So “Ronnie and Stan” failed to live up to the song… it was cruel, it was harsh, it left thousands of Gills fans stunned and heartbroken and it unfortunately left us in League One. The 8th of May 2005 will go down in the annuls of Gillingham Football Club as a very sad day when a freak strike by Eugene Bopp five minutes from the end of our 230th game in the “promised land” ended our five year adventure. Back in 2000 we’d all have settled for five years; given our seemingly hopeless position when Ternent strolled into town at Christmas we’d all have accepted our fate but after five months of gutsy battling, passion and a transformation in form we came agonizingly close.
In the end it was one goal on goal-difference, we now know what Walsall feel like! All that effort expended left us all emotionally drained but failure to win any of our last four fixtures including home games with Crewe and Cardiff ultimately proved decisive.
Predictably Ternent then turned down the permanent managerial position (we’d love to know why) and the squad disintegrated. We won’t be too sad to see the back of the likes of Sidibe, Bossu, Johnson, Southall and Henderson (for that kind of money!) but with Smith, Banks, Nosworthy and Ashby all moving on too it has left the battered Gills faithful feeling particularly blue.
The only good news during a summer of depressing resignation was the appointment of Neale Cooper on Cup Final Day. Given the other dubious prospective candidates and his brilliant record thus far of achieving success at unfashionable clubs (Ross County & Hartlepool United) on small budgets whilst creating teams which entertained and played good football (not to mention scored goals) his arrival was warmly received, particularly with the news that Jepson had been kept on as assistant.
We will now have to wait to see what happens next because the Gills are a team in transition. The club is having to adjust to the financial realities of life in League One, the turnover of players has been quite staggering and not all of them have yet been replaced. So it is a warm welcome then to Bullock, Williams, Jackman, Shields and most recently Moses Ashikodi on loan from West Ham until Christmas, we wish you all well.
We are all realistic enough not to expect too much too soon, the new players will have to be integrated into what remains of last season’s side and the passing style that Cooper demands will take some getting used to but after three games the Gills have picked up five points and are unbeaten. Had Byfield’s shot at Scunthorpe that smashed against the bar gone in and we hadn’t conceded the late Scunny goal we’d have been top! That would have been daft though because thus far we have been unconvincing.
The biggest cause for optimism is simply the gap in class between the Championship and League One. We really have noticed the difference, particularly in terms of taking chances and the pace of the games. We might be significantly weaker than 99-00 but so it seems is the Division as a whole. We really are taking a step into the unknown, we are still rebuilding but we all have to keep the faith. We have to trust Cooper’s judgement and we have to give the players, yes ALL the players, our full unconditional backing as they attempt to gel together.
It is too much to expect the finished article straight away given the turbulent summer we’d just endured but that doesn’t mean we are doomed to years of mediocrity. The truth is a new chapter has begun in the life of the Gills and none of us can be certain of anything other than the journey as ever will be eventful!
Chin up everybody – and ENJOY!