Whitehawk FC are Brighton’s premier non-league football club.
Founded in 1945, the Hawks have had two periods of unprecedented success as they have risen up the non-league football pyramid from a team playing parks football to be within one game of an FA Cup third round tie at Everton in 2015.
Between 1948 and 1952 the Hawks were promoted 4 times to reach senior county level, where they remained until 2010, when three further promotions in four seasons took them to just two leagues below the Football League.
The club was founded as the Second World War ended in 1945 as Whitehawk & Manor Farm Old Boys FC. The original name refers to the local boys’ club, whose members wanted to carry on playing football together but were too old to play in the boys’ club league. Ron Powell, Stan Butcher, Ray Anderson and the Boys’ Club committee held the meeting to found the club at Whitehawk Senior Boys’ School in the summer of 1945.
Ron Powell entered the team in the Brighton Junior Cup for their first season. His fellow founder Bert Brown began as a player and was later the club’s first trainer. Ron Powell held the joint positions of secretary and treasurer – which he did for many years – and Stan Butcher was originally a player.
Brighton Junior Cup 1945-46
The Brighton Junior Cup was a league consisting of 9 teams. The club’s first match was a 5–3 away win on 13 October 1945 against Hove County Old Boys at Hove Recreation Ground. The club’s first loss was a 3-2 home defeat at East Brighton Park to Gas Company on 24 November 1945. The Hawks first ever cup tie was a 3-2 home victory against Southern Railways B in the Hove & Worthing Cup on 17 November 1945. A surviving team photo from that season shows the side playing in all dark red shirts with white shorts.
The Hawks’ home games were played on Brighton Corporation pitch No2 in East Brighton Park – the second one along from Wilson Avenue, just before the cricket pitch. The reserves also played on this pitch, while the third team used pitch No1. Teams changed in the cricket pavilion and there was a tea hut down near the pitch on the bend in the road.
In their first season, Whitehawk & MFOB did the league and cup double. The team won 14 out of 16 league games, scoring 82 goals and secured the Hove & Worthing Cup with a 5-3 victory against Allen West B. Goal scorers were Chas Eason 2, Jimmy Ward, Gerry Chandler and Holmes.
The only other team still playing from the sides in that league are Lancing (then known as Lancing Athletic). Training was held midweek on the Whitehawk estate pitches near the secondary school and for several years the local Whitehawk boxing club trainers Tony Brazil and Dave Elms assisted with fitness. Ron Powell, who worked for Seaboard, hooked up four lights wired back to the cadet hut/boxing club to enable the players to train outside in the winter evenings. In poor weather they used the school gym. They trained like this until the end of the 1960s.
Brighton, Hove & District Football League 1946-1952
Whitehawk & MFOB then joined the Brighton, Hove & District Football League, initially in Division 2, which proved a step too far as they finished third from bottom winning only 5 games and conceding over 100 goals. On 2 November 1946 the Hawks suffered their record defeat, losing 13-2 away to St Luke’s Terrace Old Boys. Scoring seven of the goals for the opposition that day were future Hawks forwards Frankie Hawes and Ronnie Bliss.
When the league expanded for the 1947-48 season, the Hawks were reassigned to Division 4, the bottom division. This season signalled the start of the Hawks rise up the leagues and they once more won a league and cup double, securing the Sussex Junior Cup with victory over West Hove at the Goldstone Ground. On 27 March 1948 the Hawks beat Southdown 14-0 in the Sussex Junior Cup 2ndround, which stands as the club’s record victory.
The first team photo of Whitehawk & MFOB FC in a local paper was published in the Brighton & Hove Gazette on 20 December 1947 for a match won 3-1 at home against Brighton Telephones in Division 4. The side was wearing white shirts and black shorts.
The Hawks were promoted again the following season, 1948-49, after finishing in second place in Division 3 and retained the Sussex Junior Cup, beating Sussex Brick Works 6-1 in the final. In the first round the Hawks beat Hove YMCA 13-0 away. They also recorded a 13-0 victory in the league on 9 April 1949 at home against Insurance. This season was the first year the team wore the famous red shirts with white sleeves and white shorts, which was to become their trademark.
