The Rocks head for their date with FA Cup destiny on Saturday with their players being told: This competition could change your lives.
It’s 22 seasons since Bognor reached the first round of the FA Cup but they now have another great chance to do so, with a trip to fellow National League South strugglers Oxford City in the final qualifying round.
A spot in the first round would put the men from Nyewood Lane in the draw with League One and League Two sides like Pompey and Charlton and raise the possibility of nationwide exposure, live TV coverage and a windfall of tens of thousands of pounds.
Rocks manager Jack Pearce was at the helm in the club’s Cup glory days of the 80s and 90s and is relishing another crack at glory. But he is warning his troops they face a stiff test at Oxford, whose dreams of making the first round will burn just as bright.
Pearce said: “It’s always an exciting time when you make progress through the early rounds but I remember saying when we used to get to the first round regularly what an incredible achievement it was for a club of our size. The fact we’ve not done it for 22 years shows what I meant!
“We did it five years running in the 1980s and got to the second round three times in that period. Everyone remembers us beating Swansea in a replay at the Lane – it’s still talked about 33 years later.
“The FA Cup is the only competition that can change a player’s career or make a lasting difference to a smaller club’s future. It can put you in the spotlight like nothing else.
“We will be telling the players at training what a big day this is for the club, but they know how much rides on it and what a chance it is for them as individuals and a team.
“At Oxford I expect it to be like any other game against a team from National League South – very tight. There won’t be a lot between us but hopefully we can have the edge and get into that first-round draw.”
Bognor will be without defenders Sami El-Abd and James Crane, both still around a month away with hamstring and shoulder injuries respectively, but midfielder Doug Tuck should be fit to return to the midfield.
Loan man Kristian Campbell does not have permission from parent club Bromley to play in the Cup so Dan Beck is likely to fill in at left-back, as he did so effectively in the last round at Eastbourne Borough.
The Rocks go to Oxford on the back of a 3-1 league loss at Dartford, where Campbell’s superb solo goal was not enough to precent a defeat that leaves them one place off the relegation zone.
Pearce said: “If one team had to win it was right it was Dartford, but none of their three goals came from creative open play. Their penalty was a little harsh and the other two we let in were self-inflicted.
“We played some very good football at times but showed a lack of quality in the final third. But for me, there are lots of encouraigng signs and optimism for the future.
“It is a very, very young team at the moment and we are trying to add experience. I wish we could go to Tesco, Waitrose or Sainsburys and pick a striker off the shelf but we can’t.”
Coach Darin Killpartrick said the Bognor line-up at Dartford could well have been the youngest team in the league that day.
He said all efforts this week were focused on the FA Cup and added: “The motivation for the players is the knowledge they are so close to that first round.”
Killpartrick also revealed they’d be persevering with short corners, something that has caused debate among fans. He said: “It’s my decision because in this league we don’t always have the physical presence for the ball to go straight into the box, and that can leave us open to a counter-attack.”
* Bognor’s home league game against Oxford City, postponed from this Saturday because of the Cup tie, will now be played on Tuesday, November 14 (7.45pm).
Get the first report from the Oxford City Cup tie on this website