Bognor’s Twitter account expressed dismay – and a number of Rocks fans backed them – after Darke said during the behind-closed-doors Premier League game that Lewis Dunk would be used to playing in a stadium 'with not many people in it' because he had a spell at Bognor. A similar observation also related to Solly March and his time at Lewes.
The Rocks tweeted BT Sport and said: “If you want to make disparaging comments about non-league, can we remind you how the whole #NonLeagueFamily is on its knees? Can we also remind you many current Premier League stars made their way into the game via non-league football?”
They added: “Many clubs will sadly not get through this and there we have those involved at the top making cheap shots on prime TV.”
And Rocks coach Robbie Blake tweeted: “Very poor comments... that sort off sums football up at the minute. So much disrespect and no regards for grassroots football, which is the bedrock of English football. Made up of fantastic true supporters and love for their clubs.”
Darke, who in December covered Chichester City's FA Cup tie at Tranmere, told the Observer it was not meant as a slur against non-league nor the clubs involved.
He told us: “ I think a few people are being a little over-sensitive here. No disrespect whatsoever was meant to Bognor, Lewes or non-league football.
“I know the struggles these clubs have to go through just to survive.
“I was merely making the point that Solly March and Lewis Dunk were a couple of Brighton players who had not always played in the pumped-up atmosphere of the Premier League and so might not find the environment at the moment so difficult.
“If some people thought that remark was a swipe at non-league football, I am sorry. But it was certainly not the intention.
“As I think people at Chichester City FC will confirm, my commentary on their fabulous FA Cup day at Tranmere contained huge appreciation for their brilliant achievement.
“Non-league football is the lifeblood of the game and long may it flourish.”
Bognor tweeted again the day after the Brighton-Arsenal game, adding: “We know no offence was meant but the fact that we have this (crowdfunding initiative) going to keep us alive shows how poor the comment was.
“We’re not offended, but want to point out that non-league football exists and is key for many.”