In their first season at Intermediate level, 1949-50, the Hawks again completed a league and cup double, winning Brighton League Division 2 and securing the Sussex Intermediate Cup with a 5-1 win against Portfield at Littlehampton. Jimmy Sallis scored a hat-trick with Bill ‘Cocker’ Blunt netting the other two. A notable league win in that season was 10-0 at home to Sussex rivals Burgess Hill on 1 April 1950.
In their debut season at senior level in 1950–51, the Hawks won the Division 1 title, going the whole season unbeaten and winning all but two of their 26 league games. The club also won their first major senior cup trophy, the Sussex Senior Cup by beating Eastbourne Town 1–0 at Woodside Road, Worthing, with Kenny Hayward scoring the only goal after 10 minutes. The Hawks beat Littlehampton, Lancing, Crawley Town and Bognor Regis Town on the way to becoming the only Brighton League team ever to win the Sussex Senior Cup.
The first time that permission was given to ‘enclose’ a pitch in East Brighton Park for a Hawks game was on 2 December 1950, for the Sussex Senior Cup 3rd round replay against Crawley Town, which the Hawks won 3–1. The pitch was enclosed by a series of 7ft high dark green canvases, fixed with poles and guy ropes, and the crowd was estimated to be 1500.
The Sussex Senior Cup win completed an unprecedented series of non-league football cup wins at junior, intermediate and senior levels in successive seasons, which still stands as a record in non-league football. Just how far the club had come in such a short time was illustrated by the fact that the reserves won the Sussex Junior Cup in 1952, beating Selsey 3-1, so securing a trophy at the same level that the first team had been playing at, just four years earlier.
Whitehawk & MFOB applied to join the Sussex League for the following season but their application was not successful. The Hawks retained the Division 1 title in 1952 but were knocked out of the County Cup by Bognor in the second round. Over Easter the club played their first overseas game when they drew 2-2 with Bruges. The game was abandoned with 20 minutes still to play when the opposing side’s captain refused to leave the field after being cautioned four times.
Sussex County League 1952-1979
The club was admitted to the Sussex County League Division 1 in 1952–53 and finished third in their first season. The Hawks’ first county league game was a 4-1 win at Crawley Town on 31 August 1952. Wally Adams scored the Hawks’ first ever county league goal. The first home game was a 2-2 draw with East Grinstead on 6 September 1952.
A condition of admission to the County League was that all games had to be played in an ‘enclosed ground’ and Brighton Corporation gave permission for this to happen for every game on the normally open park pitch No2 in recognition of the club’s success and growing following. The canvas screens then had to be erected for every home match, which was quite a job. The East Grinstead game mentioned above was the first league match played on an ‘enclosed ground’. The Hawks also entered the FA Amateur Cup for the first time in 1952 but were surprisingly defeated by Wigmore Athletic 3-2 in the preliminary round.
The Hawks were Division 1 runners-up for three successive seasons from 1954–55 onwards, as well as Sussex Senior Cup finalists in 1954, losing 1-0 to Horsham at the Goldstone Ground in front of a crowd of 5626. Home gates in the 1953-54 season were in the region of 1000. In 1953 the Hawks knocked Worthing out of the FA Amateur Cup 8-1 as well as defeating them in the Sussex Senior Cup at Woodside Road. The Hawks reached the 4thqualifying round of the FA Amateur Cup but lost after a replay and extra time, 2-1 to Erith & Belvedere.
For the 1954–55 season, Brighton Corporation allowed the club to move onto a permanently enclosed pitch at the north end of the park adjacent to the Sheepcote Valley camp site, on what is now the Enclosed Ground. The ground was enclosed by newly planted hedges and the bank on the east touchline. Teams originally still changed in the cricket pavilion but later in the decade began to use a barn on the adjacent camp site. The club paid the corporation £75 a season for the pitch and £15 a year for the use of the camp site. There were no facilities for spectators or players on the ground itself. Attendances for the first season on the new ground dropped to around 500, as the pitch was hidden away.
