Football, it’s a funny concept. How can it cause so much elation, so much devotion for so many who live on this floating blue marble that we call home? All it’s colour and réclame, affluence and influence. Both binding and dividing nations, counties, cities. All of this, and indeed more, for twenty-two men in funny attire chasing after the same ball on a patch of grass.
Seems funny, doesn’t it? But when it comes to it, on the fleeting Saturday’s that are reserved for this one purpose only, everything alters. It’s glorious simplicity, ruining and repairing our weekends; that subtle shift up or down the table. A win here, two losses there, a draw over there. It’s unpredictable nature, it’s lack of logic…this is why we cherish it. Not for reason, nor for choice, but for the emotions it brings, for the distractions from life…for the friendships it makes.
Take Ramsgate, for example: a drizzly, grisly afternoon in the Isle of Thanet. A smidgen over 100 miles from their snug homes but still they venture. Through the winds, mists, rains and shivers this small travelling troop withstand the elements, beating their drums and clapping off their heroes. The eighth tier of English football, the dregs of the pyramid some ignorant enough claim it to be. No matter the score, the weather, the quality; this level will always be the sport in its most beautiful, purest form.
You could see it on their faces as Omarr Lawson dazzled on the left, ghosted through the centre before slipping the ball between Jacob Russell’s dangled leg and the post. Four minutes in, the Hawks have the advantage. Delirium behind the goal, limbs raised high; it was the very least they deserved. And so it came to be that in this fixture between two of the league’s form sides Whitehawk would strike the first blow with the Sussex sword. If only their opponents hadn’t armoured up in riposte, this might have read a jollier novella.
A tale of two sides; one in blue, one in red. The former would begin in the lead, the latter would soon offer its end of the bargain. Frenetic it was, chomping at the metaphorical bit; the intensity and energy was bewildering. High octane football, Ramsgate would press high, hard up the field with the Hawks in deep possession. Drowning in overloads the hosts poured forward, steering the ball to the right channel for the alacritous Ajayi — Joshua be his name — skipping along and fizzing it low to an unimpeded, unmarked Ashley Miller who caressed the ball over the crucial white line.
A barrage of thrills. It had awoken a red beast from its cozy cave. Someone had disrupted its slumber, and now it would face the wrath. For every moment a Hawk would control the ball, one, two, three Rams would chase after. Pressure overwhelming, a pass played to the feet of Callum Peck with his back turned to the target. A swift swivel of the hips and the head, a precise wallop with his left saw it soar into the lower corner. Like a seasoned archer finding his desired spot. The tables, so flimsy they can be, turned onto their sides.
When it rains, it pours, devastatingly. Charlie Lambert with an air of the uncomfortable, hobbling and traipsing on the artificial turf is forced off at the expense of Lewis Unwin. Henry Muggeridge pushed out wide, it was far from the ideal. Ramsgate had executed their obvious game plan, the Hawks had succumbed to immense pressure. Time was still a thing in the opening half. More settled things were, Whitehawk having the ball for longer spells, formulating and probing. James Fraser floating into space before finding Javaun Splatt. Lawson to his right receives it and sends it towards a flooded box. It’s destined for the mane of Muggeridge before Callum Emptage heroically flicked it away.
The sounds of half time ring around Southwood. Breathless was that first chunk, sedater was the second portion. Across the pitch and down the tunnel they went before re-emerging to a darkened setting. The lights from above shining down on the glowing space. An atavistic moment, so divine is this backdrop. Whilst every floodlit arena may emit this similar frame, each and every battle on the nonpareil green rectangle is unique in its own celestial right.
Positivity, thirst and hunger combined with the blue sea that settled into their new surroundings. A bit sharper they strode forward in packs, sliding Splatt into a corridor of his own. Roomy it was, but on his weaker side perhaps. Letting the ball roll into his wheelhouse, he struck it firm, true…wide; into the side-netting it flew via a Russell paw. But this was better. The Whitehawk tent was duly set up in Ramsgate territory for the moments that followed. Lacking was the killer touch, the deft instinct. Circles of deep azure spinning and twirling as patterns form in front of the watchful eyes, cruelly splashed by a rose-coloured paint that blew out the flickering candles of hope.
A second change in personnel: Declan Kama slaps the hand of Leon Redwood as if he were given a baton during a relay. Onto the field he raced, into position on his accustomed right. Seconds passed with the ball journeying slowly in the direction of the Whitehawk net. Miller is sent through, Stroomberg-Clarke out in a flash of green to suppress the imminent threat. Slipped below the ‘keeper is the ball, trickling….rolling towards goal before Kama slides dauntlessly to deflect it away. But the whistle sounds, and the finger belonging to the referee is pointed firmly at the spot. Stroomberg-Clarke incandescent with the man in the middle, he was adjudged to have fouled the forward in the aftermath.
For all their squabbles the decision remained. Harsh may it have been Ajayi stepped up, brimming with a fearlessness in his two eyes, and sent the ball high and savagely into the unstoppable zone, the highest corner. The flame vanishing in a cloud of smoke as the possession and endurance ends in vain. Momentary it was, this ninety-minute war was won by Ramsgate. One final wave of visiting attack blunted by a ruthless round of bullets that shattered their belief. Bereft they were, these final junctures were faced with resilience; a red wall that went out of its way to frustrate and punish a side that brought them such fear in the early exchanges.
And although those heads may appear drooped in the aftermath they had fought wearily and tirelessly throughout. Damning is the nature of losing, we are all gatherers of the same sport, someone must lose for someone to win. The vicious, marvellous cycle of football. So as the players, officials and supporters of Whitehawk depart Kent for that long voyage home to their warm beds, let it be known that this inimitable hawkish spirit will remain embedded within this club’s core for an eternity to follow.