16 August 2008 – Gills 0-1 Luton Town
After the Bournemouth game I wrote that the numbers showing up to support the club demonstrated a willingness to give it their best shot, but that the goodwill was on a knife-edge and that it could evaporate within a fortnight. Well, it seemed I was being wildly optimistic, as a poisonous response greeted our first home defeat. Though sadly, as is often the case with Gills fans, many were all-too-ready to slag everyone and everything off long before half-time in a thoroughly miserable afternoon.
Firstly the football. I won’t pretend it was great because it wasn’t. We gave away an all-too-predictable sloppy goal while new boy Mills and King were still meeting and greeting, and then were too ponderous to break down a side that defended strongly in depth. We had all the possession and plenty of chances (though few really clear cut), and an unbelievable triple miss in the six yard box in the second half sealed our fate. We could easily have won, but the fact is we didn’t.
McCammon didn’t cover himself in glory on his home debut, and Mills didn’t appear to bring anything that we haven’t already got in Richards. The two fullbacks didn’t move the ball forward quickly enough and I still think Fuller lacks quality as well as pace, but he hasn’t really been tested much defensively yet. The obvious problem, however, was in midfield. Crofts needs to get a grip and sort things out, it’s his job as captain. But though on borrowed time he still has a role to play. Bentley, in my opinion, sadly doesn’t, or certainly not beyond a squad player. I like him but don’t see him fitting in as centre back, central midfield or out wide. We have a lot of pace in the side (Berry, Jackson, even Oli) but we didn’t use their strengths, and that’s because things get clogged in the middle. When Weston came on we suddenly moved the ball out wide far more swiftly, though it was all too late by then.
Jackson’s approach play is fine and Oli showed some nice touches, but it’s not hurting anyone. Berry looks a real exciting prospect – he reminds me a bit of Andy Perry who showed so much promise in 1988 before being unceremoniously clogged out of a career by Shane Westley at Southend. He’s got the ability and intelligence to get past anyone, he just needs a little more finesse with his delivery.
Replace Fuller (possibly), replace Bentley (definitely), allow Jackson and McCammon some time to gel, get the wingers into the game and work out how best to use the more clever players like Miller and Weston, and I think we’ll be fine. Stimson knows all this.
Yet there are so many twats seeking instant gratification that even in the middle of August they think they’ve seen enough. McCammon and Jackson were both accused of being lazy within half an hour. Lazy like Byfield and Marlon King and Dennis Bailey and Nyron. No-one ever accused Bentley or Bob Taylor or Martin Robinson or Terry Cochrane of being lazy. Then the Stimson abuse started – it relented for much of the second half as the crowd spurred the team on but as frustration crept in it became increasingly vocal and personal. When we passed and passed and passed, the screams came to get the ball forward. When it was hoofed forward, the dissent was even stronger.
We have been in decline for five years and we shouldn’t be putting up with rubbish. But we have to remember that the period 1995 – 2003 represented unprecedented success in our history. The club is traditionally useless, and were far worse than we are now as recently as 1994, when we certainly had no-one with the ability of Simon King or Simeone Jackson. Yet if you are under 20 years of age, you probably grew up knowing nothing other than phenomenal success and famous names coming to Priestfield. Well, get a reality check. We’ve got to arrest the decline and it won’t be pretty. But appointing our 6th manager in four years after a week of the season is not the answer. Football history is littered with clubs making a laughing stock of themselves doing just that (Newcastle seem to manage it every other season). A lot of our fragility is around confidence and if it’s not shattered already then it soon will be. I remember 1989 when after several goalless games we smashed Southend 5-0. In 1998 we were struggling to make any impact and Bob Taylor was being written off, but a 4-0 demolition of Wrexham kick started our season. A year later it was the same story before Wrexham again were beaten 5-1 and we were up and running. In each case the weight lifted and we went on successful runs.
We could easily have four or six points from the opening two games, both against sides who technically finished above us last season. But many Gillingham fans now only respond to what they see in rabid knee-jerk opinions (Mulligan is greeted as a long-lost hero, just weeks after he was subjected to frightful personal abuse in the friendlies). If things are still going wrong at the end of September then there will be plenty gleefully telling me they told me so, but Christ, have some patience.
To round off a thoroughly depressing afternoon, I drove past the station to see the police mopping up the aftermath of more trouble, with a couple of dozen twats (wearing no colours but all the cliched casual gear) posturing and gurning. Where have these retards suddenly come from? Or have I missed something and they’ve always been lurking in the background?
Not much to cheer but I got some amusement from Jambo and Shakey Shearer sitting in front of me threatening to burn the absent (at Lords) Binman’s season ticket in protest…
The Morty Vicker