Saturday 1st April – Franchise 1-2 Gills
Back on April 24th 2004 the Gills arrived at the National Hockey Stadium to play “Wimbledon”, well the rotting corpse of Wimbledon as was, in a vital relegation six-pointer in what is now the “Championship”. It subsequently went down in the annuls of GFC history (filed under “Phew! What a relief”) as the Gills played like a bunch of planks for an hour, went a goal down and then saw the pitch invaded by a female streaker. With the stewards hesitant and time ticking away Hessenthaler took matters (her matters to be accurate) into his, ahem, own hands and manhandled her off the pitch. He was so angry he equalised moments later and ex-Wimbledon star Agyemang headed a later winner after a comical cock-up at the back before launching himself in to the delirious sun-drenched away end to hug most of the 2200 travelling army of fans.
Thankfully after two consecutive home wins against Brentford and Swansea the game against bottom of the League MK Dons was no longer a must-win six-pointer, just a “it would be great to win, but we mustn’t lose” game – but still it proved to be a memorable afternoon with many echoes of the game nearly two years earlier. Wimbledon might have changed their name to “Milton Keynes Dons” and play in white rather than blue but they remain the pariahs of the footballing world. The concept of franchising remains an abomination in the eyes of all true football fans (that doesn’t include pop-impresarios with big ambitions and even bigger ill-advised mullets), and from the view afforded by the train their new 28,000 white elephant stadium is coming along, but they remain a club without a soul, an immoral carbuncle on the hairy arse of the football world where greed and stupidity are the norm but MK Dons remain a step too far.
In the two years one thing hasn’t changed much though, the Gills are still resoundingly absolutely fecking shite away from home. In the 23 months since the chaotic 2-1 victory the Gills had won just three, yup, three flipping away games (Burnley, Rotherham and Swansea) only one of which was on a Saturday. We were hungry for more…
It might not have been quite the invasion of 2004 but the train up from Kent and then on from Euston was busy with Gills fans. The odd fan boycotted “on principle” but 1,200 or so made it up to the concrete ghost town and invaded the large and airy Wetherspoons just five minutes from the ground. It wasn’t as hot but it was bright, albeit a tad windy, and the mood, aside from blanking any MK Dons “fans” was upbeat. They were bottom, we had Byfield and Jarvis back in the team and the transformation since Bristol City was, well frankly amazing.
The Gills began well enough, they didn’t exactly create a flurry of chances but they looked comfortable on the ball, the passing wasn’t too shabby and the likes of Byfield, Jarvis and Black threatened to make the breakthrough. Brown was forced into a smart save by Brown but the MK Dons going forward were sporadic at best and the Gills trundled along gently dominating without seizing the game by the scruff of the neck.
The mildly content feeling (complacent?) in the away end was shattered on 40 minutes when a Gills free-kick in the MK half came to nothing and they hit us swiftly on the break. Now up to this point the main talking point of the half had been the eccentric performance of unknown referee Carl Boyeson. The poor chap really didn’t have a Scooby Doo, he wasn’t biased in favour of either side, he just got lots of things completely wrong. A cynical foul by the alarmingly unsteady Sancho was given our way; he mystified everyone regularly, and then showed himself up by giving the Franchise mob a bizarre penalty. McLeod sprinted into the box (on our right) but slightly overran the ball, Wallis was goal side and went shoulder to shoulder with him to carefully shepherd the ball out for a routine goal-kick, ushering him away from danger in the modern fashion. McLeod simply lost his footing and stumbled and before you could say, “well done Wallis, that was perfect defending” Mr Boyeson was pointing to the spot. We were flabbergasted. Smith calmly sent Brown the wrong way to give the bottom club hope.
Just before half-time Byfield should have equalised but he headed Black’s perfect cross high, wide and ugly. We couldn’t believe we were losing to the plastic scum, Sancho might have been having “one of those days” but generally we had been on top – was our away goal drought and away win jinx set to continue? It was glum in the queues for the temporary facilities at the break… as for the referee? What a twat!
The Gills got on top early on in the second period and maintained their superiority for much of the half. A stray Dons effort did clip the top of the bar but aside from that it was just a case of whether the Gills could score. With Jarvis causing chaos down the wing, Black instigating some clever movement and Byfield looking like the player we all know he can be…
We should have equalised soon after the break when a splendid Jackman cross was met by the unmarked Black at the far post, he was three yards out but contrived to miss the target (an open goal) completely. Thankfully Byfield showed everyone what to do on 59 minutes with a really special individual finish. A deft ball by Black released Byfield into the box, he was out wide but took the ball on before cutting inside and cleverly slotting the ball in from an acute angle.
We were still bouncing up and down celebrating less than two minutes later when Crofts was fouled on the edge of the box. With neither the MK Dons defenders, nor half the away end really concentrating Black took a cheeky quick free-kick in the style of Thierry Henry. The keeper scrambled across but it was too late and the ball nestled gloriously in the net. Cue pandemonium in the away end, having score ten all season in 19 away games scoring twice in less than two minutes was sensational.
The momentum had completely changed; the Gills went in search of a killer third whilst the MK Dons players and fans looked resigned to yet another defeat (now feck off and go down you scum). Spiller should have put us all out of our misery late on but missed an absolute sitter but it didn’t matter because the Gills held on to record their third win on the trot for the first time since December 2003 (all competitions – two League plus Charlton in the Cup) and December 2002 in the League!
It was only our second away win of the season, the first time since we’d come from behind to win away since MK Dons in 2004 and only our second Saturday away win in that time. More importantly it put the Gills on 50 points, seven clear of the relegation zone and three short of the 53 point mark considered the minimum needed to avoid the drop given our lousy goal-difference. The travelling fans were understandably euphoric and spilled out of the Hockey Stadium singing and dancing with delight. They taunted passing Franchise fans with “AFC Wimbledon” and two new songs from Sky… (The weird darts one and the “Larve, larve it larve” it one).
The station echoed to happy Gills fans partying, the journey back to Euston turned into a jolly old sing song and many headed into London for celebratory drinks. We ended up in De Hems, fantastic Belgian beer, a lovely spring evening, back rubs and three points… the end to a perfect day. Why can’t all away games be this much fun?
Champagne Moment: Serenading the plastic franchise scum supporters at Milton Keynes Central station after the game, the great acoustics echoed loudly as hundreds of Gills fans belted out “AFC Wimbledon, AFC Wimbledon” and “We don’t steal football teams, We don’t steal football teams.”