Whitehawk 1 AFC Hornchurch 1, Bostik Premier League, Saturday 1st December 2018
'There's no way the game will be on this afternoon,' I thought to myself, as I stood cold and wet watching similarly soaked children chase a football around a pitch.
As the rain continued to plummet from the heavily leaden sky, I could see no possible way that the pitch at Whitehawk's Terrapura ground, located just a few miles away from where I was at that moment coaching, could possibly survive the drenching. It was so wet that I expected an Ark to float by at any moment.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when upon checking my phone during an impromptu hot chocolate break, The Hawks official Twitter feed proclaimed the game to be on.
Believe it or not, this news came as a welcome relief. Okay, so I faced a further soaking, but the alternative was to stay at home and help the wife and kids decorate the Christmas tree. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no scrooge. I love Christmas. However, I can safely say from prior experience that decorating the Christmas tree as a family is one of those activities that sounds far more pleasant and stress free than it really is. Actually, from my experiences most activities which involve children sound more pleasant and stress free than they actually are. Although maybe that’s just when my children are involved.
Having spent the past few weeks traipsing around various grounds in the Southern Combination Football League, I had decided during the week that I fancied a match a few steps higher this weekend.
Ultimately, I settled on a visit to Whitehawk who currently play in the Bostik Premier League. This was a ground that I’d visited many times in my youth (although it was still known as the Enclosed Ground back in those days). I’d even played there a few times – and scored there (this doesn’t add anything to the story, but I didn’t score many during my limited playing career so feel it’s always worth mentioning).
The Hawks’ opponents on this rain-soaked Saturday afternoon were AFC Hornchurch, and with both sides in dismal league form going into the game, I was unsure of what sort of 90 minutes lay ahead.
Having paid my £10 admission fee, and £2 for a well-produced and informative program, I could instantly see that things had changed somewhat since my last visit. Upon entering the ground, I was greeted by a fantastic Hawk mural, which may be one of the finest murals that I’ve ever seen at a sport’s ground (not that I can think of that many others, but even if I could I’m sure that this one would be up there).
The main change, though, are the rows of seats which are situated behind each goal – one set covered, one not. There were also two stands of covered seating along one side of the pitch whereas, if memory serves correct (which it might not), there used to be only one.
The pitch looked in surprisingly decent nick, especially considering the Biblical weather conditions that had been battering Sussex for the best part of the previous 18 hours. Huge kudos to the groundstaff for this!
I also have to say that the pre-match music selection was easily the best that I’ve heard on my travels thus far, with a heady mixture of soul and punk music filling the speakers. I could have quite happily listened to that for hours. Good stuff.
With the rain still falling steadily, I decided to sit in one of the side-stands for the first half. It’s funny how having become so used to sitting at professional stadiums over the past 25 years, to the point where I just accepted it, because of my non-league travels this season I suddenly find myself really missing standing now whenever I have to sit. However, not willing to take another drenching, and with no covered terraced area, I begrudgingly opted to take a seat for the first 45 minutes.
AFC Hornchurch, playing their first league game under a new manager, flew out of the blocks and for the opening ten minutes had the hosts pinned inside their own half. During this period, however, they were unable to create any real chances of note, with the ball failing to bounce their way during a good old-fashioned goal mouth scramble in the opening minutes.
Having weathered the early storm (sorry, no pun intended), Whitehawk grew into the game and began to look increasingly threatening on the break. Lucas Rodrigues had their first notable chance of the half on around the 20-minute mark, when he raced away from the defence down the left and fired a shot right across the face of the goal.
The Urchins clearly didn’t heed the warning, though. Less than five minutes later, the Hawks’ wideman got himself into a near identical position, only this time managed to finish the opportunity, sparking wild scenes of jubilation between players and the home crowd.
On the subject of the crowd, once again it was noticeable just how different the atmosphere is at this level compared to county level just a couple of steps below (Eastbourne Town excluded. Their fans are loud!). Despite the fact that the official attendance for this match was less than 200, the noise generated by both sets of supporters made it seem far larger. While this was no doubt helped by the Hawks’ ultra’s drummers, praise also has to go to the loyal Urchins’ fans who braved the worst of the wet weather in the first half to vociferously cheer their team on behind the uncovered goal.
Back to the game. The opening goal certainly seemed to spur the home side on, and for the rest of the half they looked fairly comfortable, and had a couple of half-chances to extend the lead. Rodrigues (again) and Nathaniel Pinney missing the best two.
The start of the second half (for which the rain had relented enough for me to brave standing) was far more open. Both teams had a chance to score in the opening five minutes. First Sean Marks went close for Hornchurch, before Rodrigues missed yet another good opportunity for the Hawks.
Around the halfway point of the second half, Hornchurch began to take the upper hand and started to exert more and more pressure on the home defence. That said, they didn’t really test Melvin Minter in the Hawks’ goal too often, with loose balls more often than not bouncing kindly for the Whitehawk defenders.
However, just as the home fans were starting to feel that this might just be the day that their side finally picked up their first league victory since 1st September, Marks bustled his way down the right and his cross was eventually turned in at the far post by visiting left-back Jay Porter.
With 15 minutes still left to play, there was still plenty of time for a winner. And both teams had opportunities to snatch all three points. Marks forced a good save from Minter, before a late long-range drive from Connor Tighe was brilliantly turned away by Callum Chafer.
So a 1-1 draw. A point apiece, in fairness, was probably an accurate reflection of the game, but it was also a match that both sets of players, fans and management will think they could have won had a little bit more luck gone their way.
Despite the weather, though, it was an enjoyable visit. I loved the atmosphere that Whitehawk have created around their club, and some of the chants from both sets of fans were great. I’ll definitely be paying a return visit soon!
And judging by the frazzled state I found my wife in upon my return home, I can safely say that my afternoon was far more enjoyable than hers! Once again, thank you to the groundsmen (sorry… groundspeople, it’s 2018, after all) for getting the game on. Thank you!