RETIRING Rocks keeper Craig Stoner has revealed he almost called it a day a year ago - and has backed the man brought into replace him at Nyewood Lane to be a big success.
Fans’ favourite Stoner called time at the end of the season after 13 years with the Rocks and has admitted it was only the previous season’s promotion via the play-offs that kept him going for another year.
The Rocks moved quickly to bring in ex-Horsham stopper Mark Zawadski and Stoner has given him his seal of approval.
Thirty-one-year-old Stoner’s retirement from the Rocks sparked a flood of tributes, with many fans saying he would always be remembered as a club legend.
The former Pompey, Burgess Hill and Littlehampton keeper said his decision to retire came down to injuries which could affect his self-employed working lifestyle.
“To be honest I was considering it last year, but after getting promoted and the way we did it, I wanted to do another season,” he said.
“But after a couple of injuries this season (2012-13), I was struggling to work through those times and I lost a bit of money as I’m self employed.
“Our company was getting more work. I couldn’t risk playing and getting injured again.”
The Sussex Senior Cup final at the Amex against Brighton’s development squad proved to be Stoner’s last game for the Rocks - a good way to bow out, at a state-of-the-art venue and in a cup final.
Despite the 4-0 loss, he will remember the day for a very long time.
“I really wanted to get to the Amex, not just for me but for the lads as they were brilliant last season and they deserved it.
“Even though I conceded four, I thought I had a good game and I will remember the occasion for years to come.”
After hanging up his gloves in terms of playing at Ryman Premier level, Stoner admitted he’d had a few offers at a lower level but said he wasn’t sure what lay ahead for him in the future.
“I’ve had a few offers but I’m enjoying the time away from it all at the moment,” he said. “I am just playing golf and darts, and enjoying extra time with my daughter.”
Days after the news broke of Stoner’s retirement, the club signed a new keeper; Mark Zawadski. The South African has played at Ryman League level over the past three years for Crawley Down, Burgess Hill and Horsham, which means he has the experience the Rocks were looking for.
Stoner is confident manager Jamie Howell and assistant Darin Killpartrick can get the new acquisition to play the ‘Bognor way’.
“There are loads of good keepers out there that are good enough,” Stoner said. “The keeper Bognor have signed is excellent and I’m sure Jamie, Dabba and Lee will be working with him to get him playing the Bognor way.”
Without the bad luck with injuries the Nyewood Lane club picked up throughout the season to many key players, Stoner feels the club could have reached the play-offs.
“If we hadn’t had all the injuries last season, I would have said play-offs - so I hope they can get into them this coming season.”
Stoner ended with a message for supporters and staff, speaking of the club as being ‘one big family’. And he revealed he would be back down to watch some games next season.
“I can’t thank them enough really,” Stoner said. “This club is one big family and I will be down to watch a few games to see everyone.”