This was a critical game for the home side. When a chap at the front of the main stand asked, “can we have a goal head start given they’ve turned up late,” he was only half joking. When Adam the Media Manager said, “knowing our luck they’ll arrive ten minutes before kick off, have no warm up and then beat us,” he wasn’t just displaying the glass-half-full mentality of many football fans on a Saturday afternoon. Off the pitch, all is coming up roses for Whitehawk, on it, they face a struggle to maintain their Bostik Premier Division status. A run of thirteen points from fifteen, which saw the club climb back from what looked like certain doom to a position of safety, has been followed by three straight defeats. That those defeats were to Enfield Town, Worthing and Tonbridge Angels, sides with play off pretentions, hasn’t softened the blow. Three points from safety a number of fans were describing today’s fixture as a “must win.” That wasn’t difficult to understand. The Enclosed Ground before kick off today was a place of loud music, loud singing and bitten fingernails.
Whitehawk Comminity Day
Their opponents still had playoff pretentions. After victory over AFC Hornchurch last weekend joint-manager Steve Smith spoke of his hopes that his side could still make the end-of-season party, and with a gap of eight points with eighteen still to play for you could understand that, even if it looked unlikely. What was also unlikely was that the Blues would arrive on the South coast today and roll over. They needed to hope that they didn’t have too many injuries, however, given they only had three players on the bench.
Jamie Cureton got us underway at half past three, his Blues- in white- kicking down the hill. This was a cue for the Whitehawk fans, replete with drum, bells and hunting horn, to make the opposite journey. They were soon standing behind the highest goal making a racket, although initially at least there was little happening on the pitch worth shouting about.
That changed as we entered the sixth minute. Nat Pinney, the Non-League Akinfenwa, was fouled on the edge of the Bishop’s box. Connor Tighe, entirely obscured from view behind a floodlight stanchion, curled it over the wall but wide of Arthur Janata’s right-hand post. It perhaps wasn’t all that close- the keeper didn’t seem overly concerned- but it got the crowd excited, and they remained excited as Lucas Rodrigues earned his side a corner, which caused all sorts of trouble in the away defence before the ball dropped past the near post for a goalkick. Hawks kept up the pressure, and after good work from John Paul Kissock Tighe had the best chance so far, firing in a curling shot from just outside the box that had Janata back-peddling, but dropped just over the bar.
Bishop’s had been very quiet, but as we entered the twenty-first minute they got a free kick twenty five yards out. Three men stood over the ball, Cureton fired it in, and it rebounded off the foot of Melvin Minter’s right-hand post. A goalmouth scramble, a failed clearance, and the Hawks worst fears were realised as Alfie Mason managed to stab it home. It was probably the first time the away side had been in the home box, but they were ahead. “We’re going to win two-one,” sang the home fans, but it was those who had travelled from Essex who were celebrating.
Whitehawk mascots- and bride to be!
Five minutes later the home side earned their own free kick, Mark Haines booked for a challenge on Rodrigues. This one was right on the edge of the Stortford box, and Tighe once again stood over it. This time he was unerringly accurate, clearing the wall, but somehow the ball, which seemed to be heading for the corner of the net, hit the inside of the right hand post, flew along the line, struck the other post and was cleared, as the striker stood with his head in his hands. Pinney got to the rebound but could only strike the ball into the ground and it ricocheted directly into the arms of Janata. “That’s the kind of luck you get when you’re at the bottom,” said a man with a beer in his hand, walking past the front of the stand.
The rest of the half was rather forgettable. The home side had most of the possession but did little with it, and Bishop’s seemed happy to let them have the ball so long as they continued in this manner. The referee then decided to cause some controversy by blowing the half time whistle just as Kissock lined up a shot from the edge of the box, and that somehow summed up Hawks luck so far.
We kicked off the second half just as every other fixture in the league was entering its final twenty minutes, with Hawks kicking downhill. The news came through that Bognor were beating Wingate and Finchley, and everyone cheered up a little, but the Hawks still needed to do themselves a favour- they certainly couldn’t rely on others to keep them up. Their supporters now had a roof over their heads, and consequently became noisier still, but sadly you don’t get points for decibels- if you did they’d surely be challenging for promotion.
The first ten minutes after the break had but one talking point, as Rodrigues went down in the box, got up, got control of the ball, laid it back, and found nobody waiting for it. Well, there was another talking point, but that was more than fifty miles away, as Bognor had gone two-up. “That means their goal difference is one worse than ours!” That’s known as taking pleasure from small mercies.
Stortford kick off, down the slope
On the hour mark we had our next excitement, and Tighe had his full set of woodwork struck, managing to hit the bar this time. Once again he held his head, along with much of the stadium. Although they held their own heads, not his, just in case you were confused. The home fans took this as a cue to do the Hokey-Cokey.
They’d earlier been singing about hating homophobia, sexism and racism, but loving alcohol. We never had any doubts about their commitment to equality, but at this point, we were perhaps finding out just how much they loved alcohol.
With fifteen minutes to go Tighe was heading for the bench, replaced by Aaron Goode. That seemed a rather bizarre decision, unless the striker had an injury that we couldn’t see- he had been Hawks one and only goal threat, and undoubtedly their best player. A few minutes later and, from a home corner, the ball was arrowing towards Goode, on the penalty spot. He jumped, connected, and…his header sailed harmlessly over the bar. It was a chance, in a match where they had been at a premium, and it should have been better used.
Finally, into the last five minutes, we got some urgency. A long throw was headed on, and Goode was there once more to fire goalwards. The keeper could only parry, and the Hawks had a corner. There were three minutes remaining, and up went home keeper Melvin Minter, but he got nowhere near the ball and, with nobody in goal, calamity. A clearance, and suddenly there were three players in white shirts approaching an empty net. Olly Miles had nothing to do but roll the ball home, and run off to celebrate. Two-nil, game over, and even that goal difference advantage wiped out.
Whitehawk, Bishop's Stortford, and the world's most bored ball boy
Whitehawk had dominated possession. They’d also had the better chances. Their fans, and the community, had brought life and love to the Enclosed Ground. On the theme of love, they’d also been led onto the pitch by a bride-to-be. But, rather like her considerable entourage, they’d been left playing the role of bridesmaids.
The winners wore white. There was no confetti.