Tuesday 4 December – Crewe Alexandra 2 – 3 Gills
Singing “D.I.C.K.O., D.I.C.K.O. – he is D – so direct! He is I – inspirational! He is C – so classy! He is K – such a killer! He is O – outstanding! Ooowwwooohhaah! D.I.C.K.O., D.I.C.K.O.” – 1980’s disco finally hit Crewe on a Tuesday night and how the delirious Gills fans deserved their moment of kitsch jubilation after thirty-six years of hurt at Gresty Road.
Back on the 11th September 1971 Tommy Watson gave the Gills a 1-0 win in the old Division Four. There then followed eleven subsequent trips to Crewe that realised the heady return of three draws and eight defeats. Personally I’d been to eight, two drawn (1-1 thanks to a Perpetuini rocket the highlight), the 4-1 demolition in 04-05 saw the end of the Hessenthaler era and last season saw the Gills capitulate 4-3 having led 3-1. To say Crewe were a bogey side would be putting it politely but thankfully mentally all that history was consigned to the record books as the Gills secured a thrilling and thoroughly deserved win.
As with anything Gills related just as the momentum appears to be swinging back towards the positive on the pitch came the worrying news off the pitch regarding the Scally sell and lease-back plan for Priestfield. Now it might be incredibly cunning and could technically work in the long run but still leaves most fans alarmed and nervously remembering the fate of Maidstone and Brighton. More of that next week, but it shouldn’t be allowed to take the gloss off a famous win secured by one of the goals of the season.
One result of the Stimson revolution is the turnover of players, half the starting outfield players were new, they didn’t have the mental baggage of four years of disasters on the road (since 28th December 2003 in all competitions played 96, won 9, drawn 26 lost 61, goals for 85, goals against 193), it is Year Zero once again for the Gills, just like 1995 under Pulis. The influx of young, ambitious, pacey, players with a point to prove has transformed the ethos of the club in a matter of weeks. The world-weary cynicism has been shoved aside by brash fearless footballers eager to prove a point. Chris Dickson might be on loan at Charlton but was recently playing non-league for Dulwich and yet he looks like the best striker to don a Gills shirt since Marlon King was doing his mean and moody thing down Priestfield way. He would ultimately grab the headlines for his wonder-strike but more importantly given his loan spell finishes before Christmas was the fact that the Gills finished the stronger as a team, they could and really should have added a forth and fifth rather than putting us through the trauma of four added minutes and a flurry of Crewe corners.
The trip up to Crewe on a Tuesday night in December, given our record there and our record everywhere this season, was always going to be one for the hardcore and the exiles. The same old faces gathered in a nearby pub before the game and you could sense the change of tone, if not expectant or confident, then at least the travelling fans didn’t seem resigned to their fate. It might be a subtle change but if you’d asked everyone in the away section at kick-off whether they had faith in what Stimson was and is trying to do they’d have nodded in the affirmative.
We only had to wait eight minutes for our act of faith to be rewarded, a routine corner was crossed into the for Oli to nod against the post before rebounding out, our cheers stuck in our throats for but a moment before Bentley coolly nodded the rebound in to make absolutely sure. This was crucial, not only did it give the players a timely boost to their confidence, but it also meant that Crewe would have to open up and attack which with Dickson lurking on the halfway line even at corners meant we were able to counter-attack with verve and speed. Yup, verve and speed, makes a pleasant change doesn’t it?
It is perhaps harsh to pick out individuals for praise because each and every player contributed significantly to the performance, however mention must be made of Royce who when sporadically called into action was alert and athletic and reassuring and “Windy” Miller whose flowing locks and all-action, no-nonsense approach is rapidly winning him a fan club. Dickson was arrogant and elegant, lethal and speedy, King scarily committed and an obvious leader, Bentley, Thurgood and Oli all had their moments and it was good to see Crofts return to the fold with a solid evening of doing the unglamorous donkey work.
