The Personal Memoirs Of Charlie Westwick, born 1879, The Oldest Gillingham Supporter In The World. (As told to his grandson).
June 1912 to August 1913
The extensive influx of people from the London area in the last two decades of the nineteenth century meant that by 1900 the population of New Brompton was nearing 50,000. There was now a solid area of housing bordered by Watling Street on the south, the Naval Hospital and the Great Lines on the west, Barnsole Road on the east, and the River Medway to the north. It was clear to the local administrators that such a growing population needed a clear local structure to deal with its needs, and after much lobbying in 1903 His Majesty King Edward VII granted the area Borough status. The oldest part of the area was Gillingham Village, which was located down and around the bottom of Strand Hill, and that became the name for the whole Borough.
The Government Commissioners drew the boundaries for the new Borough of Gillingham very widely, taking in the area of Old Brompton, close by the Dockyard Main Gate, and the outlying villages of Rainham, Wigmore, Hempstead and Bredhurst, all of which were separated from New Brompton by several miles of open fields and woodlands. In 1903, Gillingham was the biggest borough in Kent, and the third biggest borough in England. It was a time of fierce local pride, as Grandad remembered.
“Oh it was a real poke in the eye for the snooty City Of Rochester types, and ambitious Chatham wanabees. The Chathamites were particularly upset, because they had always had the intention of incorporating New Brompton into their territory. There were several Local Government Acts passed about that time, and our new borough status gave us all sorts of control over our own affairs, and particularly education arrangements. All that summer, flags were up all over the town, as shops and local businesses held renaming ceremonies, New Brompton’s “only”, “oldest” or “finest” whatever became Gillingham’s “only”, “oldest” or “finest”. My wedding to your Gran in St Mary Magdalene in June 1903, was one of the first to be held in what had now become Gillingham Parish Church.
“There was real pressure to change the name of the club to Gillingham Football Club, but for some reason the Directors were dead against it. They argued that the club would lose its identity. They didn’t seem to realise that it had already lost its identity, because New Brompton didn’t exist any more. A lot of football clubs were changing their names around that time to identify more closely with their local areas, and to tap into local pride. Anyway the Directors eventually put it to the vote at a board meeting in February 1905, and the name change was defeated by five votes to three.
“So the great FA Cup triumph in 1908 was achieved in the name of New Brompton, much to the annoyance of the borough dignitaries. They were probably placated when they found that the flip-side was that the name of the new borough didn’t get associated with failure. As so often happens when you have a wonderful cup run, the league form suffers, and even with Charlie McGibbon’s fourteen goals we finished bottom that season with twenty-five points from 38 games. We took our biggest thrashing when we lost 9-1 away to Bristol Rovers on the opening day of the season. Charlie got our goal of course. Probably our most exciting league game in 1907/8 was a 5-5 draw at Bradford Park Avenue, Charlie got a couple, although what exactly they were doing in the Southern League is any-one’s guess.
“Just as well though, because with them moving the following season to the Northern League, Spurs being elected to the Football League and the Southern League First Division being extended to 20 clubs, we avoided relegation. We were much better that 1908/9 season though, finishing seventh, although this time it was our Cup form that suffered – we were beaten at home in a Sixth Qualifying Round Replay 2-1 by Hastings and St Leonards. 1909/10 was a strange season. We had a couple of real goal-scorers up front – Albert Court with 22, and John Taylor, who we’d signed from Hull City, with 19. They chipped in to a total of 76 league goals in 42 Southern League games. We started off the season by giving Reading a 7-0 thrashing at Priestfield, and won 16 of our 21 home games. But we couldn’t do anything away, we only won three, and got hammered 5-1 at Brighton, 6-2 at Crystal Palace and 7-1 at Northampton.
“Talk about see-saw seasons. In 1910/11, with virtually the same team, we couldn’t score. We only got 38 goals, less than half of the previous season, and finished third from bottom. Court only got 6, and Taylor 9. They did get it together in the FA Cup though. We thumped Royal Engineers 7-0 after a 2-2 draw, John Taylor got five, then after beating Catford South End 4-1 we were in the First Round Proper again, and a chance of some giant-killing because we were drawn at home to Football League First Division Bradford City. Goal-scoring, or lack of it, let us down. We were in charge for most of the game, couldn’t score, and we went down 1-0 to a goal late in the second half. The defeat didn’t look so bad in hindsight as Bradford City went on to win the Cup that year. It was the first time we’d been beaten by the eventual winners.
“Don’t even bother asking me about 1911/12. Financial problems reared their head once again. The bank overdraft had risen to £693, which was way beyond what had been agreed as the guarantee, creditors were everywhere and some of them were threatening to get a winding-up order. The players agreed to defer one-third of their wages. Gates were averaging about 5,000, which wasn’t enough to keep us solvent. We could get twice that for an attractive cup tie, and I think the Directors were hoping for a good cup run to stave off what appeared to be inevitable. Fat chance. We were beaten at home 2-1 by Croydon Common. What a humiliation that was. The players were completely demoralised one way and another and we took some thumpings again – 7-0 at Brighton, 7-1 at Brentford and 8-1 at Exeter. It was a minor miracle that we finished as high as third from bottom. It was an even bigger miracle when the Directors dug the club out of financial trouble. Somehow they managed to raise a second mortgage on the ground, which meant that they could pay off the creditors, settle up the outstanding wages and have a bit of a working cash balance.
“You would think that the Gillingham Borough Councillors would be quite happy to be disassociated from all this mayhem, but in fact they were now really pushing hard for the club to change its name from New Brompton to Gillingham. They saw real advantages with the club being named after the Borough, and by 1912 we were about the only local club not to have changed “New Brompton” in our title. The Directors actually amended the name to “Gillingham Football Club” at a Board Meeting in June 1912 provided they got £20 off of the Council to cover the expense of doing it, and minuted to that effect. They must have notified the Southern League, because all the away sides now considered they were playing Gillingham, and all the results and tables in the paper called us that as well. However, the supporters considered that we were still called New Brompton, and some of them wouldn’t have it any different. It became farcical. For example, when we drew FA Cup Holders Barnsley in the First Round Proper, we told them that New Brompton had held them to a goalless draw in front of over 11,000 people. But in the replay at Barnsley it was Gillingham who turned up, and lost 3-1. How ridiculous is that?
“The whole thing finally got resolved at an Extraordinary General Meeting in the Napier Arms on 17th July 1913. It was a really fiery meeting, we had several “over my dead body” speeches – Aunt Eleanor asked one particular loudmouth who proclaimed himself a “true supporter” if that was an invitation, and baited him further by saying “Up The Gills!”, so he swore at her, then me and Bert threatened to sort him out (I was itching to, I couldn’t stand the bloke) – all good knockabout stuff really. The Directors sort of got agreement to the change, but they needed another meeting on 7th August to finally get it ratified. The whole thing was not very well handled by them in truth.
“On the field in 1912/13 New Brompton/Gillingham gave a better account of themselves than the previous season. We finished sixth from bottom, won 12, drew 10, lost 16. We didn’t set the place alight, but we didn’t take any bad beatings either. There was only one thing you could say about it really.
“Up The Gills!!!!”