The Rocks’ promotion party can be the start of a new era of success for the club – and maybe for the town as a whole.
Bosses at Nyewood Lane hope the team’s success on the field can rebuild the bond between the club and the community – and help create a lasting legacy which will see football stay forever as a central part of Bognor life.
It may sound like a pipedream, but after witnessing 2,000-plus people pack into the ground to see the Rocks clinch promotion back to football’s seventh tier, the Rocks’ management believe the success might just have started something special.
They earned another shot at the Ryman premier when they beat Dulwich Hamlet 1-0 in a tense play-off final on Sunday. Stuart Axten headed the only goal while Craig Stoner saved a penalty.
The victory blew away memories of last year, when the Rocks were beaten by Dulwich in the play-off semi-final.
The club know promotion means the start of another spell of hard graft. The key now is to compete in a higher division to a standard that keeps their new-found fans coming back to the Lane. But it’s something they believe is achievable.
The Rocks’ average home league crowd this season was 585 including the play-off games. That would put them in the top 50 for the whole of England’s non-league set-up even though there were well over 100 clubs playing at higher levels.
This compares to their days of struggle in Conference South when they would often get crowds around the 300 mark.
Joint manager Jamie Howell summed up how the club hope promotion, and the entertaining goal-laden football that had earned it, could pave the way for a solid future for football in the town.
He said: “You can take personal satisfaction from what we’ve achieved but for me, what stands out is how it’s brought Bognor and the community together.
“We had more than 800 fans here for the semi-final then more than 2,000 for the final. Many of those were youngsters who probably hadn’t been before. Hopefully they will come back again and again – they’re the fans of the future.
“The biggest thing I hope for next season is that the bond with the wider community that we’ve re-created, which had been lost in previous years, is back for good.”
His views were echoed by fellow joint manager Darin Killpartrick, who said: “You only had to look around Nyewood Lane when the final whistle went on Sunday to see what it meant to so many people. Complete strangers were hugging each other.
“As a club we have to take this feelgood factor and run with it – use it to propel us to further success.
“This has put Bognor on the map but the important thing now will be staying on the map.”
The club’s general manager, Jack Pearce, who has seen it all in 42 years at Nyewood Lane, praised the management duo, staff and players for clinching promotion against the odds – at the end of a season in which key player after key player had moved on, retired or got injured or suspended.
He also warned that competing in the Ryman premier would be much tougher – and appealed to fans to keep supporting the team even if the wins and goals didn’t flow so readily next term.
And he appealed for businessmen and women and local firms to throw their weight behind the club’s success.
The line-up for next season’s premier division is starting to take shape and it’s clear the team will have a lot more travelling to do.
Trips to Suffolk to face Bury Town and Lowestoft look likely, along with plenty of journeys to Essex, Kent and the other side of London.
Howell and Killpartrick thanked every fan and club volunteer who had played their part in the success, up to their backroom team including fitness coach Neil Cockroft and goalkeeping coach Lee Conway.
Killpartrick said: “From the hot dog sellers to the management, everyone can be proud of what we’ve achieved together.”