It’s been a long season. From Whitehawk’s first home game of the season that ended in sunny triumph following a lone Ronnie Conlon strike, to that bizarre defeat to Three Bridges. Fast forward to now, to reality, where a blanket of warm haze coats a dull sky on an Easter Monday with galactic implications. Afternoon’s at The Enclosed Ground have felt more like a chore than a relaxer. But as those dressed in red strolled off the field with their heads held high, exiting to a rapturous round of applause, there were two overriding emotions: that of peace, and that of pride.
Was this a miracle? At points of this tumultuous odyssey the end result shined a bulging question mark. Maybe we’ll get playoffs, maybe we’ll finish mid-table…maybe we’ll go down. In the end none of those outcomes came true, for on the slopes of their home on Monday afternoon they battled hard, gritted their teeth, and ran with a desire seldom seen this season. Haywards Heath the tourists this time, their playoff destiny was secured on Friday. But for Whitehawk, our beloved Whitehawk, all the dread and doubt built up over the past eight months diminished with the sounding of one whistle.
And from the moment the first whistle reverberated around a colourful, cheerful setting the Hawks showed that desired belief. First to every ball, pass, knock-down Javaun Splatt spearheaded the attack with an electricity akin to that in the stands. They knew what was at stake. The threat of relegation staring them in the eyes, unaware that results from distant fields were going their way. Splatt with the first chance: he crashes one over Billy Collings’ crossbar. Ooooh’s from a squished Din, this one was starting to heat up.
There were four changes to the side narrowly beaten at Three Bridges on Good Friday, and this included that of Dan Thompson, starting alongside Splatt as Shaun Saunders deployed his cunning diamond formation. Frankie Chappell returned (heroically), to partner Alex Malins (slightly more heroic) as The Blues were chasing their opponents. But Splatt was everywhere: on the shoulder, in the box; ghosting along the floor like a man possessed, a man of want he was as he roamed the field with intent.
Olly Munt was there, too. The nifty Hawk was a constant threat when delivering set-pieces, yet here he was waiting patiently on the edge of the box, ready to pounce. The ball was his prey. Striking it sweetly on the volley it drifted wide of the helpless Collings. That was a chance, that moment where one takes a step back, and is sure it will end up in the report. Well, there you are Olly. Hope we did you justice. Anyhow, there’s the break. It’s 0-0. It’s tense. It’s your classic cagey non-league fight. Go and have a drink, lads.
So here we are: forty-five minutes to define a season. Days upon seconds upon months filter through to this afternoon. Always helps when those around you slip up, but the Hawks had deserved something from that half. Now they were uphill, attacking the Sea End. A win would guarantee Isthmian League South East (and breathe…) football next season, a draw would be admirable if Lancing and Phoenix Sports continued to score fewer than their respective opponents. Spoiler alert: the second half was a tad dull, but the consequence was a good one.
With the ball either crashing around in midfield or resting away from the chalk dimensions this half spluttered with an inert banality. As if the Hawks were content in settling for a point, that urgency shown in the opening half had dwindled into something more reclusive. There was Splatt, still sprinting and slipping through the defence but to little avail this time. The midfield remained sturdy, and it continued to thwart the legs of Adonai Christie and Jordy Ndozid who sought to make the people of Whitehawk very unhappy indeed. Shame on them. A good thing Malins and Chappell were impenetrable, then.
But oh, what’s this? Is it a wild Splatt dancing along the grass, carving his way toward Collings’ net? It was, but alas the angle was a tinge too tight, and the strike was a tad too weak, for the visiting ‘keeper fought it off with his feet. A bit more promise in a half devoid of flow, it excited Saunders enough to throw on the offensive weapon that is Alex Laing, wishing for some enhanced midfield creativity. That didn’t really arrive, and the same went for the arrival of James Fraser as time moved with the chill of an approaching night toward the denouement.
And then it was the Hawks who needed to do some defending. Malins had been immense, truly, but his name was etched onto the ever so coveted man of the match award for two tremendous point-blank blocks to deny a Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke movement. The first mention of the Whitehawk goalkeeper, testament to those tireless pawns in front of him. It had been another day for the defence. Just as the reverse fixture ended in a goalless scoreline, so too did this one. Yet on another afternoon this could so simply have been claimed by Whitehawk. Still…a point is all they needed, and a point is what they earned.
To Ashford they go with the worries of relegation a now aged memory. There is time to raise a pint to this achievement when all has been confirmed, but on this Easter Monday there is a reason to slip out away from The Enclosed Ground for one final time with a merry grin, a twinkle in the eye, and a honour within that exerts the true meaning of this football club: together as one.