Lights, camera, action.
Only this was not quite your standard script. Descending into darkness a quarter of an hour in, those dressed in red and white shifted like ghosts through the gloom as they departed the field. “Just stick another 50p in the meter!”, exclaimed someone, somewhere. Evidently it was just that simple, for not a further fifteen minutes had passed before the brightened blobs had returned to the bulb-lit setting, onto the luscious grass once more.
A half of two halves, the surreal opening began with great pace and urgency with Whitehawk banging on the Kentish door, only to be denied by the sinewy instinct of net-tender Kei Plumley. Throwing himself at David Ijaha’s close-range bullet it was the closest any side had came before the blackout. But there were signs of urgency. The Hawks kept their fettle, kept their intensity. Javaun Splatt doing that hypnotic thing on the left-wing that binds the offense. Faversham drowned in the pressure, in the overlaps and in the rhythm laid down by Ross Standen’s squadron.
And in the 22nd minute Splatt got his reward. Tinged with a slice of fortune, his bravura touch to tee up Leon Redwood helped connect the move. Then it was all about Splatt. Sprinting, shimmying, shimmering beneath the flickering rhinestones above as he arrows a drive, low and fierce, into the far corner via the faintest flick of an opposing limb. A rousing swing of the fist and a surge to the sky, it was Whitehawk who struck the first blood of the crisp March evening. Flags flapping gently in the tame breeze, the proverbial cheer from the Din coated the surroundings.
The Lilywhites offered little other than a few mighty throws from Lewis Chambers. Bombarding the box from the wings, resistance was met in the form of Alex Malins and Henry Blackmore, the latter filling in for Adam El-Abd who suffered a not-so-serious back injury at the weekend. His replacement was immense, and Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke stood smiling in the netting as those in front of him headed, blocked, turned away every ball that flew into his territory. David Ijaha leaving the field for the returning Jamie Splatt, the curtain closed on a half laced with a burning desire, a hunger amiss from Saturday’s sprawl with Sevenoaks.
Re-emerging from the stretched out rusty tunnel came the two snaking lines slithering back to the comfort of their habitat. Charged with a renewed sense of life Faversham returned an improved side. Chambers becoming a frequent weapon from both sides, hurling the ball deeper as Stroomberg-Clarke became an active piece on the chess board. The King soon to fall, there would be chance after chance after … yep, chance. Malins moving like a grasshopper, springing to meet two separate efforts to the powerful words of you shall not pass.
Pressure piling on the Hawks, the palms of the Whitehawk goalkeeper were finally stung as Marcus Elliot manoeuvred himself into the red box, drilling the ball viciously to the one lucky enough to have gloves. This was just the start. A silly scramble in the box saw flailing limbs, shocked faces, utter confusion. A pinball rattling about. The crossbar kissed. It was cleared as far as a near touchline. That brewed trouble. Chambers delivering a twisting, swirling, spiralling grenade into the area, the Hawks were powerless against the inevitable. Barely over the line the ball drifted, Harry Harding claiming the goal as he sprints and slides on his muddy knees. Scores level.
Past the bedtimes of many, this one drew closer to finality as midnight neared with the nighthawks flapping about. Now Lekan Orimolusi was on, patting the palms of Splatt as he drifted off the field. Running and chasing the ball like an excited dog, the forward’s presence had given the Hawks some breathing space, a route out of exile. With a joint league-high eleventh draw looming the brave Ultras in the Sea End were stunned into complete silence. Hands all on heads, no matter how many beers were in hand, Omarr Lawson’s shot from the nearest yard was miraculously spooned over the crossbar by Plumley. Was it a hand? A shoulder? A nose? Who knows. The net did not bulge.
And so it was the end of the line. Final call: Whitehawk. A performance of merit and skill, pace and precision, darkness and brightness. A game of two (and a half) halves, everyone leaves at peace knowing no one is defeated. The long, winding journey home for the long-throw and ale specialists will be a pleasing one, but soon it will be Standen’s side making a voyage of similar scale. To the town of Whitstable they move on Saturday, playing for the pleasure, for the badge, for the supporters.