Saturday 21 April – Gills 3 – 2 Port Vale
An end of season encounter between two mid-table sides looked just that as the two teams strolled around in the April sunshine, seemingly without a care in the world. It looked pretty much as though the malaise had spread to the away end, where the 100 odd Vale fans gave a passable impression of a sparse crowd on day two of a meaningless cricket match. Seldom has Priestfield witnessed such a somnambulant gathering.
The Gills paraded their seventh goalkeeper of the season in the shape of Simon Royce – Kelvin Jack once again handing in a sick note. Chairman Scally’s notes claimed that `there is not a player in the squad (well maybe one) that has not given 100 percent` – the smart money would certainly be on the errant custodian as to whom our esteemed leader was referring. Jack has been a passenger for virtually the whole season – something we can ill afford to repeat next year. Clearly there are two options open to the club – either we pay up his contract and get shot of the waster, or we employ the services of a second goalkeeper. Either way it is going to cost the club the wages of one goalkeeper, but it would plainly be ridiculous to allow the farce of the goalkeeping situation in 06/07 to reoccur.
As the half meandered by, the conversation turned from early 80’s football to legendary and completely insane Bad Manners harmonica player Winston Bazoomies, finally arriving on the subject of obscure on loan goalkeepers. Who remembers such not particularly stalwarts as Lee Harrison, Peter Gleasure, Mark Walton and Lars Hirschfield?
Whilst the Gills spent much of the first hour of the game in cruise control, Vale appeared to be still parked on the drive with the engine turned off. We forced a string of corners, which was bad news for the visitors as they exhibited some alarming Gillingham-esque tendencies in attempting to defend them. It was no real surprise when they finally conceded from a flag kick, Ian Cox being afforded time, space and a virtual invitation to score at will from the Vale defence to head home on 37 minutes.
Eight minutes into the second half the fat lady was preparing to sing, as two Mike Flynn goals – a near poster header and a deflected free kick, established a commanding lead. Then we just stopped playing. The fussy referee took centre stage, awarding the visitors a series of free kicks, and the Gills players simply handed the initiative to Vale.
With 12 to go Danny Whittaker reduced the arrears, and suddenly Vale awoke from their slumbers and buzzed around the Gills box, largely, it has to be said, to little or no effect. In the 4th minute of the 3 minutes added on time (go figure) the diminutive Luke Rodgers went down on the edge of the box, and referee Whitestone pointed to the spot. Leo Constantine smacked the resulting spot kick high into the rigging, but fortunately for a team so adept at throwing away leads in the last few minutes, it was virtually the last kick of the game.
Now it was time for the stewards to take over. Our much admired yellow coats were in charge of an evacuation exercise. This entailed putting a strip of white tape over both Rainham End exits and ushering supporters across the corner of the pitch to the nearest Gordon Road and Medway Stand exits. Some questions about this exercise – Why was there no warning sound and crowd control announcements over the tannoy? Why were fans not routed to the nearest pitch side egress instead of the ones nearest the Rainham End exits (where, if there was a fire, the heat would be most intense)?Clearly these kind of exercises are necessary. Hopefully, as part of their training, the stewards routinely view footage from the Bradford fire and the Hillsborough disaster. It is too easy to be fooled into thinking those kind of events could not happen in a modern stadium.
Champagne Moment:- Vale defender Rhys Weston had one of those can’t compute moments when trying to save a corner. In attempting to turn and put the ball out for a throw he did a 180 degree pirouette, falling backwards onto his arse, legs akimbo. Meanwhile the ball squirted apologetically off his foot, trundled against the flag and out for a corner