Feeling sad, feeling down, feeling disillusioned? Well congratulations, you must be a Gills fan then! The fabled 1992-93 side were worse, the 1993-94-95 side were duller, but even back in our darkest days were we never so hamstrung by debt. The elephant in the room remains, it limits everything about our football club, as ever money talks and we’ve been struck dumb, transfer fees are a thing of the past and decent wages to sign quality players nowhere to be seen.
Our post-Christmas slump continues (eight points from eleven games is relegation form by anyone’s standards) and the grumbles about Jepson continue to grow but the real villain of the piece continues to dodge any serious flack. Yup, Paul Scally. Now at any other club the angry fans would have stormed the Blues Rock Café by now, swarmed up into the nether regions of the Medway Stand, cornered our Chairman and chased him out of town. Curiously though the Gillingham support has responded to the current crisis by being, err, apathetic, cynical and melting away.
Gills fans are by and large not a radical lot, not excitable radical extremists, and Scally’s hold over the club both financially (via his shareholding) and literally (in terms of hands on micro-management for the past twelve years) means that many can’t remember what it was like before he rode into town, nor imagine what it might like be after he is gone. The debt is so huge (£10 million at least, possibly as high as £12 million) that we potentially owe the bank £2000 for every man woman and child that regularly attends games at Priestfield this season. That is beyond the realms of bucket shaking, Supporters Trusts and Independent Supporters Clubs. Friends of Gillingham would have to be good mates with the whole of Kent and most of South London to save the day which means a group of very wealthy individuals (or Roman Abramovic’s long lost cousin) coming in with serious cash to burn is the only way things can change for the better.
The other “option” is to continue to muddle along; the latest “news” regarding the stadium project is predictably vague. A 12-14 week feasibility study means no hard information just yet, but then we’ve been fobbed off by these promises for years now. We’ll believe it when we see it and not before, because how in the world does the maths stack up? We sell Priestfield for housing and even the most optimistic estimates won’t see that money clear the debt which then leaves us homeless with virtually no tangible assets and a super-duper stadium to build.
Aside from the lack of a site we have no money to buy the land, or money to build the darn thing. Supposedly other facilities will help pay for the project, but does Medway need another cinema or hotel complex? Is there the demand and is it sustainable? Scally built facilities at Priestfield at huge cost and what happened? Well location, location, location. Priestfield is more than adequate as a football stadium for Gillingham Football Club but you wouldn’t want to get married there! The corporate entertainment and conferencing industry is highly competitive and we don’t appear to have the expertise to make our “additional revenue steams” count for much. For the last ten years our turnover has mirrored our success on the pitch, which is logical really, our core business is FOOTBALL!
Say Scally does get the project beyond the fantasy stage it will have to be with the help of other companies, which then begs the question will we actually own any of the new stadium? Will we be tenants or genuine stakeholders? If we end up renting an arena then it will leave us in a precarious position should we ever hit choppy financial waters again. It really would be a case of selling off the family silver. Given Scally’s record thus far generating extra revenue streams you would be filled with confidence would you? He appears to have an unshakable faith in the drawing power of a new stadium but the bottom line as ever in football is success on the pitch. Continue to have a shite teams playing crap football and losing game after game and the new potential plastic supporters soon melt away back to shopping at Bluewater. The corporate fans are even more fickle when the quality of the football is crap leaving as ever the dwindling hardcore to sustain the entire club.
Now what Scally is trying to do is in itself logical because he has nowhere else to go if he wants to retain control of the club, but that doesn’t mean that is the best and only option. The bank could well force his hand soon anyway, even by his own admission Scally is struggling to pay the interest payments, but perhaps it is time the remaining Gillingham fans began to ask some crucial questions. Fundamentally the maths does not stack up. Building three new stands and splurging on wages for a couple of years in the Championship goes not explain the mess we are now in. Neither does the ITV Digital debacle – as at the very most it cost us £2 million. All the other Championship clubs suffered at the time but how many are now in our situation?
