Bognor Regis Town 1-1 Portsmouth (Friendly)
God help my motor who’s asked to clock up another 400 plus miles on a Tuesday night after HQ decided ‘not’ to give me Retford United v Mansfield Town or Alfreton v Burton Albion to instead, send me to the Sussex seaside resort of Bognor.
The last time I was here was the 1992 Easter Festival of Football where I set up the winner (now known as assisted) against Glossop North-East before watching Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest in the Rumbelows Cup Final aired on the big projector at Butlins. We had earlier beaten Epsom Dodgers but lost to Barking Colts a day later to miss out on a place in the final, no shame in that, Barking were a good side and had some decent lads in their team.
Funny enough, Portsmouth were also on the Butlins big screen that bank-holiday weekend, losing on penalties on Monday night football in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Liverpool. They had a great side back then, managed by Jim Smith with players like Darren Anderton, Guy Whittingham, John Beresford and Martin Kuhl.
Pompey famously, eventually went on to win the competition in 2008, under Harry Redknapp when money was seemingly no object, they beat Cardiff City with a star-studded side that included matchwinner Kanu, alongside Sol Campbell, David James, Lassana Diarra and Niko Kranjcar amongst others.
Since those glory days of eleven seasons stationed in the second tier (admiring the likes of Robert Prosinecki and Paul Merson) before seven years of Premier League football, some silverware and a few great European nights too (including a thrilling unforgettable match with Milan at Fratton Park), Portsmouth have fallen from grace but now look to be at last heading in the right direction again, under John Mousinho, a former Burton Albion centre half in his first managerial role.
Portsmouth finished eighth in League One last season and there’s an air of optimism about this present bunch with ten new signings so far, striker Colby Bishop is one of the hottest stars in the division and finished 2022/23 as clubs top scorer and player of the season, he’s a Nottingham boy and little does ‘anyone’ know that I was part of the managerial side that gave him his first ever taste of men’s senior football, for Grantham Town, aged just sixteen he came on for us in a friendly against Linby Colliery Welfare in 2013, and even back then it was evident he would go on to much better things.
Bognor Regis have a good relationship with Pompey and had a couple of players on loan from them last season. Separated by just a 40-minute A27 journey it’s a handy arrangement that works for both clubs, the piece du resistance is regular pre-season friendlies, last year the tie ending 1-1 at Nyewood Lane.
It's little short of four hours to Bognor, I’m off down the A46 and M1 before crossing the M69 south of Coventry to the M40 hitting the Oxford & Newbury bypass at junction nine, the A34 to Winchester is long and leafy ahead of joining the busily traffic coned M3 to Southampton.
It’s a long old drive, I’ve had a short stop off at Sutton Scotney services but the last leg is the M27 towards Portsmouth, a mini Dubai of sorts as I spot tall buildings on the seafront in the background, lots of water and nice looking boats as the motorway bridges to four lanes passing Portsbridge Creek and Chichester Harbour.
I’ve finally made it, listening to a cracking interview on TalkSport as Boxer Steve Collins describes his wins over Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn in a wonderful era for British (& Irish) boxing in the 90’s, he said he took up boxing because he was rubbish at football, wanting to punch the lights out of all the lads who nicked the ball off him during his early school days growing up in Ireland.
I’ve pulled up outside a Co Op on Hawthorn Road which is a ten minute walk to the ground. The odd Pompey fan getting out of their car, I walk slowly towards Nyewood Lane where I see a huge sign for Bognor Regis football and cricket clubs on a mesh fence in front of a field.
It’s a nice-looking residential area, large green space with decent facilities for cricket, I walk past a bowls club and turn right as stewards are pointing people where to park, a long driveway towards the turnstiles where I’m given the choice to pay cash on the gate, pay by card or scan my prepaid ticket, which I of course, choose to do (I wouldn’t have driven 200 miles ticketless).
On entrance in the corner of the ground it's modern looking, flat, spacious, pleasant, there’s a kiosk for programmes and a huge queue for drinks with lots of fans in blue shirts, I walk to the toilets before heading for my seat in the stand, walking down the side of the pitch behind the players dugouts to my right, the tunnel to my left under a green corrugated steel roofed stand.
Five or six rows deep the press area is in the corner with wooden desks at impossible to use 90 degree angles, it’s a tight squeeze as I’m met by the Portsmouth match reporter and a guy from Radio Rocks who’s on the PA today.
Looking around the place, filling up nicely, it’s a real pleasant venue, to my left a large new looking scoreboard lit up in green, low roofed terrace behind the goal, the opposite end has a quirky cantilevered roof above standing room only, across from me is another low roofed standing area with a TV gantry sitting high above, the pitch is flat, wide, spacious, in good nick, as the Pompey players come out and sign a few autographs for fans.
Colby Bishop hasn’t made the away team’s squad, he’s being rested for bigger and better things probably, but Portsmouth are strong, we get wind ahead of kick off that they’ll play two different teams in each half, Bognor are pretty much full strength with a couple of trialists on the bench.
The start is slow and although the crowd is packed in the noise is low, no beef between these two teams you feel, suddenly to my left there’s a couple of fans kicking off behind the goal? “Probably Worthing fans” says the PA guy, Pete is ‘Mr Bognor’ with his pile up of club duties, he can’t do Rocks Radio today as there’s too many people in the press box and he’s also on PA duty, imagine breaking during commentary to fully announce “the owner of a car registration number” to the 3,000 inside the packed full arena?
