From Bognor to AFC Wimbledon - and one day back again?

Jason Prior pictured doing what he did best for the Rocks - shooting at goal  Picture by Chris Hatton
Jason Prior pictured doing what he did best for the Rocks - shooting at goal Picture by Chris Hatton
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Jason Prior - a name which still brings a smile to the face of Rocks fans.

For two-and-a-half years, Prior dominated Bognor’s attack, scoring 95 goals in 121 appearances. And now he’s got an interesting outlook on his career that will delight the Nyewood Lane faithful.

Prior’s journey is one to be savoured. It’s just over a year since his exploits at Bognor earned him a trial at Newcastle United and he appeared in a couple of reserve matches.

The Tyne giants didn’t sign him but League Two outfit AFC Wimbledon offered him a two-and-a-half-year contract.

Prior had been destined for life as a roofer but while playing for Newbury, Moneyfields spotted the youngster and gave him regular first-team experience. They recommended him to Bognor and few could have predicted how well he’d do.

Rocks Supporters’ Club secretary Ian Guppy said Prior was a ‘Bognor legend’. He scored on his debut versus Horsham in the Sussex Senior Cup, but Guppy says the key moment in Prior’s career was away to Dartford, where the Rocks, battling relegation from the Ryman premier, drew 3-3 against a team who, Guppy recalls, ‘hadn’t lost in donkeys’ years’. Prior scored all three and a star was born.

Many Rocks fans were upset after his move to AFC Wimbledon last January, thinking his departure would dent their promotion hopes. Thankfully the move didn’t stop the Rocks going up - though he still ended the season as top scorer despite having left halfway through.

A year on from his breakthrough into the Football League, Prior reveals his reasons for choosing

Wimbledon. “I obviously had other offers but they had a great manager, Terry Brown, and he watched me play three or four times and came to Newcastle when I was on trial so I knew if I came here I’d have a pretty good chance of playing,” Prior said.

After an injury against Aldershot on his debut and then a horrible double leg-break versus Crawley, Prior’s early League Two spell ended abruptly. The highs of that trial at Newcastle seemed distant as Prior was hauled off on a stretcher, after a wild challenge by Hope Akpan. “I knew it was going to be a long time before I played again,” said Prior.

“Because I did it just before the end of the season, I had a couple of months in Portsmouth to recover and then when it came to pre-season, I came back and had physio every day from then. I’ve played a couple of reserve games since I’ve been back and have come on three or four times for the first team.”

How has he adapted to League Two level? “In terms of first team, the tempo’s a lot quicker so I’m probably not match-fit in terms of 90 minutes yet and I’ve obviously got to wait for my chance.

“Jack (Midson) and Byron (Harrison) have been scoring a bit but obviously Byron has left now. We’ve got a young lad from West Ham who’s been scoring as well and we’ve just bought another one in so there’s plenty of competition up there. “But hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m back.”

Prior admits he quickly became a fan of the Rocks, a club he has been back to watch a number of times during his recovery. He was there on the day they beat Dulwich Hamlet to clinhc promotion.

“It was great while I was there and I’ll always talk to a few of the players and get down with what’s going on account.”

Prior singled out winger Ben Johnson - who ironically is now also out with a long-term leg injury - as one to watch. “He was a massive part of the team when I was there. He was the main creating force of the team and I’d say he probably set up a large chunk of my goals when I was there.”

Prior says he’ll always be grateful to Bognor and their fans for being so supportive and nurturing, and helping him on his way.

“I’d like to thank them for their support while I was there and through the broken leg ... and I’ll probably come back after I’ve had a good career and I’m about 36.”

Music to the ears of the green army...

SAM FINNIEAR