Bognor boss Jamie Howell spoke of his pride at his players’ FA Trophy heroics after their Wembley dream was dashed at the last hurdle.
Speaking minutes after watching his team lose 2-1 to Grimsby in the semi-final second leg at Blundell Park, and 3-1 on aggregate, Howell spoke of his disappointment they could not reach Wembley - but chiefly his pride at the way the players and fans had helped put the club and the town on the map with their amazing Trophy campaign.
Howell said: “It’s been a superb run. What I didn’t want to do was have the idea we were coming here just for the party. We came with every intention we were going to win the game.
“That’s no disrespect to Grimsby because I know what a good team they are and how difficult it is to come here. But if we had thought like that there’d be no point making the journey.
“The first five minutes were a test! To lose Calvin Davies so early, after he was superb last week, was a big blow, and then to concede the penalty – we thought there was a (Grimsby) handball in there, the boys strongly thought that was the case – was another big setback.
“I thought the referee was excellent all game but that was a big decision so early on, and then with Grant Smith taking a whack soon after that, I thought ‘This is going to be horrendous’. But we fought back really well.
I saw the fans and thought, well, we are disappointed, but the journey we’ve been on, as a club and as a town, has been brilliant. With teams we’ve beaten on the run, it’s been superb, and we’ve done well all season.
“We missed Doug Tuck and didn’t play the football we are renowned for. We changed it a little bit and were solid but we didn’t play as much as we would have liked. But we felt with the players we had, that was the best way to do it.
“All the players can hold their heads high. I thought they were tremendous. They performed for the club and there are players that can be very proud.”
Dan Beck’s 31st-minute volley, making it 1-1 on the day, gave the Rocks fresh hope and Howell said: “After we scored, we just needed one more goal and we were ready for the last rally. Then we got done on the counter-attack, but that’s the quality Grimsby have got. You always run that risk against a good team so it was difficult.
“Losing that goal in the first leg was very costly as it turned out. But what’s pleasing is that we’ve come to Grimsby and have taken them very far.
“I accept they may not have got into top gear, but I heard one of their stewards saying ‘we’ll probably be 3-0 up at half-time and rest a few’ and I thought ‘that’s interesting’. So that’s why the boys are very pleased with what they’ve done.”
The manager had nothing but praise for near-200 away fans who sang their hewarts out from start to finish - and long after the final whistle.
“The fans were brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I’m not surprised by them but to come up here in the numbers they did was fantastic, with all the singing. I’m very proud to be associated with them and to be the manager of Bognor Regis Town.
“I saw the fans and thought, well, we are disappointed, but the journey we’ve been on, as a club and as a town, has been brilliant. With teams we’ve beaten on the run, it’s been superb, and we’ve done well all season.”
Now thoughts turn to whether they can extend the feelgood factor of the campaign by making the play-offs - and Howell knows it will be tough with such a hectic run of games to come.
“The worry now is that we could end up winning nothing this year. I understand that but I don’t want that to detract from the season we’ve had. It’s been by far the best aeason I’ve had as a manager, whether we win anything or not,” he said..
“I’d like to think the fans would recognise that. The teams we’ve beaten, and the level of our performance week in week out, has been brilliant. I’d like some silverware, we’d all like some silverware, but if it’s not to be, it’s not to be.
“I think the standing of the club, locally and I think nationally, has taken a step up, and I’m delighted with that.”
Asked how his walking-wounded players were ahead of a crazy schedule of league games, starting at Harrow on Tuesday, Howell joked: “Have you got your boots with you?! We might have to see if we can pick any players up on the way home!
“We’ve got Rachel and Fish to try to patch them up the best they can, so we’ll see what we can do.”
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make this website your homepage
2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex
3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!