Pagham enjoying being top - and want to stay

Gary Block is enjoying leading Pagham to success  Picture by Roger Smith
Gary Block is enjoying leading Pagham to success Picture by Roger Smith

PAGHAM are out to keep on surprising people by staying on top of the Sussex League.

The Lions started the season believing any place in the top six of division one would represent a good campaign for them. But with the halfway point now passed, they have been top for several weeks – and would love nothing more than to stay there until the end.

They are not pushing for Ryman League status this year although they hope their season of success will lay the foundations for a 2015-16 bid for promotion to Ryman one south.

Pagham’s budget was cut in the summer and manager Gary Block – now enjoying his second spell in the Nyetimber Lane hotseat – was not making any bold predictions about what the team could achieve. But he is delighted with how they have performed.

Block told the Observer: “At the start we were looking at anything in the top six being a success.

“The budget was cut by about half on the previous season. But it’s gone very, very well and now we’d say if we were to finish outside the top six it would be a big disappointment.

“We’ve played more games than most of the chasing pack because we’ve managed to get games on when others haven’t, but I’d rather have the points in the bag.

“Now we’re top, we want to stay there – who wouldn’t? It makes us a target as anyone we play is out to topple us but you have to cope with that the best you can. If we can win the title, it will be fantastic – but there’s a long way to go.”

Block has struggled to name a settled team until more recent weeks after early-season problems with player availability and a few injuries and said the ability to keep his first-choice XI together would be crucial.

He said the whole squad had played their part but picked out young keeper James Binfield and top scorer Scott Murfin as two of the season’s stars.

“James is still only 19 or so but just keeps on getting better. He’s a great lad. And Scott’s having a fantastic season. He only scored a dozen or so last year but has got 29 goals already this season, which is phenomenal. He’s been revitalised,” Block said.

Pagham’s closer links with their neighbours Bognor have benefitted the Lions greatly, with youngsters like Nathan Hawker, Dale Hayes and Lloyd Rowlett getting plenty of chances in Pagham’s first team and proving their worth.

“They’re talented lads and our link-up with Bognor has worked well. I speak to (Rocks manager) Jamie Howell a lot and I like to think both clubs are getting something out of it.

“The whole spirit at the club is very good. We have a bit of fun and plenty of banter and there’s a feeling of togetherness. And we’re getting good crowds in too. We had about 300 to watch us play Chichester, and many other games have attracted 120 or 140.

“The clubhouse is thriving and is a good source of income as well. We just need to keep things going.”

Block pinpointed Dorking – four points behind in second place – and Littlehampton, who are ten points behind but have five games in hand, as the main threats to Pagham’s title hopes. Dorking visit Nyetimber Lane on Valentine’s Day.

This Saturday the Lions travel to face struggling Crawley Down Gatwick.

STEVE BONE