Think of the money that has been generated over the years, our highest crowds for a generation, our highest prices ever, the best television deals in our history, two trips to Wembley, the share issue, the sale of Corbett, Akinbiyi, Bob Taylor, King, Agyemang, Henderson, several FA Cup and League Cup runs, the stuff of dreams for a club the size of Gillingham and yet we lose £10 million pounds? That is monumental financial mismanagement on a quite remarkable scale. Before the three stands were built they were costed and the budget for all three was around £6 million. Given the higher prices charged to sit in the new stands, the extra ancillary facilities including the Blues Rock not to mention the grants given by the Football Trust then like new stands built at virtually every lower division club they should have been an affordable asset rather than a potentially lethal millstone, particularly when we were supposedly still in the black after the Gordon Road Stand and Rainham End were finished.
We are now locked into a downward spiral that has engulfed many clubs before us, how low we will sink is unclear, but for the last two and a bit months of the season we need to focus on one thing – avoiding relegation to League Two. Now our form has been patchy, unconvincing, the goals have dried up and Matty Jarvis is now finding himself double-marked. Chorley, Southall and Larrieu have all strengthened our notoriously porous defence but individual errors continue to haunt us with Jackman at fault at Northampton and Chorley at home to Brighton. Big Bad Baz came back to haunt us but lets be honest he was never going to be a long term solution so good riddance.
Well also need to keep cool, at the time of writing we are 17th, five points clear of the relegation zone. It is still in our own hands. We probably need to get a minimum of 52 points to avoid the drop, which is ten more from twelve games. It should be doable but the next two home games against Blackpool and Crewe will be crucial. Take one point or less from those and the pressure really will be on with three of our next four away and with the likes of Bristol City and Yeovil to visit Priestfield at the season’s climax.
Hopefully the fans will stir themselves, it would be nice to see Scally try to boost crowds for the crucial run in, Friends for Fiver, Kids a Quid, anything to get more bums on seats to boost the atmosphere. As it is Scally will have some very delicate calculations to make soon regarding ticket prices. Relegation would see them collapse whatever he did, but if we do stay up but lose Jarvis how is he going to tempt fans to renew? The pricing will have to be very competitive, but he is desperate for the income and thus he is stuck between a rock and a very hard place of his own making.
With half the squad’s contracts due to finish in the summer there will no doubt be another clearout but if we are left to scratch about for free transfers and other club’s rejects and only able to offer modest wages then it is hard to see how the results will improve next season. The other question is whether Jepson is the right man for the job? He certainly hasn’t got Tony Pulis’ knack of organizing a defence! We all realise he hasn’t got much quality to work with but many feel he isn’t getting the best out of the players. If we can look half decent at home why are we such a rabble on the road? They are the same players and yet it is Jekyll and Hyde all the time, even within games. Where is the consistency? Where is the motivation? Where is the tactical organisation? He isn’t doing a bad job perhaps, but not a great one either. If he is incapable of halting our slide he will deserve to get the boot in the summer for sure.
Anyway back to the job at hand, staying up. March (oh no “Mad March”!) will be a pivotal month. A couple of wins and we’ll be back into lower mid-table mediocrity, keep losing and we’ll find our selves deep in trouble, relegation a probability rather than a possibility. We all appreciate it is pretty soul-destroying at the moment being a Gills fan but we all need to hang in there and fight like fury to ensure the nightmare scenario of relegation back to square one is avoided. By all means go to the Fans Forum and ask Scally some very pertinent questions, it would be great to put him on the spot and get some answers, but we won’t be holding our breath!
It would also be great to see more people cheering us on at away games, understandably our away support has collapsed somewhat, probably something to do with having a horrendous away record for the fourth year running, but just like 2003-04 when a late slump very nearly cost us everything, we need to help galvanise our players. They aren’t very good, their confidence is fragile, they let us down on a regular basis but they are good enough to pick up ten points to avoid the drop. Let us all try to avoid the internal bickering and cheer them on – they’re all we’ve got! A bit of momentum would soon see us clear, so time for us to unite and do what fans do; SUPPORT the team! At least one extra person will be doing just that at Priestfield for the rest of the campaign… Welcome Back Big Al!
Up The Gills!