The first match played on the current Enclosed Ground was a Sussex County League Division 1 game against Southwick on 1 September 1954, which the Hawks won 6–2. Harry Sargeant scored the first ever goal on the new ground, after just 4 minutes.
The Hawks won the Sussex RUR Cup for the first time in 1955, beating Eastbourne United 1-0 after extra time at the Goldstone. Len Holter scored the only goal in the 103rd minute. The Hawks were never out of the top five in the County League Division 1 for the rest of the decade.
In 1956, young full-back Derek Tharme was signed by Spurs and remains the only Hawks player ever to be transferred directly to a First Division or Premier League club.
On 2 November 1957, the Hawks suffered their record senior league defeat, losing 9-0 at the Enclosed Ground to Arundel, whose side included the future Sussex CC cricketer Ken Suttle.
The Hawks won the Sussex RUR cup for the second time in 1959, playing in their famous silk shirts – see photo at the top of this article.
The club’s name was changed to Whitehawk FC for the start of the 1960–61 season.
In 1961–62 under manager Billy Thew, Whitehawk won the first of four Sussex County League Division One titles as well as the Sussex Senior Cup, beating Eastbourne United 4–0 at the Goldstone Ground in front of a 4000 crowd. Hawks scorers were Maurice Barker, Eric Richardson and Billy Ford 2. Ford scored 16 goals in Sussex Senior Cup football that season out of a personal haul of 93 for the season, including 7 in one game in a 12-0 home win against Bexhill Town Athletic on 23 September 1961, the Hawks record league win in senior football. Other scorers in that game were Harry Tharme, Rodney Ralfe, Allan Gunn and Maurice Barker 2. Barker also missed a penalty. The Hawks also beat Worthing 3-1 to win the Brighton Charity Cup. Hawks scorers were Les Adams, Eric Richardson and Billy Ford.
The publicity generated by the treble winners, which included an open-top bus tour of Whitehawk and a civic reception at the Royal Pavilion, led to Brighton Corporation providing a grant of £3,500 for the club to erect a self-build grandstand with standing for 500 spectators. The design also included changing rooms. Brighton Corporation still owned the ground and the club still paid an annual rent for its use. The site foreman for the construction was Bert Brown, one of the original founders from 1945, with Wally Adams and Bill Miller as his assistants. Other club officials, committee members and players such as John Oliver and John Marchant provided labour. The stand they built is still used today.
The following season the competition was abandoned due to bad weather, depriving local rivals Lewes of a likely title, but in 1963–64 the Hawks retained the championship, finishing three points clear of Lewes by winning their last six matches of the season. The crucial victory was a 2-1 home win over the Rooks on 25 April 1964. Winger Allan Gunn, who later became a FIFA referee, as well as officiating at the 1990 Cup Final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, scored twice in the second half, as the Hawks came back from 1-0 down at the interval.
Team selection was still done by committee. In the 1964 close season coach Billy Thew left for Newhaven and trainer Kenny Carter was appointed manager at Lewes. A number of key players, including skipper Robbie Cox, Andy Lower and Allan Gunn joined him at the Dripping Pan. Former Brighton & Hove Albion player Glen Wilson was appointed coach for the 1964-65 season but the club struggled and under manager Ron Pavey, who later became the Chief Executive of Brighton & Hove Albion, found itself relegated for the first time ever in 1967, despite having 3 Fords, all un-related (Billy, Alf and John) in the forward line. They made an immediate return as Division Two champions in 1968 under Bill Miller. Mike Yaxley, who would later have a lengthy spell as the physio at the Goldstone Ground, coached the side for the 1968-69 season.
