Ah, pre-season. All that sun and ceremony, the vintage rites, the shirtless and the sweat-stained. That sweet, pure stench of green grass wafting its way in the gentle sea breeze. A gorgeous day, a momentous day; silverware dished out, beverages duly downed. Twice the roar of the Hawk was heard, Javaun Splatt marking his brisk return with an accomplished stroke into the netting before the 2-0 victory was sealed later on. For in the scorching sun a new-look Hawks phalanx produced a crisp, genuine performance to overcome a strong Dulwich Hamlet squad and lift the inaugural SHOUTOUT! For Mental Health Cup. Yes, that’s the way to do it.
And so, after a peep of Steve Hughes’ whistle, Whitehawk’s near unrecognisable outfit got the ball moving for the first of many times this season. Crowd strong, XI fevered; fabled forward Danny Mills returned to The Enclosed Ground for the first time since his 2017 departure as new club captain Rob O’Toole lined up in the opposing half. By now the journey had begun, and Splatt and O’Toole were well on their way to building a formidable partnership. In a distant stand The Hamlet faithful sung the songs of south London, whilst the contrasting polyphonic of Whitehawk’s red wall told the tales of a small non-league club bursting with brighter desires.
On the left-side of the pitch Harry Shooman was once again romping up and down the scales. As if the past was restored he was here again in the acclaimed red, plunging Gavin Rose’s clumsy defence into a plume of chaos and confusion. Between the posts Joseph Osaghae was a busy man: punching and catching, swirling and stretching. The latter was seen with a sunlit clarity to deny a Charlie Harris sizzler, carrying the heat of the day as Osaghae diverted it behind. The Hawks had arrived and set up, bringing with them a true threat that was cute on the eye, positive in the mind.
Another barrage of swooshing deliveries, Hamish Morrison this time, pushed the visiting National League Southerners back, back, back until the ball had to cross the line. Separation in a leaky defence, soon the adored frontman had nothing but space to shift into. Next, the inevitable: a trademark Splatt strike saw the ball squeezed between leg and post. That smile said it all: he knew he was home. A kiss to the crowd, a glint in the eye – minutes before the required interval the huffing Hamlet had conceded. No blaming the surface, the slope or the sun, the Hawks had simply gotten on with it, and fought their way in front.
A Saunders-ised squad, it blew a melodious tune across the grass as the Hawks returned with a brand new XI and a shiny blue kit. Mmm, the wonders of non-league. The obligatory slice of trialists blended into a few previously-announced names. Henry Blackmore partnered Ashley Wadhams in flanking a defence that would face considerable pressure in the preceding seconds by the capital club clothed in their squeaky clean overalls. But on this July afternoon their contemporary-retro oxymoronic jerseys contrasted the performance on the turf. Blazing over from a matter of yards was a trialist of their own. The whiffs of pre-season were evident.
As the half grew stronger so did the Hawks. Saunders said in his post-match interview that he learnt a lot from this afternoon. Everyone played with a hunger that a manager would hope for at this stage. They’re playing for places, for their future. Gunning for a starting position is Joel Daly, skittering on the blades of turf with energy. The engine room comprised of new additions Adam Allen and Helge Orome – as their wavelengths crossed the team sharpened: the ball zipped about; over the top, through the channel. The entertainment of the opening half had subsided, but the sun remained an everlasting pleasure.
In The Din the Hawks watched on fondly. A goalmouth scramble, a few blocked chances, a rippled net: trialist thundering the ball beyond Charlie Grainger and under the crossbar as Whitehawk doubled their deserved advantage in the residual moments. The seeds to encapsulate a fine show, the scoreline scarcely mattered as the Hawks lifted silverware in their opening fixture of the season. Sure, it’s just pre-season. Sure, there’s no points on offer. But this was the perfect start: passion, purity, pride. How best to give Saunders a blistering selection headache? Play the way they did on July 9, 2022.