Bognor Regis; Home of Butlins and the Birdman, holiday destination of choice for a pair of rag-and-bone men from Oil Drum Lane writes NLD writer Ian Townsend
But perhaps more renowned as the butt of a disparaging death bed remark from King George V, Bognor is, for the most part, a sleepy seaside backwater in which nothing much happens. In recent months, however, the fame of Bognor has enjoyed a resurgence on the back on the unprecedented success of its football team.
As a result, players and supporters from Bath City, Maidstone United, Sutton United, Torquay United and Altrincham are likely to have joined with the late King in uttering those famous words, “Bugger Bognor!”
On Saturday a crowd of two thousand, six hundred and twenty nine turned out at Nyewood Lane to watch The Rocks play in the semi-final of the FA Trophy for the very first time. Opponents Grimsby Town supplied around 400 of that contingent, along with a selection of smoke grenades, a shoal of inflatable fish and the entire toilet roll supply of Cleethorpes; apparently an attempt to ‘put the Bog back in Bognor.’
They were treated to a match which didn’t manage to live up to expectations and resulted in a probably-just-about-deserved away win.
The beautiful playing surface at Nyewood Lane deserves flowing, expansive football, and this season The Rocks have attempted to provide just that. On this occasion, however, the beautiful game was often abandoned for a long ball match which provided only sporadic excitement.
The visitors committed the greatest crimes against football fashion, hoofing out of defence on numerous occasions, yet still looked to carry the greatest threat, with Nathan Arnold popping up left, right and centre to menace the home defence.
Yet the biggest problem wasn’t on the pitch but off it; a lack of atmosphere, for which you can blame not the supporters but the ground design. For segregation purposes the away contingent were given the covered terrace at the far end of the ground, whilst the home fans had the uncovered area opposite.
This meant that whilst we sporadically heard the tones of the black and white army, the singing of the Bognor Rockers simply drifted off into the clear blue sky. You could see their arms waving, their scarves flying…you knew they must be making a noise, but you couldn’t really hear it.
During the quarter final against Torquay United the supporters were able to continue with the Non League tradition of changing ends at half time, which resulted in the volume increasing tenfold, but on this occasion that wasn’t possible, and we all suffered- generally in silence.
On the field, in the first half, Grimsby were robust, Bognor didn’t really get going. There was no shortage of effort, but just as they did in the first half against Torquay the home side attempted to compete with their opponents by playing the same game, and just as against The Gulls it failed to work.
Captain and talisman Jason Prior tracked back and forth searching for the ball, full back Calvin Davies- on loan from Portsmouth- charged up and down the right hand side creating almost all of the home sides attacking threat (and providing much of the defensive steel), yet the best chances all went to the Mariners who also failed to convince. The whistle blew on forty five minutes on a match that had nil-nil written all over it.
Whatever manager Jamie Howell said to his side at half time, it worked. The Grimsby defence, which had dealt easily with everything that the first half had thrown at it, were immediately put under pressure.
As with the first half, much of this was created by Davies. Inexplicably denied the man of the match award against Torquay, it was as if he was attempting to make quite certain that there could be no other candidate today. Surging runs, defence splitting passes, dangerous crosses and no neglect of his defensive duties, he seemed to be everywhere, and it seemed certain that when a goal came he’d be involved in it.
Unfortunately for him, when it did come, he was involved, and it was at the other end.
On seventy five minutes a swift counter attack from Grimsby led to Padraig Amond (pictured left) flicking a ball on towards Arnold. It went over the head of Davies, and although he made a valiant attempt to connect with it as it bounced, he ended up flat on his back as Arnold shot across keeper Grant Smith into the corner of the net, just in front of the massed ranks of travelling Mariners.
“We’re going to bounce in a minute,” they sang, as if such a manoeuvre required advance warning, and bounce they did, as well as throwing yet more toilet roll and another smoke grenade.
The remaining fifteen minutes saw Bognor try to force an equaliser, whilst Grimsby looked dangerous on the break. They had the chance to push further ahead, when a shot from Jon-Paul Pittman, last seen in Sussex wearing the red of Crawley Town, was pushed aside by Smith in the Bognor goal.
In added time Prior ran half the length of the pitch to make a tackle on Arnold, and you had to admire his fitness and commitment, but he was unable to make a similar contribution in front of goal and the match ended advantage Grimsby.
As we left the ground in relative silence to a backdrop of Depeche Mode’s Greatest Hits, the home announcer was exhorting the faithful to book for next Saturday’s return leg at Blundell Park. A large number of them seemed to be planning to do just that, and they weren’t particularly downcast; the team tends to play well away from home with eight victories on their travels already this season- all hope is not lost.
But for all the talk in the local media of ‘The biggest game in Bognor’s history,’ you’d have to think that, all things being equal, they’d prefer promotion to National League South. With this squad, if they can cope with the fixture congestion caused by cup success, that may well be more realistic.