Beneath the towering green banks of the South Downs there is a sloping pitch surrounded by friendly and boisterous fans. We paid a visit to Whitehawk FC in Brighton.
At the very eastern edge of Brighton’s urban crawl under the white chalk downs lies Whitehawk FC of the Vanarama South (sixth tier of English football). This cosy ground slopes away towards the sea to the south and the game is observed from a distance by the odd dog walker and off-road cyclist on the hillside.
I went on a glorious April Saturday and paid my £12 entry. Apart from the simply wonderful setting, you get the feeling early on as a visitor that Whitehawk is an alternative club. Not every club will play Half Man Half Biscuit’s “Joy Division Oven Gloves” over the PA pre-match.
There’s a slightly disparaging term going around – “Hipster Club”, which is used for teams such as Dulwich Hamlet and Clapton FC (London), Rayo Vallecano (Madrid), and FC St Pauli and Altona 93 (Hamburg) – where fans have formed their own culture contrary to the typical football mainstream. Some people may think Whitehawk would fit into that category.
I think it’s great, personally. The fans add atmosphere, colour and plenty of entertaining, family-friendly songs. Plus they bring in punters to non-league football. At the kick-off, the Whitehawk Brigade ultras head off with their drums, cowbells, trumpets, whistles and rattles to the end the Hawks are attacking.
The Hawks in their red kit and white sleeves are perilously close to the relegation spots at the time of writing, so three points against visitors Hungerford Town were crucial.
Whitehawk FC has progressed up the non-league system and clearly have ambition. The club wanted to rebrand at “Brighton City FC” but dropped plans after consultation with fans. Illustrious neighbours Brighton & Hove Albion also objected to another club using the Brighton name.
I lost count of how many corners Whitehawk won in a first half they dominated, accompanied by the rattling of house keys from the home fans, but they didn’t make the most of them. Midway through the second half, popular number nine Danny Mills put Hawks ahead. “There’s only two Danny Mills”, the fans sung.
But Hungerford hit twice on the break, slotting home their second in injury time, bagging a 2-1 win that flattered them and left Whitehawk in deep trouble.
Whitehawk’s ultras took the defeat in good spirits. “We have more fun than you,” the ultras sang to Hungerford’s twenty or so fans. They’re probably right. I enjoyed myself. I’m coming back.
How to get to Whitehawk FC
The Enclosed Ground is just north of Brighton Marina and is served by buses from the city centre.