COLUMN: Relegation for Rocks - a sad day, but better ones lie ahead

Three hundred and forty-nine days ago, promotion. Yesterday, relegation. Yep, eleven-and-a-half months is a long time in football.

Sunday, 15th April 2018, 11:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 12:43 am
The Rocks - down but not out? Picture by Tommy McMillan

The Rocks' fate - inevitable for what seems like weeks, even months - has finally been confirmed. And I'm probably not the only one to find it a bit of a relief. To say it's been a tough season is an under-statement. We've not just seen results go wrong - we've seen the whole spirit of the club, the same spirit that has made the club so special for so long, go awry too.

The bitterness and divisions that have developed between a section of the fanbase and the management - and between different sections of the fanbase - has been a result of, well, results. But for me, the arguments and bad feeling have actually been harder to witness, sadder to see, than the struggle for points.

It's all been very un-Bognor-like. In the 10 seasons before this one that I'd been covering the Rocks for the Bognor Observer, one constant had been the sense of togetherness that linked fans, players and management. They enjoyed the triumphs together, they took the setbacks on their respective chins... together. That spirit has felt lost in recent weeks but I hope - and firmly believe - it will come back once the current decline is halted and a turnaround starts.

In fact I have already sensed some green shoots in that respect - Jack Pearce's forthright and very honest interview in midweek, in which he spoke of his pride at the legacy he will leave, may well have made some think hard about where we're at and why. Yesterday's 3-2 loss - an all-too-familiar tale of home failure brought about by poor defending - will not have helped that mood but there are four games left for the players to give their all and aim for an upbeat end to the campaign.

So how did it come to this, to relegation? There are many factors you can point to - and many that have been pointed to by fans. Much of what's been said has been fair criticism - some of it has been very ill-informed.

The close season was far from ideal in planning for the tough new challenge ahead. The search for a manager needed to be swiftly concluded, in my view, and wasn't. I genuinely don't think Jack had any intention of going back to the team manager's role when Jamie Howell left, though when Sami El-Abd's appointment didn't work out, other targets having been missed or discounted, he obviously felt he could do the job and was the best man under the circumstances to do it. Looking at the league table now, you'd have to say it has not worked.

Would a different manager - one the club could realistically have appointed and who'd have wanted the job - have done better? Quite possibly, but we will never know. AN Other would have had the same squad to work with and presumably the same bad luck with injuries - in fact, had an outside person been given the job, he might have had a smaller playing budget, because presumably his wage would have come from the same pot.

Should certain players have been given more chances? Jimmy Wild - perhaps; after all he did have his moments, although my own view is that had he been in the starting line-up week in week out, he was not of the quality to have made a huge difference to the club's goals-per-game ratio. Alex Parsons - in hindsight, maybe he should have been given a longer run even when not able to train regularly.

Remember this, though: the fine early-season form that gave everyone hope of a positive season involved many of the players, up front and elsewhere, who remained in the team throughout the lean months that followed. And the signings subsequently made (at least the ones who lasted longer than a couple of 'trial' games) were, on the whole, ones that few could find fault with. The likes of Keaton Wood, Kriss Campbell and Ibra Sekajja had -and have - quality and, in a more successful team, could have become overnight Rocks legends.

We can argue all day and night about team selection, hirings and firings and games that the Rocks should have won - even about individual errors, which now seem pointless going over again - but it won't change the situation the club now find themselves in. The important thing is: where do the Rocks go from here? It's a subject already being talked about behind the scenes and I imagine we will hear soon what sort of direction things are going in for next season.

My own view is that the first job is the most important one: the club should seek to appoint a team manager in the mould of an Adam Hinshelwood, a Micky Birmingham or a Miles Rutherford... sooner rather than later. That's not meant to disrespect the respective clubs those three are still working for. Clearly Bognor would need to identify which one they wanted and go through the correct channels to see if candidate and candidate's club were willing to talk. For what it's worth, I think two out of those three would be realistic targets.

The Rocks should also work hard to ensure Dabba stays as head coach; they should thin out the current squad by getting rid of some higher earners and work out where they need to strengthen, aiming to rely less on loans than they have (quite reasonably) done in recent seasons and more on players who see Bognor as somewhere they want to be, play and develop; and they should state quite clearly that the aim next season is to be pushing for promotion back up from the Bostik premier, not just consolidation at that level.

I also think a couple of fans' forums per year - where coaching staff and off-the-field bosses answer questions - are a good idea, however much some potential panelists might not be keen and some supporters see them as a waste of time. Whatever criticisms some might aim at Jack, Dabba or others Rocks personnel, I have never known any of them refuse to answer a straight question.

It's been a sorry old season, all in all, and everyone will probably be delighted when the final whistle ends the final game on April 28 - ironically at home to Dartford, the same fixture which ended Bognor's last relegation season, 2009-10. All you can hope is that campaigns like this one will spur you on and make the better times, when they inevitably come, seem all the more enjoyable.

by Steve Bone

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