Well I’ve held off writing this month’s Headitorial in the hope that something, just something positive, nice, or even just not really shite might happen to prevent is being another totally miserable piece on the slow but inevitable decline of Gillingham Football Club
Back in early August before the first ball had been struck in anger none of us really knew how the season was going to pan out. With half a team shipped out and replaced by several people we had actually heard of pre-season optimism was, if not rife, then not totally ruled out before the trip to Cheltenham. A few alarm bells had been set jangling by the pathetic 5-0 friendly gubbing by Charlton at Priestfield, but the 4-2 win over Colchester steadied the nerves of most
What has happened since had pretty much been a slow motion car-crash. Where do you start? Well I suppose with the departure of Ronnie Jepson. We all appreciated he was dealt a difficult hand when he took over from Cooper. A club suffering the hangover from hell after relegation, bereft of money, deeply in debt and saddled with some distinctly mediocre players. “Judge me” he said once he’d had the opportunity to bring in his own players and build his own team… well that dear Gills fans was ultimately his downfall.
We gave him the benefit of the doubt previously because of the situation he inherited, and at the tail end of 05-06 the six straight wins, including a vibrant and boisterous win over champions-elect Southend at Roots Hall, gave everyone hope for the future. Two years later the self same fixture proved to be his last. Easter 2005 the team still included the likes of Brown, Jarvis and Byfield, with Black influential on loan. Fast-forward to 8th of September 2007 and the only conclusion to be drawn was that the team out on the pitch and the squad from which he could select the starting eleven was significantly weaker in all areas.
The goal-keeping position is uncertain, the defence notoriously accident prone and porous, the midfield ponderous and lacking in imagination and the attack toothless and slow. Not a great combination, even in League One… What hurt even more was the lack off passion, commitment and organisation on show. Gills fans can forgive lack of ability up to a point if players put in the fabled 100%, but 50% doesn’t cut it… Rumours were Jepson had “lost” the dressing room due to his bullying behaviour and lack of tactical awareness – how much of this is actually true we might never know – but what he had done was “lose” the fans.
Gillingham supporters that travel up and down the country to watch their team aren’t unrealistic, they’ve been pretty forgiving over the last three and a half years of continuous disasters on the road, but ultimately their patience wore out. “Fuck-off Jepson”, “Ronnie and Scally are taking us down”, “Scally thinks we’re going up!” “What a load of rubbish” and “You’re not fit to wear the shirt!” became regular chants for the dwindling band of distinctly disillusioned fans occupying the away end at Luton and Southend. There was no respect there; it was all quite poisonous and unforgiving, hostile and heartfelt. The poor bloody infantry had bloody well had enough. I don’t bloody well blame them either
If you’re reading this you will be fully aware of the deficiencies in the team, lack of pace in all areas being a key factor, but ultimately the Jepson situation is more a symptom of the malaise within the club than the root cause. Clearly if we’d had Pulis in charge we’d be better organised at the back, if was here the tactics would have been more measured and sophisticated and even under Hessenthaler they’d have been motivated to try their best if nothing else. Sadly ability-wise there is little else. The bottom line is the team that Jepson built are mostly fucking appalling. He didn’t have much money to spend (then blew all £200,000 on one signing – you figure that one out!) and I think in a better side King, Sodje and Graham would be half-decent players – but in the shambles they find themselves in none has shone that brightly. The less said about Lomas and Brown the better (except perhaps “goodbye”) whilst Facey is a big lumbering trier partnered with another svelte but equally goal-shy trier Mulligan. The team is slow and lacking in imagination to such a degree that they don’t even compare favourably with the class of 88-89 (relegated) or 92-93 (nearly relegated)! No players with the magic touch of Peacock, Lovell or Forster now wear a blue shirt, in fact it is arguably the least charismatic, least exciting most ponderous bunch of not very gifted players we’ve ever had the misfortune to witness. No more heroes anymore – that is for sure!
Ultimately though where does the responsibility lie? We can blame Jepson for some of his buys and his lack of tactical nouse or inspiration, but even with Iffy and the Doc at the helm at Forest, and despite playing a negative 4-5-1 and seeing some inspired last-ditch defensive blocks and saves, we lost easily 4-0 at and couldn’t have complained if it had been ten. Gradually the finger of blame is beginning to point at Paul Scally. Not just the usual suspects, not just the cynics and the moaners, but all sorts of ordinary fans. There is nobody else left to blame. Scally continues to make vague promises about stadiums, promotion and a better future but at the moment that feels like a cruel fantasy.
The harsh facts are simple, the Gills have a dreadful squad of players lacking in confidence, no manager, a huge debt (£12 million and counting) and no obvious way out of a very deep and dark hole. The fans are starting to revolt against the decay – either they are voting with their feet and wallets and staying away or turning up ready to berate the team and all that goes with it the minute things go wrong. With Leeds, Orient and Swindon to come the new manager, whoever that might be will have an almost impossible task on their hands to do anything more than try to avoid the drop.
At the moment we look like classic relegation candidates and the statistics away from home over the last three and a half years tend to suggest there is something deeply rotten at the core of Gillingham Football Club. Since the 28th of December 2003, when Kevin James slammed a 90th minute winner into the top corner of the Millwall net, the Gills have played 84 away games in the League, winning just 9, drawing 25 and losing 50, scoring 75 goals and conceding 163 (virtually two per game!) Add to that the 7 straight defeats away in cup competitions, the fact that we’ve conceded three goals or more 28 times in those 91 games and conceded result-changing goals in the last five minutes of 15 games and it means understandably that finally the travelling fans have had enough.
Remember Crewe 1-4, Burscough 2-3, Colchester 0-5, Bristol City 0-6, Bradford 2-4, Oldham 1-4, Orient 3-3, Crewe 3-4, Millwall 1-4, Carlisle 0-5, Southend 0-3 and Forest 0-4 and you begin to understand that at the moment on the road the rabble purporting to be Gillingham Football Club players are indeed “not fit to wear the shirt! The fans are finally revolting (in more ways than one) but whether the anger, frustration, contempt and derision that has been aimed at Jepson and the players will ever be directed at Paul Scally remains to be seen. My guess it won’t be long now, another couple of really gutless trouncings at home should do it…. Obviously threatening the status quo could backfire but doing nothing is no longer an option unless you count relegation to League Two as one of your “things to do” for 2008.