The next nine years saw The Hawks continue to compete in the top division, during which time they lost 2-1 to Horsham at the Goldstone Ground in the Sussex Senior Cup final in 1972 under manager John Marchant. The Hawks were relegated for a second time in 1977. This time they were to spend four seasons in Division Two, having to apply for re-election in 1979 after finishing second from bottom, their lowest ever senior league placing.
Sussex County League 1980-2010
The club gained its first club house in September 1980, using what was originally a prefabricated building that had been a temporary bank in Haywards Heath. This structure was replaced on the same footprint by a brick clubhouse that still stands today. Again, all the work was done by volunteers. A perimeter fence was added to the ground in 1981 and under new manager Sammy Donnelly, the Hawks won promotion from Division 2 as champions. They entered the FA Cup for the first time in the 1982–83 season but lost 5–2 at Dartford in their first match. In 1983–84 Whitehawk won Sussex County League Division One for the third time, winning their last 18 games of the season, as well as enjoying a good run in the FA Vase before losing 1-0 at Corinthian-Casuals in the fourth round.
1986–87 saw the Hawks finish as runners-up to Arundel. Youth team player Ian Chapman was signed by Brighton & Hove Albion and became their youngest ever player when he made his first team debut in 1987. Chapman went on to play over 300 league games for the Albion and Gillingham, the record for league games by any former Hawk.
In 1988–89, again under manager Sammy Donnelly, Whitehawk had what was at the time their best run in the FA Cup, going out 2-0 in a fourth qualifying round replay to Bognor Regis Town, having previously drawn 2–2 at Nyewood Lane. Former Brighton & Hove Albion winger Gerry Fell scored the second equaliser in the away game with virtually the last kick of the match after coming off the bench. Mark Dunk scored the Hawks’ opener. There is a local news feature of this game on YouTube. The home attendance record of 2,100 at the Enclosed Ground for the replay stood for 27 years and was only bettered in 2015 for the FA Cup 2ndround replay with Dagenham and Redbridge.
Floodlights were erected in 1988 and were first used in a match organised to mark the occasion against then First Division Luton Town on 21 March 1988. The game finished 2-2. Luton sent their first team down for the game, less than a week before they met Arsenal in the League Cup Final at Wembley, thanks to the link the Hawks had with the old Albion player Steve Foster.
In 1988 youth player Steve Brown was spotted playing for Brighton Boys and signed by Charlton Athletic, for whom he would make 242 league appearances, including playing in two Wembley Championship play-off finals and then the Premier League. Steve later managed Lewes for a short time.
The Hawks won the Sussex RUR Cup for the third time in 1990–91, beating Peacehaven & Telscombe in the final 2–1, with youth player Darren Freeman, later to become our most successful ever manager, heading the winner. Freeman also enjoyed a successful football league career with Fulham, Brentford and Brigthon & Hove Albion, making 134 league appearances and is famous for scoring the first ever league goal of the new millenium, at Withdean for the Albion. His final ever appearance as a player was for the Hawks in the FA Vase semi-final 2nd leg at Wroxham in 2010.
1993–94 was another good season for the club, finishing once again as runners-up, this time to Wick, as well as having at the time our best ever run in the FA Vase, reaching the 5th Round before losing 3-2 at home to Boston Town.
2002–03 saw the club under manager and former youth player Ian Chapman once again finish in second place, this time to runaway winners Burgess Hill Town. In 2004–05 the Hawks again finished second, just a point behind Rye & Iden United. The two sides also met in the final of the John O’Hara League Cup and the Hawks emerged as 4–3 winners. However, they were later found to have played an ineligible player in substitute Bertie Foster and therefore Rye were awarded the trophy.
The Hawks could only manage third place in 2005–06 but reached both the League Cup and RUR Charity Cup finals, losing to Shoreham and Hailsham Town. In 2006–07 the Hawks reached the quarter-final of the FA Vase, losing 1-0 at home to the eventual winners Truro City in front of a crowd of 1,009. Under Russell Bromage in 2007-08, the Hawks once more finished runner’s up in the league. Ex-West Ham and Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder George Parris managed the club in the 2008-09 season.
