At around four o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday 6th December you’d have recognised a Whitehawk supporter by their look of happy incredulity. There were over five hundred of them hemmed into the stand behind the goal at Victoria Road, Dagenham, and after a ninety fifth minute equaliser they all looked like that- even the baby dressed as the FA Cup and the man with a stuffed rat on his head. It was impossible to tell what expression the lady dressed as a boiled lobster was wearing, but chances are that it was very much the same.
That said, if you rewound the clock to 2 PM they’d have been similarly happy, if rather less stunned. Five minutes later, after Jamie Cureton had given lie to his advancing years by skipping around the Hawks defence and poking the ball home to give Dagenham and Redbridge the lead, they were still singing with as much gusto as you’d have expected were they three goals up. Being happy is, it seems, just what a Whitehawk supporter does. It is, if you like, their raison d’etre. When you hear them trilling “We have more fun than you” the likelihood is that this statement is entirely true. Whether you like their team, or even if you are the Wealdstone Raider, there is no mistaking the love they have for their club and, undoubtedly, for each other; and though the Raider was undoubtedly correct in his comments about their ground, their fan base is finally beginning to show signs of growth.
If they continue to play as they have in the FA Cup this season then there is no reason why that trend shouldn’t continue.
Whitehawk aren’t a typical National League South club. They have a team packed with ex-professionals and are subjected to a great deal of ire from opposing fans because of the way in which they are funded. Their owners, John Summers and Peter McDonnell, have thrown a large amount of money at their local club over the last few years, and indeed it would be fair to suggest that they have bought success, with three promotions and an extra time defeat in last seasons play-off final to show for their largess. Whether this is sustainable is certainly a valid subject for debate, yet neither owner shows any wish to walk away and indeed there is talk of further investment, a new ground, and a suggested name change to Brighton City which has attracted the wrath of their near neighbours at the Amex. What is certainly true is that Summers and McDonnell are raising the profile of an area described as ‘one of the most deprived in Britain’ on the BBC Politics Show and which is regularly in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons.
Those supporters are promoting the area in a positive way too. Apart from being interminably- some may say unhealthily- cheerful, one thing that the Whitehawk Ultras bring to matches that is rather unique is their entirely inclusive, positive and non-discriminatory agenda. If you examine their make up you’ll find young and old, men and women, straight and gay. Rainbow flags fly, klaxons sound, bugles blow, drums bang, keys are waved in the air whenever there is a corner (a ‘key moment’), and passion is demonstrated throughout, yet not a swear word is uttered. If a questionable decision is made the referee is called “a referee.” Every song has a positive agenda; well, apart from their claim that they are “never, ever, going back to Bognor,” anyway.
The Daggers will not relish their trip to the Enclosed Ground for the replay. They will undoubtedly be favourites and have one eye on a Third Round trip to Goodison Park, and indeed as a professional team two divisions higher than their opponents that is only right and proper, but as they found out on Sunday and as National League Lincoln City discovered in the First Round the Hawks will be no pushovers. Not only is the ground rather ramshackle, but the pitch slopes alarmingly- not only from end to end but from side to side- it is one of very few locations when winning the toss regularly has an impact on the result. The home faithful will be installed behind the goal in the one substantial- albeit held up with scaffolding- covered stand, amplifying their continual noise whilst any made by their opponents in the open section opposite simply drifts off towards the nearby South Downs.
When Whitehawk made it to the First Round it was a step into the unknown; they’d never previously made it beyond the qualifying stages. Nobody at the club is currently making plans for a trip to Merseyside, they are quite aware that even after dominating much of the match on Sunday they are still most definitely the underdogs. But if the unthinkable happens and they do end up taking on Romelu Lukaku, John Stones, Ross Barkley and all, then expect manager Steve King to dress in a Nehru jacket, the supporters to turn up dressed as extras from Sgt. Pepper, and atmosphere to be continually joyful whatever the result.
When you are a fan of the Hawks, love is all you need.
This article was first published by nonleaguedaily.com on 8th December.
Published on in National.