Rocks chief Pearce on management, money, Marmite... and much more

Jack Pearce has fiercely defended his role as Rocks manager - and promised he would review it in six weeks if a poor run of results did not pick up and if players were not responding to his part in running the team.

Sunday, 10th September 2017, 9:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:27 pm
Jack Pearce in the Nyewood Lane dugout during the pre-season friendly with Crawley / Picture by Tim Hale

The Nyewood Lane stalwart called a fans' Q&A session at Seasons clubhouse on Sunday after recent defeats led to criticism of his style of management. He has returned to being team boss this season after ten years of being general manager and leaving the day-to-day running of the team to coaches and managers like Darin Killpartrick and Jamie Howell.

The Rocks had a strong start to the season - winning two and drawing three of their first five games. Since then it's been four defeats and just one draw from the past five and many fans are getting restless.

Around 30 supporters attended the session and listened to Pearce speak for an hour about his background and beliefs in guiding the club through some tricky times and his thoughts on their present position - and their future. There followed another hour or so of questions which he answered, often in great detail.

He said he got on well with the coaching staff and players, was passionate about the club's need to avoid relegation - and even look higher, to possible promotion to the National League premier while improving the ground. And he said he and the club's staff knew exactly what was needed to nip recent poor results in the bud and start competing and holding their own in this league. But he warned finding quality players they could afford to bring in was not easy.

Below, especially for those fans who were not there, is a detailed summary of what 68-year-old Pearce had to say about the club's present position, the role of manager, and how he sees the future.

Pearce started by saying he was a great believer in social media: "That's how the younger generation communicate. I support this club engaging with people on social media. But personally I won't use it," he said. Pearce is kept in touch about what's being said and spoke of some 'interesting comments' being conveyed to him regarding his position and how the Rocks were doing. "When I hear about it, I think of a friend of mine who'd put £3.5m into a club and was hounded out by people on social media. He said 'thanks, I can't do this'. I won't be hounded out by social media - that's the bad news!" he said.

Pearce said football sparked strong opinions and he had no problem with constructive crticism. "I can understand a lot of it. But what does upset is me is when it gets personal." He said the most hurtful thing was when people made out he was not a supporter. "The biggest supporter of this club over 47 years has been me," he added.

He outlined his commitment to the club - including the amount of money he had loaned - and said it had affected his personal life. Pearce has been at Bognor since 1970 as a young player and became player-manager in 1976, staying in charge of the team until 2007 when he stepped back to run the off-the-pitch side of the club.

Pearce said the present-day club had to balance the amount they put into the playing budget with keeping some money in the bank for ground improvements. He foresees the need to have a 500-seat stand in place within a couple of years just to be able to stay at National League South level. Pearce said there were plenty of clubs along the south coast who had tried to survive at NLS level, thrown money at it, and 'gone pop'. "To me Bognor being in National League South is a magnificent achievement," he said.

He would be upset if other clubs at this level had players from the Bognor area in their teams, but such players just were not there. That meant when bidding for players, they could only offer them limited money and often had to convince good players to travel further than if they were moving to clubs in the London, Portsmouth or Brighton areas.

"I know we need a centre-forward, a strong central midfielder. We need three or four players. I'm not oblivious to any of that. But no-one comes up with any names. To get someone in at the quality we need, a striker from the outside the area, could cost £550 to £700 a week," Pearce told fans. Pearce said if a number of players at a club were on £200 a week and one new face came in on three or four times their money, you could say goodbye to good spirit in the dressing room.

He went on: "We over-achieved last season but I was absolutely delighted as I'd rather be in this league competing but not winning every week, rather than in a lower league winning every week. I said straight away the test this season for everyone would be what happened when we started losing. It's obvious to me we are not presently strong enough."

Pearce said he took umbrage at claims he had come back to management after years of only doing jobs like selling raffle tickets. He said: "In past five years I have had massive part in team selection, tactics etc. If you think I have only sold raffle tickets, you're in cloud cuckoo land." He said he was confident Killpartrick, Howell and others would confirm that.

He added: "The object this year was and is to try to get the ground up to standard and get young, hungry players who perhaps have not made it at Football League clubs plus players who have done it in non-league. Last time (2008-2010) we got relegated twice and it was disastrous. This time, we don't want to get relegated once, but we certainly wouldn't want to go down and be in a position where we then went down again."

Pearce said of the summer's search for a manager he spoke to nine or ten. He identified quite a few good 'No2' types but only three 'No1' contenders. They did not work out for one reason or another. He spoke of the plan to appoint Sami El-Abd as manager with Gary Charman as assistant - it was one he was happy with trying, but El-Abd could not do the job as things turned out.

