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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Snapshots - Whitehawk FC

Whitehawk vs Quorn. FA Vase 5th Round. 10 February 2007, The Enclosed Ground. Score 2-1. Attendance: 376
Given that of all the clubs in Sussex, only Littlehampton Town have ever made it past the quarter final stage in the FA Vase, it was a significant achievement for Whitehawk to at least progress to the last eight of the competition at the expense of Midland Alliance club Quorn. The Hawks’ ground to the east of Brighton is barely forty minutes drive from my home in Eastbourne; yet on this occasion it took almost ten hours and a near eight hundred mile detour for me to be able to share in their Vase triumph.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to visit some new grounds, particularly in the north, I had willingly offered to present the Groundtastic award for ‘Best New Non-League Stand’ of 2006 to Whitby Town on behalf of the magazine. With opportunities to escape the south coast somewhat limited I decided that I would fly up to Newcastle on 10 February, hire a car and drive the eighty odd miles to Whitby, before catching a plane back to Gatwick early the same evening. Although my outgoing flight would touch down at 8:15 in the morning, a route had been carefully planned to take in a number of Northern League grounds en route.

With the south and midlands hit by snow early that week I comforted myself that the north-east had escaped and that the forecast was good. Having duly left home at four-thirty in the morning to catch the first train to Gatwick, I arrived in Newcastle on schedule, only to find a message on my voicemail from the Whitby Chairman: game off and not to attempt a drive across the moors.

With my return flight to Gatwick some ten hours away, I was left with a dilemma: try to find a game in the north east (which was likely to be difficult given the weather); stay in Newcastle (or worse, Newcastle Airport); or try and get an earlier flight home. Fed up, I opted for the latter and was able to get myself on a flight back… to Heathrow. From Heathrow it was a tortuous underground journey to London Victoria, and a train back to Eastbourne. I arrived back at home at around 2pm: just time to drive to Whitehawk.

The average attendance at Whitehawk last season was just 57 and it was great to have to follow a crowd into their attractively rural ground, overlooked by Brighton racecourse and secreted away in a natural valley within East Brighton Park, on this occasion. However, for much of the opening 45 minutes it very much looked as though it would be Quorn and not Whitehawk (in red) who would be going into the hat for the quarter finals, as The Hawks struggled to get going on a gluepot of a pitch that got progressively worse as the rain continued to fall.

The final ball from Whitehawk was lacking and it was a poor corner that led to Quorn racing down the slope for Paul White to fire them in front mid-way through the half. The home side then had giant keeper Ross Standen for keeping them in the tie when he denied White soon afterwards. The second half however, was a totally different story as the visitors appeared to run out of steam and the Sussex County League side took over. Ryan McBride kept up his record of scoring in every round with a 52nd minute header to level the scores; and then Toby Phillips poked home what proved to be the winner ten minutes later.

An eventful day and a memorable afternoon! DB