Tuesday 21 October – Gills 2 -2 Notts County
For reasons too tedious to mention further I am without a season ticket this year for the first time in 20 years. In fact, to be totally accurate, I have gone from only missing home games through illness or holiday to not going at all in the space of a few months. I think this may have surprised a few people – not least my other half who keeps nagging me to go and not believing me when I say I don’t want to.
I wasn’t planning a Tuesday night visit to Priestfield either, but when former BMH stalwart and now regular match programme contributor Andy Ford said he a spare ticket for the press box (actually, what he said was he had a spare ticket he couldn’t give away!) I thought why not.Thus I found myself being ushered into the stadium by an entirely new route, past security, past the door to Scally’s office (ignoring strong urges to sneak in and do a dump on his desk) and into the `palatial` surroundings of the press room, where I was able to hob nob with the denizens of the local press, Peter Lloyd and.. er… some bloke off the message board, whilst partaking of the complementary sarnies and coffee (but disappointingly no free bar a la boardroom)
It was slightly surreal to gaze out of the window directly down onto the Brian Moore stand, entirely bereft of fans save for a couple of hundred County fans squeezed into the top corner. I imagine it must have been a little chilly up there on a cold and blustering evening. It was certainly a top notch view from the front row of the press box, adjacent to the halfway line, and it was interesting to watch the activities of the two benches, the visiting management team being the most animated, and getting into several conversations with the fourth official. I did, however, feel somewhat detached from events, only partially due to my surroundings. This was my first match at Priestfield since April, as I had missed the last two home games of last season as I was sunning myself in the Canaries at the time. I felt more like a neutral watching a game between two teams I had no particular affinity with and being removed from the passion of the Rainham End only served to increase the feeling. Interestingly, this probably made me see events in an entirely different light. As everyone knows, committed football supporters view games through the sporting equivalent of beer goggles – allowing only the most cock eyed view of proceedings.
I found myself taking a dispassionate view, and concentrating on aspects other than my own desperation to see the Gills score a goal. The feedback I had largely received concerning the Gills performances and the standard of football on show at Priestfield this season was that both were pretty much rubbish (despite the mostly positive home results). I was therefore pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Both sides a least tried to play football, and there was some good link up play in the final third, with Andy Barcham being particularly prominent. Whilst the first goal might have been a bit of a mess – Gary Mulligan bundling home from close range after some defensive uncertainty in the six yard box – the second was a nicely crafted move, with Barcham’s cross being turned crisply home by Nicky Southall.
Sadly, the Gills allowed County straight back in for 2-1 and that was the signal for County to up a gear. The Gills were pushed back for much of the remainder of the game, and it wasn’t a huge surprise when they levelled – even less so that it was the lumbering Facey who got the all important goal. I had been keeping quite a close eye on the former Gills striker – and goal aside, I have to say that he demonstrated why he wasn’t exactly held in high esteem by the Gills support. His movement in the box was non-existent, his running off the ball minimal, and his overall contribution poor. It was an interesting contrast with Gills sub Mark McCammon (also much apparently much maligned by the Gills support), who in his cameo appearance showed enthusiasm, movement and a turn of pace – none of which Facey exhibited throughout last season)
Having said all that, The rotund front man did take his goal impressively, finding the top corner with the outside of his boot – although it has to be said that the defending by Leigh Mills was none too clever, as he allowed the big boned forward to get goal side inside the box, leaving him unable to risk a tackle for fear of conceding a penalty.
So whilst the current Gillingham side did not exactly leave me with the impression that they are full steam ahead on a runaway promotion train, there was plenty here to suggest that they can stay there or thereabouts for the rest of the campaign. Certainly there is none of the feeling of momentum that was around at the commencement of the Pulis revolution, but then perhaps there is not the same hunger amongst the support either. Back in the day, Gillingham had never been to Wembley, never played in the top two divisions and not giant killed a top division side in living memory. We’ve seen all this and more since 1995 – and realistically for a club of our size, what more can we expect (barring a sudden influx of financial muscle).
Champagne moment:- I quite enjoyed Delroy Facey’s first half effort, which drew ironic cheers from the Rainham End. Shame he didn’t do that with his second effort.