You join us, once again, in the Dark Ages.
As the clock struck 5pm Whitehawk’s fate was sealed: a damning 1-3 home defeat to a side no better on paper, or on the day itself. In the Din End, our Din End, there are scenes of unbridled bedlam – and not the good sort. Ahead of this afternoon the blurred memories of an August away day along the coast came flooding back. Behaviour beyond belief, those supporting the red shirts that slipped from The Enclosed Ground’s gates at the game’s end are utterly bemused, disturbed. ‘Nobody likes us’, Littlehampton Town supporters sing. And never, in all the history of this wonderful game, has something been more blazingly obvious.
Where do we begin? It’s difficult, this, to disassociate the game from the wretched behaviour of supporters. There’s a sour feeling lingering at the rear of the throat, impossible to dissolve, that stems from the result to the behaviour. With 20 or so minutes before kick-off the Whitehawk supporters were standing as if soldiers rooted in a trench, listening as the oncoming enemy races towards you. As the horde of darkly-clad men slowly made their way to the ground the disorder ensued: smoke bombs, fireworks, flares, pitch invasions – the list is extensive, extraordinary. We as a football club are saddened by what befell the eyes of our own followers anticipating an afternoon of pleasure, a break from the stresses of regular life.
Ha, you wish. In all your fiercest dreams have you ever felt so perturbed at a football match? But yes, somewhere, amongst it all, there was a game at hand. Littlehampton storming into an early lead as someone, who really cares who, steered the ball into the netting straight from a corner as the Din End erupted in a plume of putrid smoke. This afternoon was plagued from the very beginning, and It was doomed from the very beginning.
It was perhaps a surprise that this affair was on in the first place after a period of exceptionally heavy rainfall. Playing on the pitch — a mere quagmire come the full-time whistle — was a laborious task. It simply did not suit Whitehawk’s style and, upon conceding, the visitors had something to cling onto. Scott Packer, dressed in opposition yellow and black, looked to tarnish their foothold of the game by scything down Harry Shooman on the halfway line. He saw red, deservedly, as the man advantage allowed for the red waves to bombard and batter the visiting box.
But somehow, someway, Littlehampton survived the ordeal. As the police arrived, something scarcely said in a Whitehawk report, there’s a scuffle over by the Din End – a shock, of course, to the strong Hawks crowd forced to watch on away from our own stand in the second half. ‘The Marigolds’, who had struck gold in the earliest minute, were fortunate to be wandering off at half time smiling at their success. James Binfield in their goal was immense throughout, and their defence was robust, rigid, superior.
With segregation enforced that usual colour and charisma in the Din End was instead bedevilled by the loutish and loathsome behaviour of our visitors. To walk away empty handed after all of this just fell like an extra blow to the stomach. But there was a beam of hope that swiftly emerged soon after the restart: Hamish Morrison delivering a fantastic, fluid pass across goal that Luke Robinson gratefully gobbled up, sliding in at the far post to level the scores. Relief, resistible relief that felt utterly divine in the home seats.
At this point, after a spate of pitch invasions and more smoke-bombs, the Hawks were on top. That is, until the referee dismissed Nathan Cooper for a challenge that from many angles appeared a fair tackle. But no, 10 versus 10, and the equilibrium smashed as Lucas Pattenden drills his side in front with a smart finish from inside the box. How could this happen? The Hawks, for a large slice of the game had outplayed, outmanoeuvred, outmuscled their opponents on the choppy surface, now stared solemnly at defeat.
And as the 90th minute approached Whitehawk were undone by another swift counter attack: George Gaskin slamming home to ignite the Din End further. There it is, the game and the belief, squashed under the volatile nature of Littlehampton Town. This was a team that on the pitch executed their gameplan, but how different it would have been if Cooper stayed on the field, and if Scott Faber had instead been dismissed for what looked a certain second yellow card moments before it.
It’s another dose of deja vu. Club statements, homophobic abuse, disorderly behaviour. With Littlehampton Town there is an expectancy now: a wild dread of the name, the town, the team. A reputation that is swiftly sinking with each fleeting afternoon, this was a fixture bookmarked since our last meeting, that one on the calendar that the visiting supporters were relishing for some time.
On the soaked blades of grass Littlehampton ran out three-one winners. Clapping, celebrating, cavorting in front of their fans sums this side up. But in the stands of what is right, what we fight for, and what we stand for; that, my friend will never be lost.
Hear this as you journey back to your home, proud of such putrid behaviour, ardent for some ignorant glory, the old truth: love always wins.