There’s something special about the FA Cup when you’re a fan of a Non League club. You know that you’ve about as much chance of getting to Wembley as Jeremy Corbyn has of becoming the BBC’s Royal Correspondent, and yet the competition brings excitement that you vary rarely find in your normal humdrum world; a whiff of the exotic, and, if you’re lucky enough to get to the First Round proper, the opportunity of a trip to Hartlepool, Morecambe or even Scunthorpe.
Mind you, you could just as easily end up at AFC Wimbledon, so it’s not all glamour.
The anticipation at the Enclosed Ground on Saturday was palpable. A few weeks ago for a match against St Albans I shared the press area with two other people (and I’m sure that one of them just wanted somewhere to rest his coffee cup). On this occasion, however, it was overflowing. Press folk struggled to find somewhere to balance their notebooks and laptops, the club printer overheated and expired under the weight of additional teamsheets, and the man from the local paper ended up in a seat with such limited legroom it seemed that his knees were going to make contact with his chin. The world had come to Whitehawk, on a single track road to nowhere via the Caravan Club.
Whitehawk had never, ever got beyond the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. Their opponents, Poole Town, had experienced the delights of the First Round on four previous occasions, the last of which had been thirty two years ago and almost coincided, rather spookily, with the birth of their much travelled striker Alan Connell. With both teams riding high in their respective leagues- the Hawks third in National League South, the Dolphins top of the Southern Premier League- there was belief and optimism on both sides, and 450 supporters turned out for the game. That might not seem many, but the average attendance at the Enclosed Ground so far this season is 261- and with big brothers Brighton & Hove Albion also at home two miles up the road the number was rather significant. The FA Cup bug was obviously contagious.
FA Cup glory was perhaps the only achievement missing from both clubs’ recent roll of honour. Hawks had managed three promotions in the last six seasons and almost made it four last May, losing in the Play Off Final to Borehamwood. Town managed to win the Wessex League three years in a row, followed that with second and then first place finishes in Southern League Division One, and then last season led the Southern Premier League for most of the campaign before being pipped at the post in a winner take all match against Corby Town, later losing out in the playoffs.
Whitehawk were in the ascendency from the off. In the very first minute Sam Deering (“Is he small or far away”) wriggled clear of the Poole defence into the area and fired a shot which keeper Nick Hutchings managed to tip around the post. Three minutes later Deering created another chance, firing just wide, whilst Sergio Torres and David Ijaha also fired over shortly afterwards. All of this was obviously getting to a Dolphins fan a few rows in front of me, as he was audibly grumbling into his coffee.
I commented to two Poole Town press people that it was far too early to be getting angry. Shrugging with the resigned air of those who have heard it all before, they explained that before long I’d be hearing complaints about the manager only playing with one up front, and about the lack of goals from the strikers. I must have looked surprised, as they added that there were even those amongst their number who wanted the manager replaced. At this point I went from surprised to astounded.
Football fans tend to moan- apart from Whitehawk fans, who are peculiar in that adversity just seems to make them even more noisy- but consider this. Tom Killick has been at Poole Town for eleven years. His team are currently top of their league, and he has a sixty eight percent win ratio.
Ponder that for a moment. Sixty eight percent. Sir Alex Ferguson managed sixty five percent. Arsene Wenger’s win ratio is around fifty five percent. Jose Mourinho is also up around the 68% mark, but that is likely to fall substantially if he fails to get his team to take responsibility for their performances and continues to blame everybody else. Unless of course he gets the sack.
Poole Town aren’t exactly Manchester City. Yes, they got some cash a few years ago from the sale of Charlie Austin, but otherwise their budget has not been substantially higher than that of many of their rivals, and Killick has led them to consistent success for more than a decade. Last season they failed to win the league only on the very last day, and it can’t be very long before they grace the National League South. Yet some of their fans would like a new manager.
I’m aware that the Southern Premier League doesn’t come with the pressures of that other Premier League (no, not the Ryman), and I’m aware that everyone who pays their money is entitled to an opinion. But perhaps those who have fewer brain cells than the jellyfish in Poole Harbour should keep their mouths shut?
Not that it’s any of my business.
