Ok, it’s a cliche to be cynical at Christmas. And over the years we’ve had a lot of fun watching the Gills at this time of year, delighting at everything from mental come-backs against Derby to trouncing Palace, last minute winners at The Den to sound thrashings of Fulham. But at BMH, you know we always like to find something to be miserable about….
10. The Pools Panel
My earliest memories of Boxing Day football are from watching Final Score on the BBC, who used rather vulgar green graphics to display the results. Yet in 1978, all the games were coming up in white to denote postponements as the country fell under one of those cold snaps that used to happen before we incinerated the planet. Our game at Colchester fell victim to the Arctic blast, and was finally played in May when the Gills promotion run-in was clobbered by our facing something like two fixtures a day for a fortnight. We drew 2-2 at Layer Road having led 2-0, ran out of steam and were deprived of promotion by a point. In later years, there was nothing more infuriating than a postponed holiday fixture. Rearrangements in February are never as much fun.
9. Floodlight Failure
With the biggest crowd of the season inside Priestfield for a bottom of the table humdinger against Northampton, we needed to put on a show to try to entice more than 2500 through the turnstiles on a more regular basis. But in 1993, everything was going wrong. A cock-up programming the floodlights (or so they said…I wasn’t aware they needed programming. Didn’t they just have switches?) resulted in a tedious 45 minute delay until an electrician on double time turned up with a spanner. There then followed an even more tedious 90 minutes, Gills winning with an own goal, a game in which Liburd Henry was the shining star (just to illustrate just how grim things were in those days).
8. Glanford Park
Why oh why did we get sent to this sterile tip twice running on 27th December in the early 90s? Life on the coach was grim as we clocked up three away wins in over two years (actually, some things don’t change!), there was just Big Al’s mince pies and cheery demeanour to keep us going. In 1991 we lost lamely 2-0, and a year later we were denied a famous victory by an uspeakably hurtful injury time penalty that Harvey Lim all but saved. We let off party poppers in the bogs but we wanted to cry.
7. Working at Christmas
Post student life for me meant shiftwork at Heathrow Airport. Christmas ’92 was something of a classic : late shift on Christmas Eve; dash home to the pub in Strood; late shift with a hangover on Christmas Day which was preceded by having to bump start the car in the pub car park, an act which resulted in the bonnet falling off; Christmas Day on my own in a dank flat in Feltham after another call-out to a delighted AA; 6am shift on Boxing Day and a mad dash to Priestfield for a 3pm kick-off. I turned up at 3.15 just in time to see Gills fall 2-0 behind. We were finally dicked 4-1, were booed off and ended the year bottom of the league. Even wearing a Santa hat that’s no way to have fun.
6. Rubbish Books
In the 70s and 80s the only football book you could realistically hope to receive would be the Shoot or Sun Annual (“It’s Nuts to Brazil but the Game’s Over!”) as there was very little else around. Not that I ever complained, you could never have enough posters of Steve Daley or amusing cartoons featuring snowmen in defensive walls. In 1992 came Fever Pitch and a plethora of quality writing…which soon turned into a deluge of mundane writing, and now everyone’s in on it. The worst I ever got for Christmas was “Football My Arse” by Ricky Tomlinson, billed as the funniest ever book about football but in fact a lazy collection of infantile anecdotes by a comic actor jumping on the bandwagon, exactly the sort of thing an unimaginative shopper would think is a perfect gift for a football loving relative. It was the same year I received three copies of Keane’s first album. Give me the Non-League Directory any day.
5. Early kick-offs
All the best Boxing Day games end in bloodbaths in front of baying crowds under the floodlights as goodwill flies out of the window, a lingering stench of brussel sprout farts engulfing the Rainham End as a result of Steve Lovell stepping up to take a crucial penalty. But the Scally years have generally meant mid-day or 1pm starts, which just isn’t right. Even a full-house against Portsmouth in the Championship didn’t ignite any kind of passion, as everyone looks on in a dour stupor. The only thing more demoralising are early morning kick-offs on New Years Day, as anyone who witnessed a well-known Gills fans ambling around the away end at Roots Hall wearing a vomit-encrusted jumper in 1988 would testify. 3pm against the O’s this year, hurrah!
4. Foul throws
We have a habit of finishing Christmas games with ten, sometimes nine players after a spate of Christmas bookings and the all too common flourishing of the juicy red one. Invariably incendiary incidents, the two that stand out involved foreign objects being flung at the man with the red card : Dave Mehmet chucking his shirt at referee Tony Ward in front of an apoplectic Priestfield after Bobby Davison had handled Derby in front in 1984, to this day one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen; and Iffy Onoura responding to a throw-in going against him by pounding the hapless linesman with the ball as we collapsed 5-1 at Burnley.
3. Maidstone United
We may have long since had the last laugh (despite what a few deluded Stones fans might still think) but you cannot deny what happened in the first Kent league derby in 1989. It was wank. Slightly more wank than when Swindon inflicted our first home defeat of the season at Christmas 1986 in the play-off year, which was still heroically wank in its own right. But not as wank as Mark Gall and chums gurning round Priestfield in the sunshine on that fateful day.
2. Missed Penalties
Used to greatest effect alongside the aforementioned red cards, but a simple penalty kick can wreck a Christmas. Steve Lovell features prominently in any hit parade of penalty misses, fluffing on Boxing Day 1988 against Fulham (lost 0-1), Boxing Day 1989 against the Squatters (1-2), and a year later against Northampton, a game that finished goal-less despite a pantomime performance from Kelvin Morton. But the most hideous saw that freak Yank Ian Feuer save brilliantly from a last ditch Steve Butler kick which condemned us to a 2-1 defeat against Luton in 1996 as everything fell apart. Feuer milked it for all it was worth, which I guess he was entitled to given the rousing abuse he’d received all game.
1. Roy Wood
“When the snowman brings the snow, well he might just like to know, he’s put a great big smile on somebody’s face…” Well of course we all wish it could be Christmas everyday, unless it turns out like Christmas 1987. A 1-1 draw with Bristol City on Boxing Day left Gills languishing in mid-table. A day later, Glyn Riley bagged a hat-trick as Aldershot trollied the Gills 6-0 at The Rec, not the sort of arena you like to find yourself five down inside 39 minutes. Chairman Roy Wood (no, not that one) acted decisively and terminated Keith Peacock’s near seven year reign at the club. An act of such mind-blowing idiocy that it took eight years for the club to recover, a period which saw regular sub 3000 crowds as we camped in the bottom third of the bottom division, near non-league oblivion, bankruptcy and Trevor Aylott leading the attack. Well done Roy.
The Morty Vicker