The club finally achieved the league title success that had previously eluded them, winning the Sussex County League Division 1 in 2009–10 under our former youth player Darren Freeman, to gain promotion to the Isthmian League Division One South for the first time. The Hawks also reached the semi-final of the FA Vase, losing 4-1 on aggregate to Wroxham of the Eastern Counties League Premier Division.
Whitehawk Ladies, formerly known as Saltdean United, joined Whitehawk during the 1993-94 season. In both that season and then again in 1994-95 they won both the South East County Division 1 League and the League Cup. Charlton and Crystal Palace were playing in the same league. In 1994-95 they won through to the final play-off for the National League, losing out on promotion to a penalty scored in the last-minute of extra time.
In 1995-96 Whitehawk Ladies reached the semi-final of the Womens’ FA Cup, going out to Arsenal, after beating Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton, Charlton Athletic, Wimbledon and Barnet.
Isthmian League 2010-2014
In their first season at the new level Whitehawk were in the title race but eventually had to settle for third place and the end-of-season play-offs against Leatherhead. The game at The Enclosed Ground ended 1–1 but the visitors won 4–3 on penalties. The Hawks completed a league and cup double the following season 2011–12, finishing as Isthmian League Division One South champions as well as lifting the Sussex Senior Cup after beating Crawley Down 2–1 at the Amex. Sam Gargan scored a late winner. They followed this up later by winning the 2012 Sussex Community Shield in August, with a 4–1 win against Three Bridges. The club had planned to play the 2012–13 season at the Withdean Stadium in order to redevelop The Enclosed Ground but this was blocked by the Isthmian League, who were concerned that the club would not return to East Brighton.
The club achieved back to back promotions in the 2012–13 season, again under Darren Freeman, by winning the Isthmian League Premier Division at the first attempt to earn a place in the Conference South.
National League South 2014-2018
For the 2013–14 season, the club intended to change its name to Brighton City FC but the FA Council ruled against the proposal. The Hawks struggled in their first season in Conference South with manager Darren Freeman blaming the physical nature of some of the teams in the league. After achieving three promotions in four years, Darren Freeman was sacked in January 2014 and replaced by former Lewes boss Steve King. King ensured the Hawks retained their place in Conference South on a dramatic last day of the season at the Enclosed Ground against Sutton United, with a late equaliser for the Hawks ensuring a 3–3 draw and an even later penalty by Dover Athletic relegating Hayes & Yeading United instead.
The club enjoyed their most successful season ever in 2014–15, finishing fourth in Conference South and earning a place in the play-off semi-finals against Basingstoke Town. After a 1–1 draw at the Enclosed Ground, a tremendous strike from fans’ player of the year Jake Robinson in the second leg won the match 1–0 to earn a place in the final against Boreham Wood, who had finished second in the league. The play-off final finished 1–1 in normal time, with the Hawks missing a chance in the final minutes of normal time. An extra time winner for Wood denied the Hawks what would have been their fourth promotion in six seasons. Whitehawk completed the season with a 5–0 victory over Lewes at the Amex Stadium to lift the Sussex Senior Cup in front of a crowd of 2,585.
After a good start to the 2015–16 season, the Hawks reached the first-round proper of the FA Cup for the first time and beat National League Lincoln City 5-3 in front of a crowd of 1,342. BBC Sport reported live from the ground. The Hawks scorers were Danny Mills, Jake Robinson, Sammy Dearing 2 and Dave Martin. Lincoln’s next FA Cup defeat the following season came in the quarter finals at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. In the second round the Hawks drew 1–1 at League Two Dagenham & Redbridge, following a dramatic headed goal in added time by Jordan Rose, which was broadcast live by the BBC during the afternoon sports programme. In front of a record crowd of 2,174 at the Enclosed Ground, the Hawks lost the second-round replay 3-2 after taking the lead through Danny Mills. To force the match into extra time, Whitehawk again equalised dramatically in added time with a header, this time by Juan Cruz Gotta. The match was broadcast live on national TV by BT Sport. The winners of the replay already knew they had been drawn away at Everton in the 3rd round.
