As that piercing sound for half-time beckoned, mere moments before the referee’s parched lips touched his shiny whistle, the magnificent Charlie Harris swayed left and right before placing the ball beyond the stranded ‘keeper’s reach. The midfielder was marvellous in a half that earned him an exceptional hat-trick as he helped his side to a rich 5-0 lead. In their red strip a helpless Hassocks were humbled under a pleasant sky: leaky as a colander, the drips that passed were some of rust and chaos. Sinking under immeasurable pressure the Hawks were uncontrolled, unshackled, unreal. A 7-1 mauling. This is the Whitehawk we know and cherish.
Barely eighty seconds had passed when the juggernauts came knocking, bashing. In such a peaceful setting, too, this massacre awoke the South Downs with such vicious bombardment of the Hassocks goal. It was borderline surreal, borderline hysterical. The first of many punishing waves provided the opener: a beautifully crafted, desperately eloquent take on attacking football. Along the byline rode the roving Charlie Lambert — electric and enrapt in his wing-play — who’s biting cross was tapped into the path of the primed Harris to drill the ball into the bend of the netting. There’s one.
And there’s two: a flatly, firmly driven corner is placed neatly into the Robins’ box for the patient moths to meet their flame. Leaping highest of them all is the soaring Will Miles to guide the ball into the corner with his sweat-soaked forehead. There were fist-bumps, hugs and embraces but for the hosts with hands-on-hips, they knew their day in the cruel heat of day would be long and gruelling. And after 22 minutes this became all the more clearer: Harris given the immense freedom of our county to roam and ripple, firing the ball past the same stranded goalkeeper. That’s the third.
What surprised most of the Saturday revellers to the very upper limits of Brighton was that they had to wait a further 22 minutes for the net to bulge once more. In the sea of blue and red shirts the visiting Hawks were a happy bunch: joyous to the sight of pretentious stouts and exemplary football; it was the fortuitous Lambert who slammed home the fourth after some supremely calamitous County League defending. ‘Away, away!’ Cries the ‘keeper. Two converging defenders falling over a zippy ball it finds its way, somehow, to the rear-post, to the idle Lambert, who converted his first of the Summer months.
At this instant the Hassocks side were fuzzy to the events. Heads spinning, eyes whirling at the hypnotic sight of the Hawks. They had their chances, briefly, after smacking a rather snoozy Luke Glover’s post. But from beginning to end Shaun Saunders’ side kept their shape, their structure and their smiles. How best to round off a first half? Only Harris will know. A swift swipe of the right-boot places this game beyond all doubt. The half-time whistle feels like an act of mercy. Hassocks’ traumatised eleven move solemnly off into the changing rooms, their safe space. Lock the doors. No one can find us in here.
Knock, knock, knock. The referee’s presence sounded within the four solid walls of Hassocks’ shelter. 15 minutes is scarcely long enough to shed the pain of a punishing opening half. They returned shook and sore, bruised and battered but thirsty to make amends. For Whitehawk it was that same assortment of tasty starters, save for the man with the match ball who earned himself a well-earned watch from the sidelines. Joining him are a crowd strong in numbers. They are happy as they move their cups closer to the mouths, and see their side claim another ground.
Similar team, same old Javaun Splatt. Rarely must we wait until the 53rd minute for his first mention, but his link-up play and ability to move defenders away in the opening half assisted in paving the road to rampancy. You find him bearing down on goal, diverting the ball away from the onrushing goalkeeper’s path and into space. His shot is blocked by a red figure on the line. Corner kick. Four minutes later the redemption arrived: more confusion and kerfuffles in the box, Splatt only has eyes for the corner. That’s..errrm…six. Probably.
With 74 minutes played Saunders switched his squad around. De-bibbing and stripping are a flurry of substitutes that take their places on the field. It’s a more even affair now. Hassocks have settled, finally, and are denting the scoreline with an adroit header that loops over the off-guarded Glover’s glove before bouncing beyond the all-important line of chalk. A consolation perhaps, but for The Robins’ restless energy and spirit, this one was deserved.
And so the conclusion drew near. Perched on the banks the crowd chatted and blossomed in the bright yellow light. As most slowly transcended into a Summer haze, they were awoken by a man twirling in the sky; acrobatically thundering the ball fabulously into the net from Lambert’s laser pass. That’s unstoppable. The sheer audacity of the thing: it’s brilliance and lustre. No wonder, then, that it flew off the boot of the same forward Trialist who scored from 45 yards last Saturday. This was just as special.
At the game’s end Saunders gathered his buzzing players into a little huddle yards from the dugout, perhaps to tell them of good deed, or to prompt them that this is only the start, and there is still a way to go.
Over ninety-minutes these afternoon spectacles can feel close and rigid: fiercely fought and wildly congested. But here at The Beacon, nestled on the gorgeous sunny slopes of Sussex, Whitehawk received their green signal for the start of the season. Oh yes, these boys are ready.