When Whitehawk went to Guernsey

Written by Josh Boyd

All images (Including header) by Tom Barlow Brown: Instagram: @Tom_BBrown // Web: TomBarlowBrown.com

About 20 minutes after a triumphant viewing-deck-pint on a ferry heading south from England, two of our group were head-in-hands sea sick.

The boat, now in the English Channel proper, rocked from side to side, the horizon dipping above and below the giant windows. Spread out amongst rows of tightly packed seats, this was a three hour budget airline flight with constant turbulence, and a bar instead of trolley service. 

And for what exactly? An eighth tier game of football. On Guernsey. In January. One of the best weekends of my life.

Planning started months back when our team Whitehawk FC, were relegated for the second time on the trot. Our next league games would be played in the Isthmian League South East Division with the likes of VCD Athletic, Cray Valley PM, and, most importantly, Guernsey FC.

Tom Barlow Brown: Instagram: @Tom_BBrown // Web: TomBarlowBrown.com

As soon as we realised, talk of our ‘European away day’ began, swiftly switching from ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we all went over there’ to looking into travel and costs in about ten minutes. 

A few months later, our fixtures were announced. We’d be playing away to Guernsey on 12 Jan. Before long accomodation was booked and holidays requested from work. Buzz went around the fans as we all kept each other updated on times and where we were staying.

Most opted to take the short one hour flight there and back, arriving Saturday and leaving Monday (Guernsey games are often played on a Sunday when the rugby team gets the pitch Saturdays). With routes from Gatwick, it was the most simple, cheapest and smartest option.

Our group of five went for another choice. We didn’t want to miss the chance to take a proper ferry to an away game. With a bit of research we found one that took just 180 minutes. In turn this meant travelling on the Friday and taking a 6:30am train from Brighton to Poole. 

As we left the harbour the Sun was shining strong and there was only a slight breeze. Perfect sailing weather. We grabbed our first pints, took to the top deck, and cheersed the days ahead of us.

It was about an hour into this train, as our carriage began to fill with commuters, we wondered what we were doing and why we didn’t bring tins to keep the very real and very grey Friday morning at bay. 

Nevertheless, with that out of the way it was just a short walk through Poole until we’d finally feel like the weekend was beginning. Eventually the ferry waiting lounge – with inexplicable amounts of people with dogs in carriers – was behind us and we got onto our boat.

As we left the harbour the Sun was shining strong and there was only a slight breeze. Perfect sailing weather. We grabbed our first pints, took to the top deck, and cheersed the days ahead of us.

It didn’t take long to reach choppier water.

Tom Barlow Brown: Instagram: @Tom_BBrown // Web: TomBarlowBrown.com

Three hours later we docked into Peter’s Port, Guernsey’s capital. The island is 70 miles from England and yet was impossibly English, except for small signs of provincial France here and there. We made our way to our hotel through this completely familiar and unfamiliar place. 

The rest of the day and evening was spent laying groundwork for the next wave of visitors. Finding pubs, getting the lay of the land, and discovering the whole island went in for meat raffles every Friday. 

We had found our feet.

The following morning, after making breakfast with the bag of meat and veg we’d won the previous night, we went back to the seafront and entered the Ship and Crown pub. Inside and it felt like a proper away day for the first time.

We were greeted by about thirty or so Whitehawk fans who had been trickling in all morning. We said hello to all the familiar faces, and pissed about on the quiz machine, the excitement of the whole thing soon taking over the weirdness.

It was off-season on the island, which meant every tourist attraction was essentially closed. No traipsing around bunkers and WW2 museums for us. We made do with a quick wander down to the castle and lighthouse to mix some fresh, salty air with our lager.

The game was still a day away so we spent the Saturday living your old mates from school, the ones that you haven’t spoken to much since you moved away and you all grew apart. We did a crawl consisting of one single pub, which we found too hard to leave thanks to the friendly landlady, hidden cove with a pool table and the day’s football on the tele. We traipsed around town being loud, we had a very beery curry, we did karoke with the locals in a bar, we annoyed the locals in the bar. 

