How the former AFC Wimbledon forward overcame Football League ‘heartbreak’ to become a four-time non-League promotion winner – and now he has his eye on the number five on the Hawks’ return

It was a spate of goals for Wessex League Premier Moneys and then Bognor down the Sussex coast that had prompted then AFC Wimbledon from the second division to sign the Waterlooville-based strike ace in January 2012.

By that point, the whole non-League transplant seemed to have paid off, as Prior’s move to the Dons came just weeks after impressing after a short trial period with Alan Pardew’s premier – despite failing to win a deal – at League Newcastle.

Register to our daily newsletter

Returning Hawks forward Jason Prior has enjoyed back-to-back promotions in his previous two years with the club

Prior explained: “I had a couple of offers (to go to the EFL after the Newcastle trial) then I went to AFC Wimbledon.

“I think it was on my third start that I broke a double leg, which kept me out for a little over a year. But then I had to build myself up physically and mentally because I was a shadow of what I was before.

“I made the rounds a bit, then at Dartford and Margate, then ended up back at Bognor which was a great move, they had faith in me and vice versa.

“It was heartbreaking (broke a leg). You always dream of going pro, but in my third game at Crawley, I broke my leg. You just think, then it’s gone – you made it, then it’s gone again.

Jason Prior joined AFC Wimbledon in January 2012 to pursue his Football League ambitions but suffered a double broken leg just a few games after joining the club Image: Osman Deen

“It was tough, I was a bit disillusioned, after that I had a couple of bad moves. Coming back to Bognor was the best thing I did because it really rejuvenated my career.’

After working tirelessly to make his EFL ambitions a reality, Prior was back in the non-league after a single season and just nine appearances for Wimbledon.

Next came brief unsuccessful stints at Dartford and Margate as he tried to get his career back on track after such a damaging injury.

But it was much closer to home where he would rediscover his signature goalscoring form. He scored the goals for Bognor in a second spell at Nyewood Lane – 40 of them in all competitions in 2015/16 as the Rocks finished runners-up at the Isthmian Premier and reached the FA Trophy semi-finals.

Jason Prior, right, played for Bognor in two different spells at Nyewood Lane Club Pictured: Tim Hale

A move to the Hawks followed in the summer. Two seasons later – and with a record 40 goals in 57 league games – Prior had helped lead the Hawks to back-to-back title wins as they won the National League, the top tier of non-league football, for the first time in their history. reached.

It was Prior who scored the dramatic late, late winner that clinched the NL South title on goal difference in the last game of the season – at home against Concord. It was his last game and his last goal for the club.

Leaving Hawks in the summer of 2018, he enjoyed two more promotions as the Surrey side reached the fifth tier for the first time by winning the National League South play-offs last month.

Now with four non-league promotions under his belt, Prior says he has no regrets about how his volatile EFL career finally worked out.

And he remains grateful to the players he has played with for helping his goal tally remain so high.

He added: “I was late (EFL) when I signed for Wimbledon. I was 23 when I came out of non-league. If you spend 18 months coming back from a serious injury, the odds are very slim.

“I’ve had some great moments with some great teams outside of the league, I’ve met my wife and had two kids in that time. When something like this happens, you cannot regret how it all turned out.

“Obviously goals have come over the years, which is great, but that’s the result of a) hard work and stepping into the right areas and b) being on good teams because that’s the only reason I’m strong on the players rely on me around how i play.

“Hopefully with the players we have here I can score more goals and just do my best to contribute to the team.”

Leave a Comment