The Rocks have been knocked for six after the striker they thought could replace Jason Prior followed him and moved to Havant.
Teenager Alfie Rutherford was seen as a contender to take over as the No1 striker at Nyewood Lane after a season in which he scored 21 goals.
But now Rutherford has pulled the rug out from beneath Bognor in joining Prior at Westleigh Park, where manager Lee Bradbury is splashing the cash on a team he feels can get the club back up to National League South following relegation to the Ryman premier.
Some at Bognor are wondering how regularly Rutherford – who made 29 starts las term for the Rocks and another 29 appearances off the bench – will play for the Hawks and felt he’d have been better off having at least another year as a bigger fish in the Rocks team.
His departure comes a week after Prior quit for Havant and follows Craig Robson’s switch to Dagenham and Redbridge.
Also leaving the Lane is attacking midfielder Stuart Green, although his move has been agreed between the player and the club.
Rocks boss Jamie Howell has not ruled out the possibility of others moving on but admits the club are powerless to stop clubs with more money taking their players.
Howell said he was disappointed and frustrated to lose Rutherford.
“About three months ago we discussed getting a new striker but I felt Alfie was someone who represented the future of the club and would become even more important if Jason left. Now Jason has left – and Alfie has too,” he told the Observer.
Fans expressed dismay at the news and said they were worried who’d go next, and Howell reacted to the latest blow by issuing a statement to fans asking them to keep faith with the club’s policy of not spending money they didn’t have and their ability to rebuild.
James Crane, Harvey Whyte, Doug Tuck and Dan Beck have all signed or agreed to sign for next season but uncertainty remains over the likes of keeper Grant Smith and centre-half Sami El-Abd.
Howell, in a statement published first on this website on Wednesday, told supporters: “Presently we are having far more players leaving us than joining us. As fans you want positive news and I wish I could you give you more as we want to feel excited about the forthcoming campaign.
“The simple truth is that due to our excellent season, many teams with more money have taken our players – and we cannot compete at that financial level.
“That is life and will stay the same unless somebody invests lots of money into the football club. We as a club, and I as an individual, have ambition; we just do not put that above the financial stability of the club and I totally adhere to this.
“I can only take it as a compliment that other clubs try to emulate our business model.
“The only envy I have is the surplus cash other clubs can spend on players. If we had that money I don’t think we would be losing players because in all my years as a manager or player I can’t recall many players having bad memories of their time at the Lane.
“I think players can forget quickly the opportunity they have been given at Bognor by myself, Dabba (Killpartrick) and Jack (Pearce) and the total support and loyalty of our fans.
“We do accept that players will always move on for financial gain. There is always a right way and wrong way to leave a football club. We are disappointed, though, that some players do not appreciate the role our club and supporters have contributed to their success. Sadly this seems common in the modern game.
“I know you are frustrated, I can assure you that you are not as frustrated as myself, Dabba, Neil, Lee and Coops (his backroom staff). We work tirelessly to produce young players who then go on to bigger and better things and we are left to rebuild again season after season.
“Our record in this is second to none – we have done it before and we will do it again. I ask you to trust me and the staff.
“Other players may move on but we will have a team that is competitive in the league. We have done it every year since I have had the privilege of being the manager and we will do it again.
“Whatever happens you have my word that we will have a team that wants to play for us and far more importantly, play for the fans that support us week in week out and who, without, the club are nothing.”
Green and Rutherford both thanked the club and fans for supporting them in their time at the Lane.
Green, who scored 13 Rocks goals in 77 appearances, said on Twitter: “I’d like to thank the players and management for a very enjoyable two years, but most importantly I’d like to thank the fans.”
Rutherford said: “Would just like to thank Jamie and Dabba for everything at Bognor and especially the fans, who were unbelievable.”
Pompey have confirmed they will visit Bognor for a friendly – for the fourth year in a row.
Paul Cook’s men will travel to meet the Rocks – who, like Pompey, missed out on promotion by losing to an injury-time set-piece in a play-off semi-final – on Wednesday, July 27 (7.15pm).
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