DARIN KILLPARTICK is celebrating a decade on the Rocks’ coaching staff. And he reckons returning to the club he’d served as a player was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
The man they call Dabba has been on the staff longer than enyone else on the football side of things apart from Jack Pearce, and still loves everything about the club as much as he did when he gave a quick ‘Yes’ to Pearce asking if he’d like to come back to Nyewood Lane after a spell at Burgess Hill.
Now working as coach alongside team manager Jamie Howell, Killpartrick can take much of the credit for the way the Rocks play – and the way numerous new arrivals have developed into key players who have helped the team continue to play ‘the Bognor way’.
“I think I played about 130 games for Bognor but I left to go travelling for 18 months or so,” Killpartrick recalls. “I came back and played for Burgess Hill and started coaching at Brighton for Dean Wilkins and Martin Hinshelwood. I’d wanted to be a coach since I was 14 so it was a great opportunity.
“I had a call from Jack, who’d been a friend for some time, and he wanted me to coach at Bognor. I jumped at the chance. It was an excellent team – we had Birmy (Michael Birmingham), Dan Beck, Darren Budd, Jamie (Howell) and others.
“Jack left a lot of the coaching to Birmy and me. I had a great relationship with Birmy but the club struggled in Conference South after a while and Jack stepped down as team manager.”
After a spell working alongside Birmingham, Killpartrick was coach with the management team of Mick Jenkins and Andy Awford. But they left with the club’s finances becoming ever-tighter – and Killpartrick found himself as caretaker manager in January 2009. By then, relegation was almost inevitable, though the team did undergo a revival before succumbing to the drop.
“That was such a hard time. We knew what was coming but it hurt me to see the club going that way. I wanted to stay – I felt it was important that I did, to offer some continuity.”
Howell returned as joint manager and Birmingham as captain in the summer of 2009 but the club needed to take another step back in order to rebuild and a second straight relegation, from the Ryman premier to division one south, came in April 2010 – something Killpartrick found very tough.
A year later the Rocks missed out on promotion by one goal – but another 12 months on, all the heartache was forgotten as promotion was achieved, one of his biggest high points of the past decade. And under the Howell-Killpartrick double act, they’ve stayed in the premier division since, and reached successive Sussex Senior Cup finals too.
“When Jamie and Birmy came back, it was important we got people in I trusted and could work with,” Killpartrick says. “Birmy was a fantastic leader on the pitch for us before retiring a couple of years later and Jamie and I have always worked well together. Eventually he became manager and me head coach – that suited us both.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs over those ten years but it feels like we’re on a pretty even keel now. The play-off semi-final and final against Godalming and Dulwich Hamlet in 2012, when we won promotion, was brilliant.
“We’re not a club with much money and we don’t have a great catchment area. In the south we have the sea and in all other directions we have clubs who can attract players that might otherwise come to use. All things considered, we do exceptionally well to attract the players we do.”
Read more from Dabba in the Observer next week (December 11 edition)