Greetings Hawkfrenz, indeed. Many years ago, a very good friend of mine went to see the 70’s space rockers Hawkwind at The St Albans Arena. Afterwards (and quite possibly under the influence of some industrial strength psychedelic drugs), he signed up for their newsletter and, this being a more innocent age (when newsletters did such things in a far more literal way), it plopped through his letterbox a couple of weeks later with the cheery message “GREETINGS, HAWKFRENZ!” printed across the top of it. So now you know.
If you think I’m veering a little off-topic, there is a reason for it – I found out yesterday that Whitehawk, a tiny team from the outskirts of Brighton, are in the quarter-finals of the FA Vase, no less. The FA Vase is the annual knock-out competition for teams playing in the regional leagues at the very foot of England’s national pyramid. It’s for the teams that play, in a very literal sense, in front of three men and a dog. As I may have mentioned on here before, until 1974, the FA drew a distinction between “professsional” and “amateur” players, but when they removed this distinction and ended the FA Amateur Cup, they needed a competition for the smaller clubs – the majority of whom would continue not to pay their players. With the bigger amateur clubs joining the semi-professional teams in the FA Trophy, the FA Vase came into being for the smaller clubs. Until 2000, the final was played at Wembley, but since then it has shifted around according to the location of the two finalists. Recent venues have included Villa Park, White Hart Lane and St Andrews. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no “giants” have ever won the Vase – the biggest teams ever to have won it are Forest Green Rovers and Tamworth, who are both journeymen in the Conference nowadays.
Whitehawk, named for the housing development closest to them, have a reasonably long but not especially glorious history. They were formed at the tail end of the Second World War, and their highpoints of their existence have been three Sussex County League Championship titles, in 1962, 1964 and 1984 (curiously, the 1962-63 season was abandoned because of the weather – I know that this particular winter was an infamously tough one, but abandoning a whole season?). Their average home crowd last season was 54, and they currently sit in second place in the Sussex County Football League, a point behind the mighty Crowborough Athletic, with a game in hand. You have to wonder how they’ll cope with the fixture congestion.
All of this would make for exciting times in East Sussex, were it not for the looming presence of Truro City in the quarter-finals. Truro aren’t a team that have ever massively troubled the annals of football history either, but they are owned by a property developer and have big plans, including a 16,000 all-seater stadium, an academy, and becoming Cornwall’s first ever fully professional club. You may well chuckle (particularly at what looks like somewhat over-ambitious stadium plans), but they’re already reported to be paying Conference South level wages (four divisions above their current league, the Western League), and their results so far this season speak for themselves.
Weather and other plans permitting, I rather fancy taking this in on Saturday. There has been some talk on the message boards that there could be a bit of trouble (with the Albion being away, and Whitehawk having a reputation for being one of the town’s less than salubrious areas), but with a bit of policing and stewarding, it should be fine. And if, by any chance, they were to win, well… WELL, now that would be something to get excited about.