Tom Barlow Brown: Instagram: @Tom_BBrown // Web: TomBarlowBrown.com

Then it was time for the event we’d been waiting for nearly as much as the game itself. Fusion, the local nightclub. 

There is nothing like the small town English nightclub. All uniquely bizarre, a little glimpse into the local psyche of the town and all completely identical to each other. You walk in to the smell of sambucca and the smoke machine and it feels like home, whether its Guernsey, Margate, or Skegness.

Two floors underground, completely empty when we arrived, packed when we left, I fully recommend getting absolutely smashed in Fusion and having a dance off with the local Big Man, the face with the moves, the King. You will not win but you will be better for it.

Match day was here. As we cobbled together some breakfast and messaged others to organise a meeting point, even more Whitehawk fans were flying over. After some food, a shower and a couple of bottles of beer, the morning fog had risen. The Sun was out, we were feeling pretty fresh and the meet up pub was just down the road.

Here we go.

Again the pub, the Doghouse this time, was packed with Whitehawk fans, a few more than the day previous.We sat in the garden to enjoy the weather and wait for others to trickle in. 

Tom Barlow Brown: Instagram: @Tom_BBrown // Web: TomBarlowBrown.com

After a quick group photo outside, we headed to the ground, about fifty or so, walking through the streets of Guernsey, wondering what the locals made of a bizarre-looking parade of people flowing past their windows and singing an anti-Bognor version of a Taylor Swift song.

By virtue of being the island’s ‘national’ stadium and used by a whole range of teams, Footes Lane, Guernsey FC’s ground, is impressive for the league they’re in. Usually we visit places with old, musky clubhouses that have barely changed in decades (this is a good thing). Footes Lane’s clubhouse was on the first floor (!) of the stadium with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a modern looking bar. A bit brighter than what we were used to.

We got a warm, enthusiastic, and curious welcome from the home fans, many a little confused why so many had come all the way from Brighton in January. Drunkenly saying it was for Fusion didn’t seem to clear things up.

Finally we got to see some actual football and all the Hawks fans together in one place. There were eighty of us in the end–a significant chunk of the near 300 we got to home games–and the most away fans Guernsey had ever seen. From the first whistle we sung and shouted till the final one, drowning out the sparse response from the home fans.

All the chatting, planning, and drinking had come together. We were 150 miles from our home ground, but it felt just the same. Grappling together over goals, chanting the same chants, and getting frustrated with the ref. If there’s one thing we’re good at it’s transporting our atmosphere wherever we go.

There’s something special about an away day, even if it only takes a twenty minute train to get there. The feeling of converging on one place in the hopes of getting one over on your hosts, the feeling of piling out again whether you won or lost. It always feels bigger than it is and there’s nothing better than throwing yourself into that delusion. Crossing the English Channel for it only made it that much sweeter.

On the last train of the trip, making our way back to Brighton, we only talked about one thing. Going back next year.

The end of the match brought us a 2 – 1 win and a mass of bodies celebrating, hugging players and screaming their heads off. 

We made our way back to the club house, drunk with the Guernsey fans, talked the game over, and then went our separate ways.

Tom Barlow Brown: Instagram: @Tom_BBrown // Web: TomBarlowBrown.com

Every single second of the trip had been pure joy, even when waiting for taxis or slipping down some seaweed-slick stairs on the beach.

Spending days pissing about with some of your best mates in weird places, getting drunk and chatting shit, watching football and daytime tele, eating awful breakfasts and losing at pool, jumping over streams and getting rained on, playing pool and winding up the locals a little, can not be beat.

The rest of the trip felt like a comedown. We had a few more drinks to drink, but it was now just a matter of waiting till our flight back the following morning.

On the last train of the trip, making our way back to Brighton, we only talked about one thing. Going back next year.