Rocks legend Michael Birmingham has revealed a combination of last season’s title heartache and a knee injury have convinced him to retire.
The Nyewood Lane stalwart was on the brink of hanging up his boots when the Rocks surrendered the Ryman one south title by failing to beat Chatham on the final day of last season.
He decided to play on – but had another rethink when a knee problem robbed him of half a yard of pace at the start of the new campaign.
He has no plans at present to stay with the club in a coaching role, instead wanting to take a month or more to spend with his family before deciding what to do next.
Birmingham said: “I want to go out on a high – not be remembered as a player who only retired when I couldn’t get in the team because I was injured all the time.”
Praise from fans and management has been flooding in since the 36-year-old announced his retirement at the weekend. The club have yet to decide how they will mark his 17 years at the Lane, but supporters are demanding at least a testimonial.
Birmingham joined the Rocks two weeks before his 19th birthday in 1994 and played 683 times, scoring 96 goals. He was captain, assistant manager and player-manager at different times and had only a year away from the Lane in 2008-09.
He said: “What happened at Chatham last April killed part of me. I actually told the club after that I wasn’t coming back, but then I went back on that.
“And I had a knee injury at the end of last season which left me without proper flexibility. I lost half a yard of pace – and I was never the quickest player anyway! I wasn’t winning any second balls.
“I decided I wanted to be remembered as someone who’d been a good player for Bognor and not someone who went on too long.
“Going now means I’m retiring happy with lots of great memories, and hopefully with fans and others having good memories of me.”
Birmingham has retired from playing before – he took a similar decision when he was manager in 2008 – but this time says it’s definitely final. “The only time you might see me playing is for the Rocks veterans,” he added.
He will now take time to watch his son Lewis Brooks play for Paulsgrove while keeping a close eye on the Rocks’ results.
Birmingham said the high point of his Bognor career was ‘being able to walk away with his head held high’, while the low points were the the Chatham heartbreak and ‘waking up last Saturday and Monday feeling a little lost’.
He rates the best Rocks team he played in as the 1995-96 line-up who got to the second round of the FA Cup and last 32 of the FA Trophy and went on a run of nearly 20 straight wins. But he said the present team had what it took to be very successful. “It was a pleasure and a privilege to play in last season’s team and if they can stay together, they can go on and achieve a lot.”
Birmingham reserved special praise for the fans, with whom he’s always had a special bond. “I suppose I’m one of them,” he said. “I care passionately about the club, like they do. I’ll miss them.”
Bosses Darin Killpartrick and Jamie Howell have been quick to pay tribute to Birmingham – their first signing after they were made joint bosses in 2009 – and to challenge the players he leaves behind to step into his role as on-pitch leader.
Howell said: “He will be very, very difficult to replace but he was never going to go on forever. He’s been such a fantastic servant to the club and that’s how we’ll all remember him.”