COLUMN: The Bognor Way doesn’t suit National League South – but we’ll be back

The Rocks have not found National League South to their liking / Picture by Tommy McMillan
The Rocks have not found National League South to their liking / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Having been watching the Rocks since 1994 I’ve grown up with the Bognor Way. Fast, expansive football from the back to the front which has given years of excitement – with many highlights along the way, from Peterborough to Grimsby, writes Ian Guppy, chairman of the Rocks supporters’ club.

We’ve always been known for the way we play the beautiful game and our reputation is known through non-league circles.

Last season we were spoiled with excitement building to a pulsating play-off final win versus Dulwich with goals that epitomised the Bognor Way, aided by style and pace.

This season started similarly with exciting games v Bath, Poole, Welling and Whitehawk. We were undefeated in the first five games with the Bognor Way shining through.

Them the results dried up and wins became hard to come by, yet the same story rang true from almost every single game. When I was asked “How did Bognor play?” I’d reply: “We lost, we played really well, had lots of possession, made a few mistakes and were punished.” That’s been the story for almost every single game and it’s been hard to swallow.

Recently a post on the Bognor Regis Town FC fans’ forum summed up the season perfectly and was spot on – in my opinion. It said: “In the world of scientific experimentation where a particular conclusion is required, the same test is carried out again and again to see if, providing the conditions are identical, the same result is reached. Yesterday (v Oxford City) was a bit like that. We seemed to play in exactly the same way we always do and, unsurprisingly, all we managed to confirm is that it doesn’t work at this level, or at least it doesn’t with this group of players.”

The post, by ‘Paul’, added: “Perhaps when we’re back in the Isthmian again, we’ll be able to play the way we like to and be successful, as you’ll have the advantage of being up against opposition defenders who aren’t quite as resolute and opposition strikers who aren’t quite as clinical. Even finishing bottom of the league, we’ve still played some really nice stuff at times this season. But there’s clearly a reason why no-one else plays like we attempt to at this level and that’s simply because you have to play it flawlessly to succeed – if you don’t, teams in this division are clinical enough to punish the mistakes.”

It’s taken all season for someone to describe things perfectly. So many sides we’ve faced this season have set up all similarly and most are near the top. Havant, Hampton, Hemel Hempstead, Truro, Braintree, to name a few, have the same standard of two very strong defenders who ‘bully’ the opposition, two quick, clinical strikers who punish mistakes and pacy wingers who can punish errors.

At this level the punishment is brutal and that has been the hardest thing to adapt to. It’s testament to our style that Poole tweeted this week to say they couldn’t believe our league position following the way we played against them in the opening week – they stated we were one of the best footballing sides they’d played all season.

One criticism has been that we have no plan B and players in our squad are all similar, so to change our style is hard. I’m not in any way saying other clubs in our league are all ‘kick and run’ but their strength leads to them being able to adapt.

Salford City came into the National North this season and have changed their style to gain promotion to the National League. Yes they have the finances and location but they’ve looked at the league they’re in and adapted; the same can be said for Havant.

This season’s experience can strengthen us, but we have to see that took us (fans and players) a good few months to suss out this league.

If we can learn, we can come back stronger than ever thanks to the superb work that has been done off the field this season.

IAN GUPPY