5. Andy Hessenthaler (1996-2001)

What can you say about Andy Hessenthaler? He still is Gillingham’s Mr. Perpetual Motion. He arrived in the summer of ’96 from Watford for £235,000 to add to the strength of the newly-promoted squad. His qualities are still on show to us all in conjunction with now being player-manager. He combines an almost child-like enthusiasm with boundless energy, passion and commitment. He typified the team built by Pulis, he was the heartbeat, the source of inner strength, a player to be relied upon when the going got really tough.

He does have his flaws, his confrontational style naturally brings him into conflict with opposing players, referees and fans on a regular basis. He also failed to really hit the heights in 97-98 ad his initial goalscoring stats were poor. All that changed in 98-99 where he blossomed into one of the really iconic figures at the Gills. His play upped a level, he began to break forward from midfield into goal-scoring positions and he started to put the chances away.

His three most famous goals sum him up to a tee. First, the only goal against Preston in the playoffs in ’99 which took the Gills to Wembley. He charged through onto an inviting ball to slam it joyfully into the net. It combined speed, opportunism and coolness. His second, a swinging long-distance goal at The Den towards the end of 99-00 was not typical but the philosophy of total determination and the will to win was. Likewise his last-minute bolt from the blue at Stoke when all looked lost in the 99-00 playoffs. It was an incredible moment where the irresistible drive of one passionate player dragged the Gills back from the brink.

Sadly his adventure in Division One was cut short at Bournemouth last season but it did give him the chance to concentrate on learning the managerial skills he will undoubtedly need now the Gills finding themselves battling against all odds in a division of wealthier teams. You get the feeling though that Hess wouldn’t have it any other way. Perhaps not the most eloquent of men, he lets his bone-crunching tackles, enthusiasm and guile speak volumes on the pitch. A true modern-day giant.

232 apps, 23 goals


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