The club submitted a further application to the Football Association to change their name to Brighton City in December 2015. This application was withdrawn a month later after opposition from fans and Chairman John Summers spending time on the terraces at an away game at Chelmsford City.
The FA Cup run badly impacted on league form and in February 2016, Steve King was sacked after picking up just 9 points from the previous 36 available, a spell which also saw the club fall from 3rd to 13th in the league. King’s assistant, Argentine Pablo Asensio, took over as Caretaker Manager, reorganising the squad and playing style to such an extent that after drifting down towards the relegation zone, the Hawks finished the season in style, reaching the play-offs for the second season running, with Asensio named manager of the month for April 2016. In the play-off semi-final against longtime league leaders Ebbsfleet United, the Hawks lost 2-1 at the Enclosed Ground, but then won the second leg 2–1 in Kent, before eventually losing on penalties after extra time. Asensio was appointed in May 2016 as permanent manager on a two-year contract, which was followed by a complete overhaul of the playing staff for the start of the new season, with several established players leaving, including strikers Danny Mills and Jake Robinson.
After a poor start to the 2016–17 season, with only one win in eight games, The Hawks replaced Asensio with former Eastleigh manager Richard Hill. In Hill’s first week in charge he signed five former Eastleigh players and a further two on loan from his old club, before releasing seven Brazilian players signed at the start of the season, the following week. The Hawks again reached the first round of the FA Cup but were denied a dramatic winner against Stourbridge in unusual circumstances when Javier Favarel’s 30-yard volley was ruled out after referee Robert Whitton blew for full-time with the ball in the air. Stourbridge won the replay 3–0.
After ten league games in charge, five won and five lost, Hill left to join Aston Villa as a scout with Director of Football Alan Payne and player/assistant manager Ben Strevens taking temporary charge of the first team. Defender Paul Reid then stepped up to assist Alan Payne as joint player-manager after Strevens returned to Eastleigh after only three games. Payne and Reid were appointed joint managers until the end of the season on 22 December but with the Hawks in the bottom three at the end of January, the club advertised for a new permanent manager and on the 1 February appointed former Crystal Palace goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman. In his first managerial post, Woodman oversaw the club’s survival in National League South before leaving at the end of the season and being replaced by Assistant Manager Jimmy Dack. Club captain and talisman Sergio Torres also left at the end of the season for Eastbourne Borough.
With the club at the bottom of the league after picking up only one point from the first seven games of the 2017–18 season, Dack resigned, with player-coach Dan Harding taking temporary charge, prior to the re-appointment of former boss Steve King on 13 September 2017. Despite only winning their first game of the season on 1 January 2018, 4-1 at Eastbourne Borough, a remarkable turnaround from the new year onwards almost saved the club from relegation. The Hawks were third in the form table from January to April but relegation for only the third time in the club’s history was confirmed with a 4–3 defeat at Braintree Town on 17 April, having led 3-2 with 10 minutes to go. King departed at the end of the season to be replaced by Hawks successful U18 manager Jude Macdonald. The nucleus of the Hawks team, including captain David Ijaha, left to join King at Welling United. Striker Gold Omotayo moved into the football league with Bury.
The Hawks suffered back-to-back relegations, dropping into the Isthmian South East League for the 2019-20 season.
Most of the club’s archive, particularly prior to 1970 no longer exists. The club is now in the process of compiling a complete history going back to 1945. If you have memorabilia, press cuttings, photographs or programmes that you no longer want, the club will come and collect them or pay for you send them to us. If you have items you wish to keep but would let us photograph, again we will visit you to copy them.
We are also keen to keep in touch with ex-players, particularly from days gone by, and there is a club Facebook page where you can contact us. We are also interviewing older players for the current match programme. If you would like to contact us on any club history related issues, please email or phone our Vice-Chairman, Andy Schofield (07799101015 or email@example.com).