Jack Pearce is jubilant that his beloved Rocks have won promotion. Here, the man they call Mr Bognor FC, in his own words, describes how he saw the rollercoaster end to the season and what challenges promotion to the National League South will bring. This piece was put together before manager Jamie Howell departed for Eastbourne.
“I was very disappointed at Havant because there’s no doubt they deserved to win. There were so many that had turned up to watch the game. You’re always disappointed to lose but I don’t think Bognor would have impressed anybody that day. In the pubs and clubs afterwards, they’d have been saying “What’s all the fuss about that club down the road? They’re not very good”.
The last thing that was on my mind when we played Gosport in a pre-season friendly was that we’d be going up this year.Jack Pearce
“For our level of the game this league (Ryman premier) is very difficult because when you look at the National League South, three of the teams in the top third came from this level last year. To get out of this league is not easy with only one going up and then another through the play-offs.
“However long these players play for, I don’t think you’d ever have a better chance to be champions of any league than they had against Met Police. I thought if we won two of our home games out of the last three, we’d be champions. The Havant game didn’t bother me too much - losing there didn’t matter in a way.
“I was more disappointed with the performance at Havant, then when it happened again against Met Police, I thought ‘here we go again’. Psychology in football is a big thing. You don’t often get the chance to get promoted in three separate games, two at home, but when it came to the play-offs Dulwich had run into a bit of form and I thought we were out of form.
“I thought we did very well against Wingate (play-off semi-final) in the first half, but the last half-hour, if you were a betting man you wouldn’t have been betting on us to win. So we managed to have a bit of luck there, but to be fair, against Dulwich, the lads have done really well.
“A few times this year the manager has said to me ‘What do you think?’ and I’ve said to him ‘Go to the casino tonight’ because if you’re luck’s in, you should make the most of it.
“In the first half we had three headers in the six-yard box where we didn’t make their keeper make a save and you think ‘Here we go again’. Then you get 2-0 up but miss a penalty and then they score. But we defended well.
“The last thing that was on my mind when we played Gosport in a pre-season friendly was that we’d be going up this year.
“We lost 4-0 and if you’d told me we’d be doing this, well, we were trying to work out how to avoid relegation. What the management team and players have achieved, I’m absolutely delighted about. We get lots of plaudits for the way we play and the facilities we have but we don’t often win anything.
“I think this is only our third promotion since we were a senior non-league club. I’m pleased but the hard work starts now.
“I’ve said for ages we are geographically and financially not very well placed. At all levels of the game it’s a situation where by even in the Premier league they still rely on investors to try to win something.
“There are clubs struggling in National League South with budgets three to four times bigger than ours. In terms of where we go from here, it’s a problem.
“If there was a rich backer in Bognor they would have come forward by now. Nobody seems to want to do it round here.
“We will continue to live within our means. That means bringing through young players, accepting they will leave. It’s frustrating and difficult for the management to live with that but that’s where we are.
“The game is littered with clubs spending money they can’t afford and they go back down in a very poor state. We could go back down but we won’t go down in a poor state. There won’t be many clubs at our level who have the facilities we have and don’t owe a penny to anyone. I’m very proud of the fact we as a club don’t owe a significant amount of money to anyone. People invest in clubs that are in a lot of debt but they don’t want to invest in us,
“A few more fans and a few more sponsors would help in the next league up. What I find encouraging is how many we took to Havant and how many turned up for the final. It shows that if you put out a winning side there is a catchment area where people would turn up.
“Sometimes you have to take the risk but we haven’t got the deep pockets to do that.
“But I’m very pleased for all the people who volunteer behind the scenes. I’m pleased because to lose to Dulwich would have been a very bitter pill.
“We will be working on the main budget and we will be able to put the prices up. We have negotiated a date provisionally to play Pompey, which will be a big boost, and that is July 19.”
* Read more from Jack Pearce - on promotion and the search for a new manager - in the Bognor Observer
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