Sat 20 Sep – Aldershot 2 – 1 Gills
Once again a Gillingham away day ended in anger, frustration, recriminations and no little bemusement but for once it wasn’t the team’s fault, nor Stimson, not even Scally, take a bow the marvellous Hampshire Constabulary! More of those clowns later… which is a shame because the day began so promisingly. Over the last few years we’ve got to know some RC Lens fans. They come over once or twice a year to sample the delights of watching Gillingham Football Club… yes that is correct, they support one of the biggest clubs in France averaging 30,000+, (albeit newly relegated from the top division) and yet they like to experience English football because of the unique authentic flavour and atmosphere… little did Herve and his chums realise what they were letting themselves in for this time!
We left Canterbury East at 9.20, the Lens lads had got up at 4 o’clock in the morning (3 o’clock French time) and come over on the ferry (their original booking on Le Shuttle having not survived the recent blaze) before joining us for the train up to Victoria laden with French and Belgian beer for the rest of us. So far so good, the mood was jovial, optimistic, fun. Spirits were high and Herve, Francoise and Fred were enjoying the banter and anticipating being in an away support for 1,000 which is pretty unheard of in France for all but the biggest four clubs or derby games (even in their equivalent of the Championship less than 100 is the norm and less than ten, yup, TEN, quite common!!!).
We left Waterloo in the company of plenty of other Gills, managing to dodge all the wacky fancy-dressed rugby fans enroute to Twickers for a charity bash, still so far so good, into Aldershot on time at ten to one, smashing. Despite warnings that the locals were distinctly unfriendly there was no bother at the station and we split into two groups. A few of us fancied trying out an obscure real ale pub a mile away, the rest, including the Lens guys couldn’t be bothered and fatefully settled on something closer, the Beehive, and given the local reputation reasoned it was a case of safety in numbers.
We found our pub, the splendid White Lion, they found their pub and all seemed well with the world. We chilled out amongst a scattering of other Gills, locals and Shots fans, they had a bit of a more lively time, singing the odd song and getting into the swing of things. Unfortunately things then began to unravel. We were oblivious really, but back at the Beehive the Aldershot hooligans turned up and attacked the pub. The police, anticipating such an event swiftly arrived, forcing the Gills fans inside the pub and repulsing the aggressors, the home “fans”… The Gills fans were then locked in the pub “for their own safety” which initially seemed fair enough. Now don’t get me wrong, there were a few muppets from Kent there and they were in the Beehive. I have no sympathy for any numpties interested in anything further than a good old sing song and a bit of cheeky banter, but it is the job of the police to deal with any genuine idiots on both sides with a firm but fair hand. Long gone are the days when football fans were all treated like scum and seen as fair game by the police, but on a day of “throwbacks” including shared covered terracing and resident lunatics looking for bother the police decided it was 1985 again too!
As we strolled back towards the ground, keeping a sharp eye out for the local idiots we began to get texts from many of the people we’d travelled up with saying they were locked in the Beehive pub and couldn’t get out. They’d been repeatedly assured by the police that when the streets were clear they’d be escorted to the ground but when some understandably frustrated people tried to escape via the beer garden into the wood they were chased by police dogs and baton twirling police and forced back. All this time the police insisted the pub continue serving beer.
Having survived the evil looks from the locals outside the Le Fontaine pub we clicked through the ancient Aldershot turnstiles and back in time. It was more Ashes to Ashes than Life on Mars, the place has been spruced up a bit with a paint brush and the perimeter fencing has come down but otherwise doesn’t look much different from when I first went there in the mid 80’s. The far end, one step of terracing at the Park End, is now closed and the cavernous shared terrace (East Bank) is no longer shared 50/50 with home fans but more 20/80, but it is still an eccentric relic of a previous era. Wonderful. There might be a plethora of posts holding up the roof and the stadium looks more like an assortment of sheds from an allotment but it has character and atmosphere so is fine by me.
Just before kick-off one of our number arrived with his twelve year old kid, they’d been oh so graciously allowed out of the Beehive because the child had started crying, even then it took a great deal of pleading. Word then came through that the remainder were to be escorted to the ground. Thank heavens for that I thought and concentrated on the game as it kicked-off with Bentley and Crofts back in to stiffen the resolve of the rabble that lost 7-0 at Shrewsbury. The opening exchanges were fairly even, nothing of great significance occurred Crofts put one header wide and Royce saved a long range pot shot.
