Isthmian League


So…have you defrosted yet?

Oh, the bitter chill. The gates of Whitehawk opening up to allow the gusts of Arwen through, wreaking its havoc at the slope’s foot. Flags flapping frantically, it was as if Aeolus himself had emerged from the colourless clouds and slammed the air with his mighty fist.

Yes, things were a bit breezy. Temperatures continue to plummet into oblivion with the nearing of Winter, yet still they come. Huddled for warmth, huddled as one, there they were in the Din bouncing, crooning, smiling. There they stood, shelterless, in the Sea End. The Arctic storm’s chill slapping their necks from behind. Frozen at the joints, still they sang with that hawkish passion locked deep within their icy skins. No matter the weather, no matter the result; united till the end as one.

Whitstable claimed this one. Marred by the blitzing elements above, the football in front of the watchful eyes failed in its quest for fascination. Up high towards the heavens the yellow ball soared, back swiftly to its origin it rushed. A factor more influential than the contest itself, it perhaps would’ve been wiser to keep the ball magnetised to the squelchy surface. Grass soft underfoot as two lines — one of red, one of yellow — sprung brightly from the rickety tunnel and strolled out into the twirling typhoon.

Both breeze and slope in Whitehawk favour as they had sights only for the distant Din that lay ahead. Forced onto the front foot the Hawks laid siege upon the Whitstable’s castle. Into the box they galloped, flooding the spaces few and far between. Javaun Splatt, the perpetual threat, forces a fine, sprawling stop from Dan Eason from a close(ish) half-volley. Electric along both wings; the energy of Billie Clark and Henry Muggeridge fizzing along their respective channels. The former rapid as he harnesses the power of mother nature, it sent the plug in the direction of the socket, but miss its intended target it would as the gaudy bus scoreboard remained untouched.

Penetrating, probing, preying. Still the army of the red swarmed the box, twisting and turning on the outer edges to prize open the Oystermen’s chest. Declan Kama headers it home, referee Gerry Heron says there’s a push. Frustration simmering, brewing even as Clark flashes one wide of the faraway upright. Barraging from all sides, all angles, the ball remained glued to a man in red. Aided by the ghastly conditions you felt the Hawks needed one before the break. There was intelligence behind Whitstable’s pre-match decision: win the toss, attack the slope, ride it out, look to steal it in the latter half.

Endeavouring and roving throughout, Splatt’s travails in squeezing away from the defensive phalanx aroused the adjacent onlookers with his spirit-like movement. A mere bystander in Mo Kamara’s snaking, lung-bursting run through the core of the opposition, he drifted into a vacuum poised for the pass, but wide it went from the glancing flick off his head. This was a period of relentlessness and authority, trying yet failing. A great big slice of cold sky above, its sunless nature welcoming its darkened sibling as it settles in for the night. Goalless below on the blades of green wonder at the pause as the referee’s whistle reaches high into the eclipse, into the warmth marched the numb admirers.

And then they appear: one by one they filter, taking their seats, braving the shivers. So too do the twenty-two spring seamlessly into place. The bulbs from above projecting its beams downwards, blanketing the surroundings. Gales from the north assisting Whitstable; Rodney Eruotor attempts to formulate a script of his own with a darting sprint into Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke’s zone. Lashed across the face was the ball, missing the toes of Eruotor before it trickles into nothingness. This was to be a sterner half.

Banal a touch, the spark had been withdrawn. Too long was the ball chucked into the dark abyss, swirling and spiralling like a kite, dancing in a hurricane. Kama withdrawn, Henry Blackmore dashed from the dugout and out onto the stage. Patiently they threatened, playing it along the ground as the footballing Gods intended. Quickly enough it half-pried open that resolute oyster.   Omarr Lawson sprinkling some zest over proceedings by whizzing one over the crossbar. It was better…for a brief moment.

Ah, complacency – the defensive cliché. No sooner had the Hawks brought promise to the faithful was it quickly, devastatingly dashed. An instant later the ball is flung into the stratosphere, catching the hosts out with its distance and precision. Outnumbered they were gasping for air, Kemo Darboe is found loitering in the box. A touch to set himself and then came the sword to the gut, the nail in the coffin. Slipping below the limbs of Stroomberg-Clarke it nestled in the corner. Delight for the scattered oysters, dismay for the inflamed hawks.

An unexpected bosh to the face it made for a subdued environment. Flattened was the noise that engulfed the backdrop, but the volume was swiftly cranked up. James Fraser standing in the way, Kamara’s robust drive crashes into his colleague with the ball bouncing around erratically. Begging to ripple the netting, the rebound is tipped around the post by Eason. Inches from greatness, the story for Whitehawk.

Pushing firm for the elusive one that would never arrive, it was Whitstable’s day to rejoice. Compact and clinical, it was to be settled by a single strike. Hurriedly were the Hawks, striving for salvation. Finality rings true around the TerraPura Ground. Defiant were the opposition, wasteful were the hosts, brave were supporters from both camps. Regardless of climate they leave their homes for Saturday’s ritual, instantly prepared for their future return the moment they all slip, frigidly, through the metal exit and out into the night.

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