A cold, blustery afternoon on the edge of the Downs, and a match that was forgettable on the pitch, and all too unforgettable for what took place on (what passed for) the terraces. With the FA rumoured to have tied up the staging of this year’s FA Trophy and FA Vase finals at Wembley Stadium, there was obviously a lot to play for at East Brighton Park. Truro have been described as (and I think we’ve all heard this one before) “the Chelsea of non-league football”. Their property developer owner has invested a considerable amount of money in their club, and they are rumoured to be on a Conference South-esque £5000 a week between them. The Whitehawk players, by way of contrast, are almost certainly on less than one-tenth of that amount.
The gap between the two teams on the pitch was noticeable from the very start – Truro were quicker, stronger and better organised. In the first minute, Truro’s striker Stewart Yetton (rated, somewhat optimistically, by his chairman as a £1m striker) had a shot tipped onto the post by Whitehawk’s impressive goalkeeper Ross Standen. Truro were guilty of profligate finishing in the first half as Whitehawk seemed to take an age to overcome their nerves. The home team were clearly not used to playing in front of a crowd of just over 1,000. They finally started to come out of their shells in the final few minutes of the half, and should have gone in at half-time when Lee Newman had a good shot well saved by the Truro goalkeeper Dan Stevenson.
While things were tight on the pitch, they were becoming more and more tense on the lone terrace on the near-side of the ground. A number of locals had entered the ground at half-time, and some of them were clearly the worse for wear. Now, it has to be said that the travelling Truro supporters had hardly covered themselves in glory, singing songs like “you’re just a town full of bummers” and “does your boyfriend know you’re here?” (casual homophobia still appears to be fully acceptable in Cornwall – and, in any case, is there any set of supporters that don’t sing this sort of crap on visits to Brighton?), but the true loyalties of the new-comers were obvious from a full-throated rendition of “Sussex By The Sea”. They were clearly spoiling for a fight, and it was hardly surprising when scuffles broke out and a bottle was thrown. The stewards were a little slow to react, and the situation deteriorated when Yetton bundled in the only goal of the match with four minutes left to play. This time the stewards did have to step in, breaking up what looked like a fight between two Truro supporters that had been arguing amongst themselves. The full-time whistle couldn’t come soon enough after that – by this time, a group of Whitehawk “supporters” had chased someone from Truro out of the ground, and the sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance.
So, what have we learnt from all of this? From the home club’s perspective, there is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed here. A quick read up reveals that this isn’t the first time that this has happened when Whitehawk have had a home match. It’s very easy for a club to hire in stewards for the day and then try to merely contain any problems that do take place, but they have an obligation to ensure that, if the same faces keep turning up and causing trouble, they identify who these people are and ban them for good. People have a right to watch football without fear or intimidation. For Truro, this may turn out to be a mere footnote in their history that will be forgotten as they go on to bigger and better things. Their supporters, however, may need to learn a couple of lessons about how to behave in front of decent sized crowds – most importantly, that if there is likely to be trouble, don’t antagonize a crowd that is clearly there looking for a fight. They should also probably consider that no-one in non-league football likes arrogance – and that they’re still a long way away from being a club that they aspire to be.