Back on the pitch, a late sliding tackle from Hawks winger David Martin left Will Spetch in a heap and requiring treatment. The Whitehawk fans use the gap in play to reinvent The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes. “If you like David Ijaha, and getting caught in the rain…” They have a whole plethora of silly songs; indeed I’ve never heard a wider range at any football ground in the country. As the Poole physio continued to treat Spetch and my imagination wandered, I pondered their repertoire.
The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Whitehawk
Featuring such classics as:
And here’s to you, Jakey Robinson
The Referee’s a…referee
We are never, ever, ever, going back to Bognor
Feeling Hawk, Hawk, Hawk
If you like David Ijaha, and getting caught in the rain
There’s only two Danny Mills
Is he small or far away
Meat Pie, Sausage Roll
The Last Post (instrumental) –almost in tune Bugle version
Not available in shops!
All purchases come with a free copy of the bestselling book,
Steve King’s guide to Suave (pocket edition)
Sadly before I could design the cover- although in hindsight it would feature the Hawks faithful waving their keys in the air to signify a ‘key moment’- the game had moved on and Whitehawk were again applying pressure. This continued for some time; indeed Town didn’t have a shot on goal until 35th minute, and by this point the formerly injured full back Will Spetch had joined his aggressor David Martin in the book, for a late tackle on Sam Deering. The tackle didn’t seem particularly malicious but it did seem a little petulant, as if Spetch was annoyed at the treatment doled out to him earlier and was seeking retribution. Before long he got his retribution in a way that changed the game.
Eight minutes before half time Hawks right back Nick Arnold, who often seems to find defensive duties a little boring and instead wanders forward looking for a shot at goal, took the ball, cut inside and ran at the Poole defence. Spetch decided to get in the way. It was undoubtedly an obstruction, and undoubtedly a free kick, but the referee immediately reached for his pocket. A second yellow card, and Spetch was walking towards the tunnel wearing a face that could curdle custard. Even the home supporters felt it was a little harsh.
Poole came out for the second half a changed team and immediately managed what they’d failed to deliver for the previous forty five minutes- a shot on target. Steve Devlin hit goalwards, Ross couldn’t hold, and the ball eventually went for a corner. The ball was crossed in, ricocheted around and eventually fell to Luke Burbidge, who drove into the box and had his heels clipped. Penalty… thought everyone but the ref, who waved play on. Within a minute the action was at the other end, Deering had crossed, and Danny Mills had passed into the net for the opening goal.
The Dolphins looked crestfallen, rather like Flipper when he couldn’t get the little boy to understand that all he wanted was a bloody fish, not to rescue the crew of the sinking boat. They sensed that the world was against them- an unfair sending off, a penalty denied, and now a goal conceded that they were convinced was offside. Hutchings became their second player to enter the book for dissent, and the game became rather stale. It was to remain thus until the last quarter of an hour, when the Hawks launched a wave of attacks that saw some excellent saves from Hutchings, a Mills goal disallowed for offside, and a shot from David Martin bounce back of the angle of the goal. Poole had chances too, but despite huffing and puffing didn’t unduly disturb Craig Ross. Finally, in the 90th minute Mills turned provider, setting up Deering to sidefoot home and finally make the result secure.
Hawks went into the First Round draw, and will play Lincoln City at the Enclosed Ground on November 7th. Poole can now concentrate on going one better than last year and perhaps giving themselves the chance of a rematch in the League next season.
Whitehawk 2 Poole Town 0
Saturday October 24, 2015
Whitehawk (4-4-2): Ross, Arnold, VD Bogaert, Ijaha (Ngamvoulou 59), Leacock, Gotta, Deering, Torres (C), Robinson (Mendy 5), Mills, Martin. Unused Subs: Stevens, Rose, Gaylor, Hawkins, Sessegnon
Poole Town (4-4-2): Hutchings, Tallack, Spetch, Walker, Whisken (C), Pettefer, Burbidge, Devlin, Roberts (Davis 90), Brooks (Holmes 83), Dickson (Lindsay 71). Subs: Connell, Seabright, Gillespie
Match rating: 3/5
Star Man: Nick Hutchings
Referee: Andrew Laver
Published on in National.