Just imagine it: 3-0 down, 28 minutes remain. Things are looking rather bleak on the pitch at The Enclosed Ground on a rare sunny Saturday afternoon in August. Zack Newton has just slammed home the third for Wingate & Finchley, Mitch Walker is left defeated. Shaun Saunders is staring at a first defeat on home soil since 14 January.
But then, all of a sudden, something changed. The other Walker, Charlie be his name, rounds off a delicious, free-flowing move from close-range, slamming it in at the near post to leave Ben Goode groggy in the visiting goal. The Din awakes, the thrashing of fist on metal stretches deep into the Downs. The ending? Well, you can probably guess by the title. But we’ll just journey back to the start to paint a clearer picture of the dramatic scenes that occurred in Whitehawk on 19 August, 2023.
It’s 2.56pm. The crowd is convivial as they stream through the gates for the Hawks’ first 3pm kick-off at home this campaign. The Saturday prior showed promise, but it also showed that this side might need a bit more time to gel. That’s fine, and on Tuesday evening that same side demonstrated their mettle by earning a point with nine men against a strong Hastings United team. That was fun. A bit nervy, sure, but the majority came through unscathed. 100 minutes with nine men? Hold my beer.
And so it was on to Saturday. Baby blue sky stretched overhead, it was a glorious day for the 400 or so revellers that travelled near and far. The visitors on this occasion hailing from the capital — a sentence seldom used in recent years — and will have been buoyed by their recent victory in the dying seconds over North London rivals, Haringey Borough.
An unchanged Whitehawk step out onto the green grass. Ben Pope would later mark his return from a slight knock 20 minutes from time, as he and Dion Miftari joined the bench that also housed Dominic Johnson-Fisher, Stefan Wright and Charlie Lambert.
Even it was in the opening exchanges; Whitehawk would have found themselves in the ascendancy had Louis Collins, making just his third appearance for the club, latched onto a tame back-pass. Breaking away at speed up the slope but unable to slip it beyond Goode, the ‘keeper stands large to thwart the one-on-one.
It’s important to note one rather large difference in this division: the clinical nature of sides. Don’t take your chances, don’t go home with the points. 13 minutes after Collins squirms the chance, ‘The Blues’ breakaway along the right-side of the pitch. The towering figure of Anointed Chukwu running beyond Worrall, he’s left untouched as he finds space for a shot, sending it beneath Walker and into the far corner.
Complete silence. It’s the first time to Hawks have fallen behind at home since 7 February, and the defending stillness echoed this. Six minutes later Walker has the moment, the opportunity of the opening half. Luke Robinson, Collins and Walker combine cutely to present the latter with a golden chance that Goode denies, desperately well.
There’s the half. Ahmet Rifat’s visiting Blues were perhaps a touch fortunate to hold an advantage, yet his man between the posts had performed superbly. Something that, around an hour later, would change somewhat.
Not before a cataclysmic implosion from the Hawks, though. Wingate & Finchley were a different side; Ruben Carvalho spanking one from 25-yards to double the lead and inflict further fear into Saunders’ mind. It’s a good strike – little chance for Walker – that soon would only be a mere piece in an ever-evolving puzzle.
For not two minutes later it was 3-0. Newton unmarked and unfazed as he guided the ball into the roof of the net from a few yards out. The Blues ruthless, the Hawks helpless. Soon the subs come on: Lambert and Johnson-Fisher slaps the hands of Robinson and Brewer. Suddenly it’s a 4-2-4 formation, and the waves came crashing into the Din End
Hamish Morrison skips to the byline after Lambert played him in, he pulls it back into the box for Walker, who had delicately moved away from his marker. One touch, then the finish. Crisp and clean it soars into the netting. Goode unable to turn this one away. Hello, hello… here we go?
Then it was the recurring vision of blue and white shirts chasing blood red, Whitehawk’s midfielders weaving their kaleidoscopic patterns, the runs and the passes beginning to blur into each other like a migraine. Worrall is presented with the ball on the left side of the box. He swings a mighty boot at it. A cross? A shot? Only he will know, as it creeps in at the near post, Goode only able to punch it into the roof of the net.
Game on. 14 minutes remain. A famous Whitehawk comeback on the cards as the next hand is dealt. Deep into the afternoon the ball drops to Lambert on the edge of the box. A bouncing ball is drilled direct at goal. It’s too hot for Goode as it rockets past him, sparking utter chaos in the Din End behind.
There’s still some time left, too, for the most incredible of comebacks. Joel Daly — a man who works silently but so effectively — has a bit of space 40 yards from go. You’ll remember his strike against Three Bridges almost a year to the day, thundering it home into the top corner from range. He’s here now, in a league above, slamming one from distance. It’s swirling, dipping. Goode a mere bystander as it drops onto the roof of the net, agonisingly wide for those in support of the Hawks.
Breathe. There’s the final whistle. It’s a superb advert for the seventh tier of English football. High octane, high heart rate. Another point on the board, you can’t ask for much more. There’s resilience in this side, and goals too. Maybe when the whole squad plays a few more games together, this side will be another force of nature.