There’s a rich sense of buzz and buoyancy as Whitehawk return to The Enclosed Ground on Saturday afternoon. That air of belief has arrived with a squad hungry for success; craving a cup run. For Shaun Saunders and his coaching staff this will feel like the start. It’s a Saunders side. This is what he wished for.
Only Ashley Wadhams, Henry Blackmore, Luke Emberson and Javaun Splatt keep their names on the rear of the programme. The remainder is a fusion, a Saunders blend of players past and present, from leagues above and leagues below. There are too many to name, but have it in writing that it shan’t be long before they are all sung softly and proudly in The Din.
A profitable pre-season
Even preceding to the first fixture of pre-season there were signs of real togetherness in the camp. Many had previously played in the same side as each other and this showed, glaringly too, on the opening afternoon against Dulwich Hamlet. Splatt had moved back to Whitehawk after his brief stay in Ramsgate and was straight back to business: recording the first of two goals in a sparkling 2-0 win over ‘The Hamlet’.
Fifteen goals later and the warm-ups were at a close. Sweeping aside Hassocks by a 1-7 scoreline the distinct highlight that featured a Charlie Harris hat-trick before half time; victory over South Park Reigate combined with three draws and a single loss to Worthing (that featured one of the great goals) to cap off a profoundly productive pre-season. Many a minute in those primed legs, the wait for competitive football is mercifully at an end.
The FA Cup is a special occasion: those vintage rites, the journeys up and down, that chance of a dream tie. Not that we’re comparing The Enclosed Ground to the Emirates, but for Whitehawk and K Sports this could be the beginning of a surreal odyssey.
Dressed in the iconic stripes of black and white, ‘The Paperboys’ head for the beach a touch deflated after their 1-4 defeat to Punjab United on the opening day of the season. Members of the SCEFL (that’s Kent’s version of the league below ours), they finished in 17th place last season, comfortably avoiding the drop as joint-managers and brothers Ian and George Batten look to take the club to new heights.
Akin to the Hawks is K Sports’ squad situation. An almost unrecognisable side to that at the end of last season, these Paperboys will need to time to gel before they can consistently deliver. Richard Jimoh carries pace and precision along the wing, and was his team’s lone goalscorer in last Saturday’s demoralising defeat that makes the forward our obligatory one to watch.
Shaun Saunders’ pre-match quotes
“I’m expecting a similar game [to Eastleigh]; I’d be lying if I said we knew a lot about them, we don’t. We’re going to approach it in way that concentrates on our game and what we do. We’re at home, we’ll set out to play a certain way.”
“But listen, FA Cup games are never easy. First game of the season of course, they’re always a bit funny, so we’ll have to be bang on our game to get the result but we’ve prepared well.”
“Pre-season has been a real good one, we’ve worked the players really hard so we’ll be good and ready but I’m expecting a real tough game.”