He's still providing running commentary for us in the stand though as he names every player before listing their previous five clubs, I’m disappointed to hear a couple of loanees have moved on since the last time I watched Bognor, centre half Cameron Black from Dorking has been since shipped out to Cray Wanderers on loan, Alfie Bridgman who was on loan from Portsmouth has since left to Eastbourne Borough, I'm impressed however with Tommy Lee Higgs who puts a shift in up top, and another new signing Lucas Pattenden who has some pace down the right.
Portsmouth are in no rush, I ask their media guy if they’ve played anyone else this summer, he says “they’ve just got back from a training camp in Marbella and beat some team from Gibraltar 1-0”
Marlon Pack is in midfield and dictating the play from side to side, Sean Raggett at centre half is spraying balls around, Josh Dockerill looks lively down the right, linking up with the talented but tiny Tom Lowery, but Bognor are game, skipper Calvin Davies who apparently got booked sixteen times last season, is nibbling away, foul after foul, Sam De St Croix beside him in midfield working tirelessly, the best chances actually come from them, PA Pete is upbeat but says “the fitness will tell in the second half”.
At half time Pompey stay out on the pitch as the first half eleven warms down, the second XI warm up, Bognor gather their thoughts under the stand as gaffer Robbie Blake is no doubt delighted with their efforts.
A much changed eleven for John Mousinho’s men gives a few new signings a run out with a number of youngsters from the academy, Portsmouth are gifted a penalty when Terry Devlin has his heels softly taken away, Paddy Lane steps up and his softly taken spot kick is easily saved by Ryan Hall.
The former Aldershot goalkeeper is called into action on a couple of occasions and stands up to the task well, at the other end Josh Oluyawemi shows powerful wrists to deny a couple of efforts from the Rocks.
The game is in the balance, before the home side make a number of changes themselves, they bring on a couple of trialists and one of them gifts Portsmouth a late penalty as he brings down the lively Sam Folarin inside the box. This time second half skipper Joe Morrell stands up, a Welsh international of 36 caps, he makes no mistake, blasting it home in true captain like fashion.
That should end the game in a comfortable workout for the League One side with a win over the plucky part-timers but late on Oluyawemi is called into action with another save which leads to a corner, the following set play headed home by the very trialist who gave away the second penalty, quite the night for him.
The Pompey pros played in third gear and I’m sure there’s more to come from them as the weeks near the season start? The usual suspects, solid and dependable, Marlon Pack, Connor Ogilvie, Sean Raggett, Ryley Towler, standing out in the first half alongside youngsters Dockerill, Harry Jewitt-White and Koby Mottoh who all put a shift in.
In the second half I really liked the look of left back Jack Sparkes who got to that by-line and curled crosses dangerously into the box whilst Sam Folarin was a real nuisance in attack, always on the end of things, he missed a few good opportunities, at one stage I blurted “he’s got to score eventually tonight”.
For Bognor, they look a real good side, competent, organised, defensively they held their own with Kieran Douglas in particular solid at centre half, in midfield they played decent stuff in spells, often through the talented De St Croix who likes no more than a couple of touches tops, out wide Lucas Pattenden shows a good clean set of heals whilst Tommy Lee Higgs, not yet signed by Bognor, but apparently a player who lost confidence after being released by Southampton, aged 18, socks rolled down his ankles, with a point to prove, is more than good enough if chosen to lead the line next season by Robbie Blake.
Passing practice for Portsmouth and a chance for some of their new signings to familiarise themselves with their recently acquainted team-mates, plenty of dusting off from a good workout and probably a few beers in Spain last week, they’ll be fine this season, maybe even reaching the playoffs and getting back towards somewhere closer to where they feel they belong, a good young coach in Mousinho, they have a good young side and good feel about them, if getting up close and personal is anything to go by.
For Bognor, they’ll do alright too, whilst ambition is solely to do just ‘that’… PA Pete tells me there’s a lot of teams with big budgets in the Isthmian League this coming season, and because of that, it’ll be hard to challenge at the top, but Bognor are a team that feels to me well organised, well managed, well supported, and those are three qualities that many clubs throwing cash around, might not particularly have. Don’t rule out a playoff push, and those dizzy heights of National League South football returning? In Robbie Blake we trust!
Bognor Regis Town: Ryan Hall, Harvey Whyte (Tom Holland 73), Kieron Douglas (Trialist 73), Craig Robson (Danny Howick 73), Jude Mason, Lucas Pattenden (Trialist 73), Ben Anderson (Kyle O’Brien 54), Calvin Davies (Joe Briffa 66), Sam De St Croix (Josh McCormick 66), Tommy Lee Higgs (Isaac Olaniyan 54), Jasper Mather (Trialist 73).
Portsmouth: Will Norris (Josh Oluwayemi 46), Josh Dockerill (Zak Swanson 46), Sean Raggett (Haji Mnoga 46), Ryley Towler (Conor Shaughnessy 46), Connor Ogilvie (Jack Sparkes 46), Tom Lowery (Terry Devlin 46), Marlon Pack (Joe Morrell 46), Harry Jewitt-White (Paddy Lane 46), Koby Mottoh (Sam Folarin 46), Anthony Scully (Denver Hume 46), Liam Vincent (Ben Stevenson 46).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 11th July 2023, Nyewood Lane, Bognor Regis (att 2,500).