Then in the thirteenth minute Mark McCammon was sent off. Now what you thought of the challenge appeared to vary depending on your vantage point, those behind the goal including myself thought it a clumsy challenge, a bit foolhardy, a bit late but he was entitled to go for the high lofted ball but clattered only the keeper, a yellow card at worst. Those sunbathing along the side said it looked worse and expected the straight red which is exactly what referee Scott produced with a jaunty flourish. Subsequent viewings on television of the incident from a different angle suggest a bit of both, he went up with his head to honestly win the ball and got there second. A bit harsh but you could also see why the appeal came to nowt, Bull going down like he‘d been shot didn‘t help. Harsh but hardly in the same class as Reading’s “goal” at Watford…
My mood darkened further when some of our mates from the Beehive called to say they were being forcibly put on the next train back to London! “See you in Waterloo” was all they could say. It was surreal, bizarre and disgraceful. I fumed quietly in the sunshine, the game ambled along, the Gills battled hard, attacked sporadically, showed a bit of backbone but struggled to look dangerous. My mind was elsewhere, worrying about Herve and the other Lens fans and feeling terribly sorry for their wasted journey. There were other fans too, long term season ticket holders, peaceful, law abiding, loyal, being “deported” from the town as the game meandered along.
Amid the doom and gloom the Gills did fashion the odd chance, Bentley heading into Daniels’ path (saved) and then frustratingly nodding another Nutter cross against the base of the post and out again (27). The Shots did then spring into life but the superb King blocked their two most dangerous opportunities before a clever spin and shot on the turn saw Grant’s effort hit the post. A Royce parry and inspired block on the line by King meant we went in still level but goalless. We then went in search of some answers.
Predictably there were none forthcoming, the Kent police on duty couldn’t intervene (not their patch), they were pretty sympathetic and more than a little bemused by what had happened outside. The Hampshire police were rather more defensive initially refusing to answer any questions whatsoever but Matt was not going to put up with that (especially the one that ran away) and spent much of the half-time break and start of the second half calmly and politely probing for more answers. Eventually he got them to admit off the record that they had too much power which gave them carte blanche to do what the fuck they like and explain the official complaints procedure but no real answer as to why such radical catch-all indiscriminate action had been used.
I sulked through the second half, fair play to both sets of fans, the 960 in the away end (should have been over 1,000…) and the 3,200 in the home areas generated a lively atmosphere, they might use a drum and a few of the inhabitants of the East Bank might be a tad retarded but I just couldn’t get into the nip and tuck of it all (our wittiest retort “Aldershit, Aldershit”) The Gills defended gamely, Jackson worked tirelessly at the other end to lead the line, with eleven men you’d have fancied the Gills to edge it, but with only ten in the hot sunshine we were indebted to Royce for some smart pieces of goal keeping.
With fifteen minutes to go Aldershot finally broke our resolve. A smart flurry of inter-passing culminated in Hudson taking a deft touch and driving the ball home from about eight yards out. The home fans adjacent to us celebrated with much gusto and no little malevolence, just like the old days. We assumed that was that but then came some late drama to twist the knife further on a thoroughly annoying afternoon. With six minutes remaining we equalised. A long throw was only half cleared, nodded hopefully back into the danger area, flicked on and allowed to bounce with everyone else hesitating Jackson reacted swiftly and nipped in to nod home from six yards. We went fecking mental, the one Shots fan who’d been eyeballing me got a volley of expletives and some old fashioned hand gestures as we pogoed around on the terrace.
Two minutes later he was probably doing the same back to me but I couldn’t bring myself to look… the ball was intelligently squared about twenty yards out, Davies stepped up to drill the ball low, it nicked off man of the match King and trundled agonizingly right into the corner of the net with Royce defeated by inches. It summed up the day really. The locals cavorted merrily, I stared crestfallen at my toes unable to watch much more. Aldershot saw out the final five minutes with professional calm to confirm our defeat and we trooped out of the Recreation Ground less than chuffed. The train journey back to Waterloo would have been sombre but for two kids in Gills shirts cautiously sharing their sweets amid all the grumpy adults…
We finally met up with the bemused Lens contingent at Waterloo, abandoned our plans of a beer in London and headed back to Canterbury determined to show them some proper hospitality… the evening ended with them experiencing a proper English style Saturday night out, Canterbury might not be greatest centre of carnage in England but the glint in Fred’s eye as the umpteenth local woman staggered past him having obviously drunk more than she was wearing saved a little bit of fun from a long and difficult day. Amazingly they want to come back and watch the Gills again despite what happened. If the roles were reversed I’d never set foot in France again…
Champagne Moment:- Well hopefully all the Aldershot police caught some unmentionable disease and dropped dead later that night… other than that not much really. I’ve never seen anything like it, even back in the violent nadir of the mid 80’s. Indiscriminate policing like that simply makes the police look like utter fucking cunts. The didn’t even stop the Aldershot hooligans causing trouble which makes them useless utter fucking cunts. We are looking into making lots of official complaints with the local paper and the Football Supporters Federation very interested. The fans were officially “dispersed” from Aldershot and Hampshire for “alcohol related disorder” which given the fact that some people wanted to “disperse” two hours earlier and that the police insisted the pub kept serving everyone makes a mockery of what happened. Even some of the local police openly conceded that Gills fans were being punished for recent misdeeds of Aldershot fans and that sticking 70 or more largely innocent Gills fans on the next train to Waterloo was easier than dealing with the real problem, a nasty but significant minority of Aldershot fans that still think it is 1985… Oh dear.
The Livid Binman.