The Luck of the Cup

Saturday November 8 FAC 1 – Bury 0-1 Gills

Oh fuck, fuck, fuck-ety-fuck. You could say I was not happy about the Cup draw. We’d speculated about who we might get the day before the draw and the common consensus was simple; the worst possible draws we could get were all in the North West, either distance wise (Barrow), for difficulty on the pitch mixed with travelling there (Oldham) and then oh boy oh boy it became glaringly obvious, a trip to Gigg Lane.

With a League game scheduled there a fortnight later, with Virgin’s train set in bits, with Kent’s railways in bits, and our record there since our last win (my first visit) in 85-86 reading played nine, won none, drawn one (a shitty midweek 0-0), lost nine! Back in the day when Mehmet and Cochrane were whacking goals in from all angles for fun in a Gills shirt it was just another new obscure northern ground to tick off for me (an entertaining 2-1 win), but all the subsequent visits have been utterly wretched, a series of dire games on crap pitches where we lose by the odd goal… it didn’t matter whether we were top of the League or Bury bottom, it would always be a shite game with no atmosphere and we’d lose. If it got close then a flurry of red cards and dubious penalties would seal the deal, but usually it didn’t need that, just a rumble of inevitability as some clod-hopping Bury player would mangle one into the net via his left buttock and his elbow and we’d return home pointless.

Now I still love the FA Cup and I understand the randomness of the draw but my love was sorely tested when Ossie “you stupid cunt draw it again you mong!” Ardilles plucked out this plum. Most of the away regulars laughed heartily and wished us well, keen to distance themselves from any possibility that they might get dragged into actually going. Even those that would think nothing at going to Burscough at the drop of a hat or pluck of a ball blanched at the thought of Gigg Lane twice in a fortnight which meant that just the four of the usual gang of us ended up going by train from Kent to be part of a sparse away end numbering just 180 for a dour afternoon in greater Manchester.

Having left Kent at stupid o’clock (for me the 6.14 from Canterbury West, a couple of our lot from planet Thanet were an hour ahead of me leaving at very stupid indeed o’clock just to negotiate umpteen engineering works and rail replacement bus services just to get to Victoria) we were happy enough to trundle into Manchester by half twelve having meandered through much of the Black Country at walking speed having paid top dollar at short notice to Virgin for the privilege. We weren’t amused to find even the fecking trams to Bury were subject to engineering works. Finally we made it to Bury Interchange and with time getting on and taxis available for a couple of quid we were soon walking into the rather austere surroundings of Bury social club. The Gills fans were ushered into one part which was prison grey, we watched the second half of the Arsenal vs. Manchester United game in rapped wonderment at the skill, intensity and beauty of the encounter which didn’t really enliven a rather sombre mood. Perhaps it was the knowledge of our scheduled return two weeks hence, perhaps it was memories of what had gone before since 1985 at Gigg Lane. Perhaps it was simply the fact that none of us expected anything else other than yet another rather depressing defeat… I was most certainly anticipating the worst…

It wasn’t much livelier inside Gigg Lane either, with around 9,000 empty blue seats staring back at us and the only real noise made by a couple of hundred young spotty Shakers in the Main Stand to our right (plus drum) it was hard to envisage the game being anything other than a slog. With Southall cup-tied(!?!) and Jackson, McCammon and Royce out we had to make do and mend but the cobbled-together team looked quite solid and organised if nothing else. Sodje showed there were no hard feelings on his side making a point of applauding the travelling fans, an act that wasn’t wholly reciprocated on our part…

The game might have been devoid of any atmosphere but the two teams did attempt to play some decent enough stuff on an excellent playing surface. Miller went close for us whilst Bury had the ball in the net but the referee had long since signalled an infringement. Stand-in Jarrett had his moments, sending one cross invitingly across the face of the goal. The final six minutes of the half were the liveliest with both sides going close, a storming run by Bury’s Bennett thankfully culminated in a wild finish, Julian was then called into urgent action saving a Sodje header and the subsequent rebound. With us hanging on somewhat precariously we actually missed the best chance to score, a long diagonal pass being nodded intelligently back by Mulligan to Barcham but he couldn’t get enough beef on his rather tame header. There was still time for Bury to test Julian again, but Bishop’s snap shot was straight at him so we went in at the break lucky to be level.

The second half wasn’t very different, Bury looked dangerous and won a series of corners but their finishing was all too hurried and shots were of the high, wide and ugly variety. We didn’t object, but as the game wore on and we still weren’t losing my earlier devil may care attitude began to change and I began to care that we didn’t lose. The defence did their bit with Nutter and Fuller energetic if nothing else, but gradually the Gills began to counter-attack with a bit more coordination. The defining moment of the afternoon arrived on 71 minutes, a slick move out of keeping with the rather messy reality of what had gone before, Jarrett cleverly freed Weston down the wing, he took the ball on and sprinted into the Bury half, he arrived into the penalty box at full pelt, reached virtually the goal line and then clipped back a clever cross for Barcham to nod home from six yards. Cue surprise more than anything in the away end – leading? At Bury? Blimey! Now we really had something to hang on to.

Bury responded with far greater urgency and we were under the cosh for much of the remainder of the game. Another flurry of corners were wasted but man of the match Julian did well to deny both Jones and Bennett. Bishop then scuffed a late chance and the sparse travelling army began to sense it really would be our day. To be honest we were lucky, the final whistle brought jolly celebrations but tempered by the knowledge that we’d be back in a fortnight for a crucial League game that most fans would see as a priority. Winning in the Cup is nice but unless it leads to a juicy draw in the 3rd round the likes of Gillingham are just bit part players in that competition whilst we harbour genuine play-off ambitions in League Two. Still better than going there twice and losing twice!

The trip home was fairly cheery, but with only four of us on the train and such a long day it wasn’t really party time and the Thanet mob passed the time by relieving me of all my spare change – card sharps the lot of them! It had hardly been a classic but after managing six clean sheets away from home between May 2004 and the previous week at Moss Rose it was great to witness two away wins and two clean sheets in eight days. We haven’t done that too often in recent years, so at least a modicum of reward for the long suffering away fans at last.

Champagne Moment

The splendidly worked goal, after twenty three years of failure we finally ended the Gigg Lane jinx, albeit perhaps only for a fortnight… well done Gills.


The Cup Tied Binman


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