With the FA Cup first round rapidly approaching us, our attentions at TFF turn to the lower and non-league clubs as they hopefully embark on some unforgettable cup runs.
One tie that will be taking place this Saturday, 5th November, is that of non-league pair Whitehawk FC vs Stourbridge FC, which will be played at the Enclosed Ground. In 2015, Whitehawk, who are currently 11th in the National League South, made it to the second round after overcoming Lincoln City 5-3. The southerners were then only just knocked out by League 2 side Dagenham & Redbridge 3-2 after a replay, having previously secured a 1-1 draw in the original tie. This year ‘the Hawks’ will be looking to embark on another cup run. As part of TFF’s FA Cup Week, we chatted to Josh, a member of Whitehawk’s official Ultras fan group, about their 2016/17 FA Cup campaign.
Q. How big is a game like this for a club like Whitehawk FC?
A. It’s a pretty big deal for most people, the fans and the club. Of course, Stourbridge aren’t Chelsea but the first round of the FA Cup is an achievement. Aside from that, on a personal level, FA Cup matches are far more enjoyable. The risk, the tension, the joy when you win and the commiserations when you lose. Not to mention the chance of getting a massive team if you win.
Q. How enjoyable was the cup run last year, after drawing away at Dagenham & Redbridge and narrowly losing the replay?
A. That was amazing. The second it finished I was already thinking about this year’s cup but obviously it was bittersweet. Clinching that late equaliser at Dagenham in the first leg was something else. There were 500 of us – a larger attendance than we get at our home games – travelled up to their ground and out-sung the home fans. But, in those last minutes, there was more staring than singing. Just everyone with their eyes glued to the ball, to the players, waiting to see where the break would come from – if we could just hang on and bring this lot down to the Enclosed. Jordan Rose pulled it off and the eruption of noise, adrenaline and happiness was incredible.
Then down they came. It was freezing cold and lots rushed to the ground early to ensure we got into the Din End (behind the goal). It was pretty special seeing the ground so packed, even more than it was against Lincoln in the previous round. It felt like the game went on forever as it leaked into extra time. We could see our players up against full-timers starting to get tired but you couldn’t blame them. In the end, it just slipped through our fingers but we didn’t begrudge the team in the slightest. We out-sung them and all I could think of about Dagenham was, “You might be in League 2, but we have made you fight for it. You had to struggle just to scrape a win from a National League South side.” Just that felt like a victory.
Q. How would you rate Whitehawk’s chances against Stourbridge on Saturday?
A. Good. But then again it’s just chances, right? It would be foolish for me to say we’ll win because Lincoln were in the league above us last season (Stourbridge are currently 15th in the league below Whitehawk). Stourbridge will want the win just as much as us and they’re a good team. They have won their most recent game and they’ll likely bring a lot of supporters with them too.
On paper, it’s ours for the taking but we all know it doesn’t work like that. Either way, I think it’s going to be a great game and I can’t wait to have a couple of drinks with the fans who make the trip down.
Q. And finally, who would you say Whitehawk’s star player is to look out for?
A. That is a tough one. It’s tempting to say Sergio Torres (Midfielder – 15 appearances, two goals, one assist), or Danny Mills (Forward – 17 appearances, seven goals, three assists), but they get all of the attention. For me, I’ve got a soft spot for Wilfred Tagbo, while Reece Connolly has been great this season as well (five goals in eight appearances for the club this season). I cannot pick a single one. Watch all of them!
The winner of Whitehawk vs Stourbridge will enter Round two, which will take place on the first weekend of December.