Trudging sleepily through a pocket of bitter air are twenty-two weary performers with that squelch, slop, squish combination underfoot. A pitch carved up by the blades of muddy boots, it hosted a contest of pure zest as thick as lime. Squeezed into precise periods, those moments when the dying light of day barely illuminated the divine vista were Whitehawk’s finest, knocking on the cathedral door with raucous intent: Ollie Munt steering a cross of the highest gorgeosity deep into the stretched netting. His second in as many matches. My friend, in all your stormy delusions you would scarcely believe such dominance could fail to yield further reward. To Chichester they returned a point richer, still gasping for oxygen to re-fill the busy gills.
Bubbling from the scene prior was a clump of colourful life: crisp pints in hand, careering chuckles, familiar red attire. All the ingredients, then, for a noble advert for non-league football – something to take the minds off this ground’s previous, infamous affair. A tweaked line-up — three changes in total — handed Lekan Orimolusi and Harry Reed their first starts for Brighton’s beautifully progressive side. We’ll come onto that in due course. First it was time for defeat in the coin toss beneath the overhanging grey of January. Swap halves, it’s towards the Din the Hawks were to be attacking. Settle in, buckle up, and just enjoy the ride…
This story begins at the blowing of the whistle. Omarr Lawson reacts, laying it off to an adjacent Henry Muggeridge. Fixture #23: a moment to avenge a past drubbing. Reminders of that late Summer 6-1 defeat the incentive for Munt’s wild celebrations in front of his exultant zealots. Thirteen short minutes in and the red blobs were rejoicing: Gregory spotting the run of Harry Reed, whose vicious whip discovered the open Munt to glance beyond the lower limbs of Kieran Magee with the upmost aplomb. The liquid splashed into the watering hole to end the prolonged home scoring drought. This rampant start assuredly paid in full.
Glimpsing from afar this appeared a refreshed, restored, rejuvenated Whitehawk team. Movement off the ball was deft, mysterious to those dressed in an early-2000s style away kit – only sightly less baggy. Muggeridge the quarterback, spraying decisive projectiles to Javaun Splatt and Peter Gregory on the respective wings as the latter snatched at a gleaming half-volley inside the area, dragging it astray. Loud were the compact faithful behind the goal structure with their voices heard and banners brandished: “Racism, we say no … sexism, we say no”. This is a true sporting soundtrack.
Cue further anticipation and swift anti-climax through Lawson, shifting the bobbling ball onto his left before delicately lofting it over Magee and onto the crossbar. Frustration frothing from the replenished mouths, only one club was in this. Come on, Adam, give us a goal. Forever a novelty that rarely wears off, El-Abd’s nosebleed a sign of his forward position, it was he who slapped a stinger of a flat drive straight at Magee’s paws. Lawson’s rebound blocked. Relentless go the Hawks.
The signal for the half’s end arrived with the yet-to-be-mentioned Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke finally making the report as he awoke from a forty-five minute slumber. Yet to be tested, yet to be moved; a deflected free-kick the closest Chichester came to a leveller. Hello, Mr. Dark Sky. Afternoon slowly replaced by the early hours of the evening, the iconic Enclosed Ground beacons above shining their electricity down onto the sloped meadow. A rare break time lead for Ross Standen and his battalion. What could possibly go wrong?
A necessary grilling from Miles Rutherford infused the juice of life into his lethargic Lilywhites, re-emerging full of intent and desire. Stroomberg-Clarke finally hooked into the contest, palming Scott Jones’ hurried whack with the once impenetrable partnership of Stacey Freeman and El-Abd inexorably exposed. But this was a half of incremental opportunity, some taken, others not. Splatt’s new location on the left side of the field proved effective, skipping to the byline with his pace and flair in recurrent, identical situations. For the fervent followers this was agony of the highest – their ecstasies changing to a remorseful weep. Two certain goals minutes apart denied on that final bit of chalk by Ben Pashley, first through Lawson, then Laing, with that elusive second marginally out of reach.
In between all this Freeman was a touch fortuitous that Kaleem Haitham’s daisy-cutter sizzler arrowed directly into Stroomberg-Clarke’s hands following the defender’s inadvertent assist. But things can change in the blink of a tired eye. A once fragile scoreline of 1-0 shattered with the drop of the cardboard box as some tidy passing resulted in the equaliser. Ben Mendoza with a floated pass onto the dome of the onrushing Callum Overton, his header across the face of the home net was swept in by the sliding legs of Lloyd Rowlatt. Unbelievable. Typical, though, of a season this frustrating, perhaps it was to be anticipated.
And with that, Zephyrus blew his winds in a westerly direction. Spurning Chichester on for the once unthinkable, now imaginable, Mendoza’s wonderfully snaking, curling delivery collided with the far upright without taking a touch. Hearts in the many mouths, throbbing at the deafening silence. You could hear a pin drop at the sound of ball hitting post. Whitehawk survive, just, somehow. Another dart of yellow barely missing the target: Jones missing the gaping goal following Overton’s simple pass immediately in front of the very thing Stroomberg-Clarke was protecting.
Drama and hysteria at opposing ends. Fear not, for this novella has nearly reached its terminus. The final seconds rolling in, confusion in the visiting box presents Lawson with a late left-footer straight at Magee. Ball loose! In a haze of fumbling, floundering bodies it’s cleared away, hacked into the distance where a lone referee in black sounds his whistle for one final time. This one would finish as it started.
Level on the day it breathed frustration and contentment at the same time. At the end either side could have been crowned victorious. Wound for red wound this was a performance of much merit. A statement in recent times forgotten, abandoned – to the hills of Burgess next the last of the January football, thank God, as the horizon beckons with laughs, songs, beers, poems racing through the rose-coloured blood of Whitehawk.