The one real fly in the ointment was the performance of the referee, Graham Laws. He didn’t give us a free kick until virtually half time, he was blind to every Crewe infringement, blithely waving play on or simply turning the universe on its head and awarding the kick to Crewe. The home team weren’t a bad side, neat and tidy enough going forward but they did look vulnerable at the back on the break and we certainly edged the opening half. Unfortunately two minutes before the break Crewe equalised. It was a slick strike but allowing the long throw to bounce inside the box and the inability to clear allowing the ball to be headed back into the path of Moore won’t have pleased Stimson. The well-taken hook shot from twelve yards was more than Crewe really deserved.
I was still digesting the excellent local balti pie when Crewe cheaply took the lead, barely four minutes into the second half, it was enough to give a chap indigestion. Once again the referee deemed the Gills to be the villains of the peace and awarded Alex a free kick out on the wing in midfield. It was lofted into the danger zone, headed across the edge of the box invitingly for Roberts to run on to and drill unerringly into the bottom corner of the net to give Royce no chance.
The defence had converged but he’d connected with nano-seconds to spare and suddenly memories of all my previous trips to Crewe began to haunt me. Significantly the 150 or so travelling fans continued their enthusiastic vocal support throughout rather than slumping in their seats but it was all too familiar until referee Laws decided to momentarily swap sides in the 56th minute and awarded us a mysterious penalty. It wasn’t an incident that had us howling for a spot-kick, to be honest it looked pretty innocuous although the referee indicated a shirt-tug on Dickson after an over-hit cross sailed over his head. I couldn’t look.
Well actually I did look, but feared the worst as the picky referee had to get involved, causing Dickson to initially stutter in his run up before casually sending the keeper the wrong way and passing the ball into the net before running over to us going his wave hand in front of face trick. 2-2, 34 minutes to go, it was anybody’s game. Crewe did have a goal ruled out for offside but the linesman’s flag was up early enough for us to cheer sarcastically as the less observant of the Crewe fans behind one goal (the chav end) celebrated.
Now the Gills had the momentum, you could sense the players were going for the win, no fear, just ambition and pace, power, movement and purpose. Miller was the catalyst round which the renaissance was built, but it took a moment of sheer genius from young Dickson to double the goal tally away from home for the entire season and regain the lead. With 17 minutes remaining goal of the season arrived after a bit of rather scrappy play down the wing. Eventually the ball was played hopefully into the channel to the right of Dickson on the edge of the penalty area, he was closely shadowed by a Crewe defender and yet took just one clever touch to surge into the box, shrugging aside some unwanted attention before catching the ball on the half volley to launch a stunning thunderous belted right footer over the keeper and into the far left top corner of the net from a ridiculously acute angle in true Roy of the Rovers fashion. Okay so the build up wasn’t the same but it certainly had echoes of Van Basten against USSR in the final of Euro ’88 in terms of the acuteness and sheer velocity with which the spherical object was propelled into the onion bag… WOW!
Now last season the Gills found themselves leading away from home on numerous occasions only to collapse late on pathetically in a flurry of goals from the opposition but this time it was different… Rather than sitting back (never the Gills’ speciality) they continued to attack, the extra fitness was obvious and it kicked in, they got stronger as the final minutes ticked by created a string of fine chances to finish off the game with a fourth and fifth, Dickson creamed one effort inches wide and the team squandering several one-on-ones might have brought eternal regret had Crewe scrambled an equaliser in added time from one of their last gasp corners, but they didn’t. Even Facey looked bothered when he came on.
The final whistle – VICTORY – brought understandable celebration from us the fans, but crucially the players, many eager to grasp their first or second chance at League football, looked even more pleased than us. They came over and lapped up the adoration, it had been a long time coming, but the look on their faces mirrored ours. They were elated too. They looked like they care and the bond between fans and players that looked so tenuous only a few weeks ago is thankfully being rebuilt. One win doesn’t make a season and Dickson is due back at the Valley before Christmas but even the most cynical old git can see that things are changing, and changing for the better. Viva la revolution!
Champagne Moment:- It would seem churlish not to give it to the scorer of our goal of the season, so I will, he looked even more pleased by the D.I.C.K.O. song… fantastic.