Charlton from the half-way line…

Saturday 23 September – Oldham Athletic 4-1 Gills

If the Gills aren’t careful soon they’ll be giving schizophrenics a bad name. Even Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were better adjusted… after three highly encouraging wins on the trot that had catapulted the Gills from 22nd to 12th they then went and had a complete horror show at Boundary Park. We would have been fortunate to get “nil” had it not been for a soft penalty on an afternoon almost as pitiful as the two thrashings last season at Colchester and Bristol City.

The day didn’t get off to the greatest of starts when we arrived at Euston to find our Virgin train retimed at short notice (even the staff had only found out that morning!) with the splendid result that half the trains were cancelled and two or three trains worth of people wanted to sit on our one with all the reservations rendered invalid and a scramble for any seat that wasn’t nailed down.

With a “Peace march” scheduled in Manchester for the Labour party conference, and West Ham playing at Manchester City and Watford fans going to Wigan (the more direct route being out of action as per usual) it was carnage, even with 1st class “declassified” we were left with two fold down seats opposite the toilet in first class between three of us – a rota system (forty minutes on, twenty minutes off) was swiftly established as we chatted to those opposite reduced to sitting on the floor for the duration up to Manchester (an interesting mix of Watford Hearts and Spurs fans…). What was commonly known as the “spirit of the Blitz” and now known as “travelling by Virgin trains” soon saw drinks, cakes and conversation flowing amid the grumbling and general wishing a slow and painful death on the bearded one. Feck knows who’d want to travel into space as a tourist with his latest wheeze, you can just see it now, sorry weekend engineering works means you won’t actually be orbiting the earth tomorrow, but the M25 instead…

We eventually arrived in Oldham via the funkiest station bar in the country at Manchester Victoria at 1.30 slightly disorientated by the fact that it was sunny in Oldham… Eventually we reluctantly shuffled into the away end to join the 250 Gills fans sprinkled around the cavernous and bleak stand, I don’t know why but I just didn’t think it was to be our day… and so it turned out.

Oldham began brightly, we began like a sack of shite, they looked up for it, we looked like we’d rather be anywhere else but Boundary Park, even in the sunshine, and four minutes in the long suffering travelling fans were echoing those sentiments – we really were caught cold by a routine Oldham corner that we were incapable of clearing properly. Easton hurriedly failed to get any distance on his kick, the ball was played back in, Flinders and his chums failed to react, the hesitation proved fatal as Haining nipped in to toe-end the loose ball into the roof of the net. What a soft as shite goal to give away. It didn’t look good given the Gills hadn’t got anything out of any game where they’d gone behind since Blackpool back in May!

The early goal didn’t even act as the proverbial kick up the arse the Gills players needed as Oldham simply swarmed all over us. Ironically their second goal came directly from our corner. The short corner routine proved rather too clever for our wretched players, Jarvis lost possession and Oldham broke swiftly down field with no real opposition to speak of, Porter simply forced himself through the middle and trundled an apologetic effort agonizingly into the net. What a shambles, what a farce. Flinders hadn’t exactly covered himself in glory again, but neither had his colleagues.

It continued to be one-way traffic thereafter, it was just a case of damage limitation, Wellens was clearly fouled inside the box for a penalty that the referee missed and they missed a couple of sitters. We were fortunate to go in at the break just the two goals down. It couldn’t get any worse could it?

Well twelve seconds into the second half and we had our answer, a resounding yes. Oldham kicked off; the ball was routinely played diagonally back to their fullback Charlton who rather aimlessly lumped the ball up the field in the general direction of our goal with a vague hope that somebody might chase after it. Unfortunately for the Gills and young Mr Flinders in particular (Ned Flanders would have been more use and he’s imaginary and two-dimensional) the ball then freakishly and rather comically bounced in front of him, looped over him and into the net. The home fans took a moment to realise the full enormity of what happened, their veteran journeyman had scored from fully 70 yards (!) before chortling merrily at our misfortune.

The Gills did respond slightly, Mulligan went down in the box six minutes later to win a penalty that Flynn smashed into the net with plenty of vigour but it wasn’t much of a consolation. We soon found ourselves back under the cosh, Warne missed an open goal and despite a couple of half-hearted efforts by Ndumbu-Nsungu and the hapless Mulligan it was Oldham that added a richly deserved fourth in injury time. Again poor marking allowed Porter time and space to calmly place the ball into the corner of the net. “Easy, easy!” came the cry from the Lactics’ under 10’s and we couldn’t really argue.

The trip home was always going to be a bit of an adventure due to Virgin’s incompetence. With no relatively cheap tickets available we had opted for the via Sheffield on Midland Mainline option, the timings were tight so thanks to OldhamGill who was still cursing his adopted team’s failings we eventually found ourselves in the back of a dodgy minibus driven by a colourful Manchester City fan (Yes he did take great pleasure in mentioning 1999, Weaver, Dickov and all that jazz) whizzing through the mean streets of Greater Manchester to Piccadilly.

We made our train across to Sheffield and our connection home and spent much of it chatting to assorted West Ham, Manchester City, Watford, Tottenham and Forest fans, most of whom logically and logistically shouldn’t have been on that route but were all refugees from Richard Branson’s chronically pathetic attempt to run a railway. Madness really, but then so was this trip to Oldham. I walked in my door a mere eighteen hours and twenty-five minutes after I had left, with warm memories of the bonhomie of the numerous fans we’d encountered but not of our bloody football team. I hope they’d proud of themselves. He still haven’t scored the last goal in a game yet either… Muppets!

Champagne Moment: The moment when Bentley accidentally ran full pelt into referee Kettle and knocked him flying.

The Binman

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