February: the slightly prolonged days, a shortened month, goodbye January, that enhanced sense of purpose … it’s all a delight. But what struck the few hundred of Whitehawk pilgrims upon departing their warm homes — besides the intense wind and desperately brittle cold slamming their kissers upon departure — was an overwrought shiver slithering through the body: realisation, honour and fight all intertwined to lay the foundations of unity and spirit.
So let’s zoom away from a turbulent campaign for just a moment. Take a big gulp of oxygen and realise that it hasn’t all been one great big shemozzle. Saturday sought life, and by Jove did they find it. Seldom spoken has been of a Whitehawk cruising yet the reverse fixture spawned a real juicy affair. Four goals, three points – Corinthian bulldozed to the Kentish forest floor. And on this recent afternoon, as the vanishing yellow sun kissed the horizon and spread out like a jellyfish, ‘Three Little Birds’ started turning in the minds of those chilled chanters. Yes, everything will be alright.
So how did it all begin? Well, in the beginning Alex Laing created the movement and the opening goal. Prior to this the game was without form, without purpose. Javaun Splatt curled a dangerously-close-to-the-box free-kick that sailed smoothly into the Sea End as the wind rattled the stands, flags and ball. That is, until a towering Adam El-Abd leap discovered a vacant Laing to the side of the goal whose header back across Aiden Prall’s pasture was swept high into the netting by Alex Malins. A trademark jump and jab of the air, yessir, Malins hath returned with a boom.
It was a half that only housed a sprinkling of chances, but a healthy number of goals. The Hawks’ front three in Dan Thompson, Laing and Splatt began to froth at the overloading, overpowering attacks that troubled a disjointed visiting defence. But The Hoops, dressed in their vibrant changed strip of the brightest yellow, would fall in love with the corner-kick. It’s simplicity on show, as was Whitehawk’s shortness in defence with a low dart of a cross gobbled up by a feasting Jack Mahoney, who beat Mo Kamara to the ball before defeating Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke at his near-post. Perhaps showing a bit too much net, a bright streak of excited people hugging each other signified the leveller.
So as the opening segment of time creeped closer to a little sit-down it still awaited a tested goalkeeper. Much of the ball in midfield, or in the air, or out of play, or in the air again. It were the chances carved from oblivion that would be dispatched. Right on cue. See Splatt’s strength and touch, turning beyond Jack Bath as he enters the box. Vision perfection, a cute pass splits the defence as Laing arrives to power a low drive home. There’s the first Whitehawk goal, and there’s the joyous celebration to match. For the first time this campaign at The Enclosed Ground, the Hawks had scored two in a single half.
And then it was all-square again. Corner, header, equaliser. This time from the other side, let’s call it the ‘bar side’, the ball was swung into the centre of the box for the exocoetidae-like Bath to nod in Corinthian’s second. Undone by two corners, the marking and desire the downfall of a half that should have had Whitehawk in the lead. As it was the score was 2-2, slightly flattering the football on display but clinical by nature, four goals evenly shared as the ghosts of night swept in from the east. The dings of half time resonating with a few hundred…it’s tasty beverage time.
Returning to a golden setting strode the twenty-two for an ensuing half of football. Would it live up to the first? No, not really, but at least the noise was raucous. An increasing number of revellers joining the Ultras in the Din, there was praise from players and coaches at the game’s end: ‘fans brilliant behind the goal’, exclaims an honest Ross Standen as he stands proud of his player’s work ethic. They were marvellous, never yielding, never wavering on such a biting afternoon beside the choppy sea.
From the outset Corinthian looked a renewed side, replenished from back to front. A Mahoney lob had those with red and white scarves concerned as it bounced agonisingly wide of the far post, jumping into the advertising boards as it departed the field of play. Flick ons, blocked shots, dribblers into the paws – the half was a rigid one. Not so much a delight to the eye, rather a windswept occasion that had to be played on the green deck. The threat of a third goal for either side seemed to diminish as the half prolonged. Tegan Freeman replaced Ollie Munt after James Fraser had too entered the field, yet it would struggle to enhance the Hawks’ scoring potential.
Instead, it was the weary travellers from nearish Longfield that posed an increasing threat, solely through their chief attacking outlet in Emmanuel Oloyede. His pace was troubled a tiring El-Abd and Malins — resolute had they been for large portions — as the forward powered was slotted through on goal, tricked Stroomberg-Clarke into a fake-shot before shooting daintily at goal, El-Abd’s speed enough to intercept before the ball reached the chalky line. And so after 40 minutes of near nothingness, the game burst into life with all its flavours and colour.
Harry Reed, who had a quietly effective game on the right-side of the defence, drove into a gleaming ocean of space along the byline as he sent the ball high onto the head of Laing who, with much power required, connected feebly with it as it shimmied into Prall’s paws. Recharge. Loading was a new possession, one that Oloyede was involved in, and one that troubled the Whitehawk defence once more. It was a foot race: Muggeridge v Oloyede, the latter coasting beyond the former in the box, but firing savagely over the crossbar to much home relief.
Time for one final opportunity, one final fleeting skip of the heart. Incisive was Oscar Housego’s pass through the defence, he had breezed beyond a lifeless midfield as Luke Tanner was the next to have an opportunity of the purest gold. In a swiftest second Stroomberg-Clarke is out of his line, standing tall and imperious to block with his stretched leg. Game ending on that note, Whitehawk had withstood the late afternoon onslaught.
An intriguing battle: Corinthian missing their clearer opportunities, Whitehawk conceding from routine set-pieces. Combined with the sounds and context, it was suggestive of something larger than a 2-2 draw. Still the search for a victory lingers on into Tuesday evening’s trip to Hythe but, through Saturday’s showing the confidence stays above water. The supporters continue to arrive, the players strive for optimism, and the smiles continue to shine.