Peacehaven paid a fitting tribute to Connor Saunders on an emotional evening at Piddinghoe Avenue last night (Wednesday).
The biggest crowd seen at the ground for many years turned out on what proved to be a surprisingly uplifting occasion, writes Alex Panton.
Having been arranged at short notice and played in inclement conditions there were worries about the attendance.
In the event the response was overwhelming, with people queuing round the car park long after kick-off.
That will have helped to raise a substantial sum for the Saunders family’s chosen charity, funding defibrillators for local clubs.
When I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy I predicted that Peacehaven would find a fitting way of paying tribute, and that hope was fulfilled with this occasion.
The decision to include commemorative wristbands in the entrance fee was an excellent idea, with so many teenagers in attendance.
The take up rate was overwhelming, no surprise considering how many have been purchased through the club website.
Many of those present will probably never have visited the ground before and may have little interest in football, but the match exemplified the positive role the club plays in the local community.
Whitehawk arrived days after clinching the Ryman South title and with the Sussex Senior Cup final beckoning, for a match scheduled to take place between the respective first teams in the opening half, and Connor’s former U18 team mates in the second half.
That Darren Freeman included almost all his first team squad was much appreciated by all at Peacehaven, who have many ties with the Brighton club on and off the pitch.
With Connor’s parents in attendance Peacehaven accorded Whitehawk a guard of honour before the kick off. They were almost at full strength, with the only absentee being the holidaying Adam Kneller. In his place came former club captain Ashley Jones, who will be marrying into the Saunders family this summer.
Inevitably the football was played at testimonial pace, although Whitehawk, whose season is still active were somewhat sharper. They dominated the opening stages, with former Lewes player Lee Newman looking particularly sharp.
A minute’s applause midway through the half was impeccably observed and though Whitehawk were largely dominant the game was played in the right spirit.
After the break the club’s former under eighteen team, who were managed by Shaun Saunders were reunited, with the highlight being a spectacular strike from Darren Wall.
The evening was an uplifting occasion for anyone who believes that football can be a force for good, and it is hoped that it will have provided some comfort to the Saunders family.