Bognor players popped bottles of bubbly galore to herald a fantastic 2-1 win over Dulwich Hamlet to snatch promotion from the Ryman Premier League at Nyewood Lane this afternoon.
Jimmy Muitt made it 1-0 and Ollie Pearce grabbed a second in a nail-biting contest, with Hamlet pulling a goal back from Ibrahim Korgbo. But the home side held their nerve to take Jamie Howell’s men to the National League South with the runners-up spot.
Rocks had a glorious chance to make it 3-0 and ease the nerves when James Fraser stepped up to take a penalty but the attacking midfielder had his shot well saved by the visiting keeper Preston Edwards.
Dulwich pressed to try to restore parity and keep alive their lingering chances of going up and did so as they were cheered on by a healthy contingent of the 3,000-plus crowd.
But it was Bognor’s day and the final whistle from referee Ryan Atkin saw a mass pitch invasion and delirium ensue. “We are going up,” chorused fans and players alike as green and white smoke bombs provided a fitting backdrop to the joyous proceedings.
A season of toil, graft, endeavour, sweat, cheers and jeers all boiled down into a few minutes of ecstatic endorsement of the Rocks cause; and the promotion they had so deservingly gained.
The Tannoy belted out “We are the Champions” by Queen. No, Bognor weren’t champions. But while, strictly speaking, that honour was bestowed on Havant, a case for Jamie Howell’s Rocks being the moral champions is convincing.
And while they didn’t finish top of the pile, the Nye Camp aces did finish second and claimed promotion to National League South. And they had to see off a strong, slick Dulwich Hamlet side in this play-off final, with a 2-1 triumph that was fully deserved.
Goals from Jimmy Muitt and Ollie Pearce, with James Fraser squandering a penalty, were enough to see Howell’s men to the line.
And while we could bemoan the luck of Bognor not going up automatically, there can’t be a fan out there who would have dared suggested Rocks would have been promoted at the start of the season.
So, why moral champions? Easy. Not to denigrate Havant’s achievement too much, but they reached the summit with four times the budget spent on playing staff than the figure managed by supremo Jack Pearce at Nyewood Lane; and the Hawks did so with two of Bognor’s best players from last season: Alfie Rutherford and Jason Prior.
Of course, Rocks will be seeing those two chaps once more next season…