Monday, 21 March 2016
My visit to Whitehawk versus Going Dahn!
Firstly, apologies to all those owners of cars I leafleted on the way to a home game last Saturday – some of you may not be interested in sharing their stories of ‘grass roots football’. But after sitting up all night printing then cutting so many of them to size by blunt scissor hands - I placed them under your window wipers in good faith.
It was disappointing approaching a stadium so close to my home, having never visited there before, also questioning why it was so difficult to find (at far end of East Brighton Park) - hustled in beside a caravan site with a single solitary sign, as if it must remain a public secret , a beauty spot nestling in a valley.
I had come to promote ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ but I was immediately captivated by animated choruses and raucous voices that filled entire area with banshee bedlam! At one moment intimidating, then another singing anti homophobic chants - this was a dynamic fan base of dedicated people that loved a ‘beautiful game’.
They came from all walks of life and made it immediately clear that they would continue chanting whether or not ‘the Ultras’ were winning or losing, they were galvanised and inspired into being a tough side to beat and seemed to be individually enjoying a tussle against a lesser team that looked to be ‘going dahn!’
A mid field player with an Italian sounding name was illuminating a rowdy, gaudy game with infectious touches, balance, control and flair, yet fearlessly sweating blood trying to win the ball back if dispossessed; also a tall rangy black player that seemed to effortlessly win every air borne ball, even after giving opposing players a head start by not using his arms against them for leverage – both seemed to be doing ‘those little things’ that can cause one side to dominate another.
I followed invitation to mingle with the crowd after speaking to friendly ground staff, ladies behind counters and wardens that encouraged me to promote my project; and spending time in the sponsors section, in the bar, in the crowd – talking with all manner of people from all over the country – reminded me why I often prefer ‘grass roots football’.
I was taping flyers onto toilet walls, beneath sky TV screen and sharing stories with punters in queue for chips & dips when a goal went in, but I didn't mind – Westham were one-up against Chelsea, chocolate was on sale at 50 pence per cup, I’d met someone that played for Liverpool Ladies and talked with a friendly photographer that everyone seemed to know and like called JJ Waller, so my day was already fantastic.
As three men grunted in battle, a few yards away from us, trying to wrought possession of a ball from each other on touch line, I heard that there was a half-time fight in the away team changing room, so the stewards were lining up to escort them off the field. This fact seemed to excite me and I'm still trying to figure out why…
I shamelessly joined in with playground antics of the crowd by continuously barracking the away goal keeper by shouting his first name, even when the ball was far away, even when the players were leaving the field, even as we left the ground, even without a care for the score – knowing that his taunted name would haunt his dreams of loosing on Saturday night.