Regarding the departure to Eastbourne Borough of Charman, who had gone on to take a role assisting the management even after El-Abd pulled out, Pearce said he did not want to lose the player but had to tell him he was unlikely to get many games, with El-Abd and youngsters Chad Field and Corey Heath all at the club. He felt Field and Heath were the type of player who represented the future of the club and didn't want to not give them opportunities. Pearce said Charman wanted games and felt he had to move on to get playing time. And he said Charman's work commitments meant he had not wanted to be manager, only an assistant, when El-Abd was being considered.

Pearce then addressed weaknesses he felt the current squad had in adapting to National League South. "Your team have got to be fitter than the opposition if you're the sort of team we are at this level. At this level you get pressed and can't pass out from the back as easily as in the lower league," he said. "Our weakness is that we're weak physically. And the minute you kick the ball in the air, you are up against it."

He said he and the coaching staff knew what the weaknesses were - issues such as passing around at the back too slowly, not moving into space fast enough, and passing it around for too long and then losing it. All were being worked on constantly. Pearce said Killpartrick was very much in charge of training. "Dabba is an important part of the club. I've not taken one training session - nothing has changed in terms of the technical side of the club. He is a very good coach." Pearce also said he was working up to 40 hours a week running the club and had not taken a penny in wages for the past three years.

He said the search for strong additions to the squad would go on, especially a striker. He did not think loan recruit Chinedu McKenzie was the answer to their lack of goals. "We know what we need. I tried to sign a striker - he wanted £1,000 a week and we can't afford that without eating into our funds and unsettling all the other players. But I understand that your average supporter would have said 'Sign him'."

The average player budget in NLS is reckoned to be £5,000-£5,500. Pearce admitted: "We are some way below that - others are too - but we don't want to get relegated. We can't invest too heavily in players - or we will be skint. I am passionate about making this club really big but it takes time."

Questioned about his style of management in the dressing room and how the players had responded, Pearce admitted he would always tell new signings he spoke to them 'aggressively'. He said there were two ways to make a mistake - by trying to do the right thing but not executing it well enough, or being doing the wrong thing - something other than that which as a player you had been told to do. Pearce said he could accept the former from a player but did not like the latter.

Is he managing at the moment how he'd like to be? No, he said, because Dabba and even Sami El-Abd were doing a lot of the training and organisation. "All I add is a few words on how I want us to play. I look at outside factors - the surface, the referee and the weather - and talk to the players about it." He said good discipline was very important to the club and he was not afraid to remind players of this, and reward good discipline. He added: "I am aggressive with players because I want to push them. They have to be hungry and fit, not just fit through our training sessions but fit generally - looking after themselves." He added: "The most important quality in any footballer is desire. You have to want to win your personal battle versus your direct opponent right until the final whistle."

Pearce said the present set-up would continue for the next six weeks but would be reviewed at that point if poor results or player unrest were evident at that time. "No-one hurts more than me if things don't work." He said he still enjoyed managing players, maybe more than many of his other administrative roles in the game, which reach far beyond Bognor. He said he could not see that there was anyone better to bring in as team manager at present - at least not anyone the club realistically could lure to the Lane.

The Rocks supporters' club's Dave Robinson quizzed Pearce on his relationship with Killpartrick, saying many fans felt the duo looked not at ease with one another sometimes in the dugout. Pearce said: "We have our rows but we're as good as gold. We have our disagreements, as you'd expect. There's no problem there."

Asked whether players had taken to him as manager, Robinson noted that a number of players had come out in support of Pearce on Facebook when they had read criticism being directed at him. Pearce said injuries to half a dozen key players a few games into the season had hit form and morale, as it would hit any club. He said you could cope with injuries to fringe players, but when a number from your team's 'spine' were all out together it was bound to take its toll.

Pearce admitted he was a little upset that in the first five games when results were good, no-one on social media was saying 'Well done Jack' but when results went wrong, many were blaming him. He said he hoped a minority on social media would stop implying the Rocks team was now being run by a 'raffle ticket seller' - because he said if potential new recruits read that, they wouldn't come to Bognor.

Fans asked him about formations and substitutions and he said these were worked out by the coaching staff and himself - he was not insisting on anything without at least consulting with the backroom staff. He added: "The challenge is for us to try to do better. It will take time. The supporters club are doing a magnificent job, the pitch is in great condition. We're going in the right direction but I know i'm Marmite to people. I will always try to do my best and will know when players aren't responding to me. I'm 68 and they're all much younger and that can be difficult but we all want the same thing."

He added: "Sometimes I realise I go overboard. I don't mean to upset people. That's the way I am - massively passionate about not getting relegated, getting a 500-seat stand and not getting ourselves into financial difficulty. I'd love to go in the National League premier, even if we did it and finished bottom. You could finish seventh in this league, have a couple of lucky games and find yourself going to Barrow! But for now I want us to do well in the league."

In summary, he said people could abuse him as much as they liked to his face, or to his email address, but he hoped they would limit public comment to constructive and fair criticism.