Flip the calendar over to March. Take off those big puffer coats. Bundle on down to The Enclosed Ground. Only on this particular Saturday afternoon was it absolutely bitter, frozen to the bone. A mere stone’s throw from the Sussex seashore, the wind whipped off the hills and moved briskly over, carrying the ball to places unintended, unexplored. This was a crucial affair. Whitehawk, Phoenix; the aviary had been opened, but the scoreline would remain untouched (sorry, spoiler). Tame were the desperate birds languishing at the foot of the table, its defences proved rigid as cobalt with a pair of clean-sheets dished out.
Team sheets crawling out of the printer it was the next instalment of ooh who’s this new name? Terese Mthunzi, that’ll be. And into the starting digits he went, protecting that backline as Omarr Lawson continues to be an absentee. Henry Blackmore was in for Adam El-Abd, Olly Munt slipped into the midfield, and Harry Reed returned following his suspension. So the scene was set. Ukrainian flags in The Din, on the gantry, in the hands of the captains. We stand in solidarity; we hope for a peaceful world.
Battling under a blanket of lingering pearl-grey the Hawks would be with the wind and slope in the opening half as the stream of loyal supporters packed into the seated scaffolding. 17th v 19th; the quest for an escape away from the darkness started tentatively, haltingly and, above all else, with the ball in the air for prolonged durations of time…naturally. Entertainment was provided chiefly through the referee’s odd-sounding whistle – as if one had just finished at shift at Brighton Railway Station. Of course the game began on time.
An erratic beginning, a rasping drive from Malaki Toussaint that Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke clung onto was the first note of business as the crackling noise of the Ultras circled around our rustic ground. Soon after the ball came loose in the centre of the turf, Blackmore beating his opposing man in Luke Leppard to it but is chopped in half by the Leppard’s lower limbs. A tackle that belongs in the 1970s (or in the recent Three Bridge’s affair), evidently the referee assumed so too with only the colour yellow waved in the culprit’s face. That may have swerved the eventual outcome, but as it was the Sports still had eleven men, and the score was still 0-0.
It was along the right-flank that Whitehawk were finding a glimmer of success. Harry Reed’s pace brought him to the byline on frequent occasion, romping along the wing, but the Enclosed Ground’s bobbles caused half of the crosses to depart the surroundings. Frustrating, yet promising. Alex Malins and Blackmore roving like flies, swatting away the danger guilefully. With the irritation levels increasing this half witnessed shots from reasonable milage only. Fizzing wide or fizzing straight, the netting was far from being rustled. Forty-five minutes of the purest imperturbability; the scoreboard did not flicker in the growing darkness.
Floodlights on, beverages cold and warm consumed, posts clanked. Too much space for Thomas Cousins allowed the full-back with time to pick out Wale Odedoyin with added zest, firing it into the onrushing forward’s chest as the angle narrowed. Stroomberg-Clarke out in hot flash, Odedoyin smacking the left-upright from a matter of yards. Whitehawk sleepy, so nearly paying the ultimate penalty. Oh, what’s this? No, not the sound of the departing 16:12 to London Victoria, rather the tones of a visiting spot-kick. Toussaint bundled clumsily over in the box from Peter Gregory to a few claps and many boooos, the ensuing penalty was drilled firmly by Steve Carvell. But who was there to beat it away? Stroomberg-Clarke, wonderfully. Thinning ice trod the Hawks…
Phoenix Sports had sauntered out of the tunnel with a renewed breath of life. Hunting in packs greedy for the ball, the kinks began to straighten themselves out as the contest grew more even. All it needed was a chance. That faint sniff of goal. Leon Redwood ripping one through a now broken Sports’ backline with Javaun Splatt carrying the ball hastily towards net. It is forward against goalkeeper, Splatt versus Steve Phillips. Guarder prevails. That outstretched left leg denying the opening goal; those frozen from the gusts instantly defrosting in a haze of bewilderment. That was the chance.
By this stage in the ever-dwindling second half Alex Laing had slapped the hands of Munt as he roared onto the field, electrifying the left-wing with his neat turns and intricate passes. One of which was controlled beautifully by Splatt in the box, whose layoff to James Fraser saw the eventual drive crash into a crowded area. With wearying legs comes an open contest, Stroomberg-Clarke again called into action to halt Alfie Evans’ arrowed spank after the ball had been switched effectively from left to right. Still hanging on the edge of the knife, chances would soon dry up as the above hue grew murkier by the minute.
Chances appeared sporadically, almost when you’d least expect it, but on this early afternoon in March at the foothill of one of Brighton’s many slopes the meeting fizzled into nothing. Points shared, but so too were the many smiles that continue to walk through the entrance. Entering the final act of this unpredictable campaign with nine cup finals to go, the thrill intensifies with each passing week, day, second. Until the very last kick of existence will those devoted supporters adorning the rosiest red be attached to this charming football club.