Bognor can be strong after the lockdown - even if football landscape has changed

Robbie Blake believes the Rocks can make a serious bid for promotion next season - even if the football landscape has changed in the post-pandemic world.

Robbie Blake says the Rocks' aim is to form a squad capable of pushing for promotion next season / Picture: Kate Shemilt
Robbie Blake says the Rocks' aim is to form a squad capable of pushing for promotion next season / Picture: Kate Shemilt

Bognor have admitted the playing budget may have to take a temporary hit as resources go into ground improvements.

In addition, no-one knows the state the finances of non-league football clubs generally will be in after a prolonged spell without any income.

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But coach Blake said he and manager Jack Pearce would be working hard to assemble a squad capable of competing at the top end of the 2020-21 Isthmian premier division as well as entertaining fans.

Blake admitted to being ‘bored and frustrated’ with no football at present but understanding of the need for everyone to stay safe and healthy. And he said although football was important, it was nothing compared to the need to beat the virus and save lives.

He praised the way Pearce, Simon Cook and others were running the club in the lockdown and making sure it had a secure future.

Blake is excited by the plans to upgrade the ground, even if it means a spell where spending on the team will be reduced and younger players brought in. He admitted it was very early days in forming next season's squad.

“We have the nucleus of a good team. Whoever goes and whoever stays, and we don’t know what will happen, Jack and I will work hard to get a successful team together,” he said.

“We’ve put casual conversations out there. It’s difficult, people might not be thinking about football right now. We have put calls out to make sure people are okay and their families are okay.

“Inevitably there will be players that stay and go but we have to hope we get the right blend. We will have to be quite diligent with what we do but I firmly believe we can have a successful season and the fans will want to come and see us.

“I believe there will be one or two who try to go on and better themselves. But not a lot of teams know what’s going to happen next season. It’s all up in the air.”

Blake said Bognor’s plan to renovate and modernise Nyewood Lane was both essential and exciting. “It’s huge. It’s fantastic. These improvements are only going to benefit the football club. We hope we can get a solid team out on the pitch to get the empty seats filled with supporters,” Blake said.

For the Rocks to reveal such ambition during this period speaks volumes about the prudent management of the club over the past few years. And Blake commented on how influential supporters had been as he praised staff and volunteers who worked their socks off for the club as well as loyal fans who had remained with them through thick and thin.

“If you’ve got everyone pulling in the right direction, you have a more successful football club. The resources are not huge at this level, but it’s made up for by the hard work and dedication people put in,” he said.

Blake said there was a camaraderie in the dressing room which strengthened relationships off the pitch and contributed to the team’s chemistry and sense of unity on the field.

The former Bradford, Burnley and Leeds striker believes he and Pearce have been shrewd in their recruitment, only bringing in players with the right attitude who complement the harmonious group.

The Rocks started the 2019-20 campaign slowly, but Blake believed the team were still in a position to make a late play-off push before the league’s cancellation, with seven of the ten remaining fixtures at Nyewood Lane and three games in hand over a number of their competitors.

“The team has to take a lot of credit for the way they battled back and put themselves in the position where they could have made the top five. It would have been a tough ask but the players were good enough to do it,” said Blake.

Blake’s is eager, when the time is right, to push on and fight for promotion in the new campaign.

“That’s the plan. You always want to aim as high as you can. Whether the squad and personnel dictates that remains to be seen, but we’ll be working tirelessly to build a successful team that’s capable of promotion.”