Saturday 13th December 2008 CCL2. Barnet 2 Gills 2.
The BMH Christmas party is never dull and so it proved on a day that left most Gills fans with mixed feelings… two points casually tossed away or one stolen with the last kick of the game? Only the end of season tally will tell although if you’d asked most Gills fans pre-match, they were demanding nothing less than victory (probably due to Barnet’s home League record of one win, two draws, six defeats) whilst we‘d just beaten Stockport and had lost just twice in thirteen; ask them again in the 91st minute though with us losing they‘d have gleefully taken a point… which we did. Any regular Gills fan though would be quick to remind anyone listening that the Gills don’t often win away when everyone half expects/demands it.
The trip up the Northern Line was supposed to be a fuck-you Boris party involving copious amounts of spirits disguised as soft drinks in a seasonal two fingers to the bumbling wiff-waff aficionado London mayor and his draconian alcohol ban but it was a bit of a damp squib and we had to settle for careful sips from one measly bottle and some M&S nibbles. The grey skies and teeming rain didn’t exactly lend itself to a party atmosphere, our pre-match pub was perhaps too warm and cosy, the mood upbeat as we contemplated the Villa game but I can’t say we were that confident, perhaps memories of the humiliation the year before in the FA Cup was still fresh in the minds of many. We finally joined the other 1,000 travelling fans, 150 of which were sat rather absurdly in a temporary erection by the corner flag more usually found at county cricket festivals in July than League Two in December. We admired the new home end stand for all of thirty seconds, mentally filed it under “functional” and took our place at the front of the old school covered side terrace.
As to the game, well a curate’s egg really, good in parts, a bit more composure, a little more guile and less complication with the ever crucial final ball and our first half dominance would have yielded an opening goal or two and a rowdy romp in the deluge would have been on the cards but it didn’t and it left us vulnerable to “events dear boy, events”…
Unfortunately it was to be a day of spurned chances and decidedly dubious off-side decisions. “No change there!” I hear you cry but the Gills did begin the game brightly, Barcham, Miller and featured regularly but Jackson didn’t have his finest afternoon, failing to make the most of some juicy chances. Barnet were ordinary, one of the clump of teams that had it not been for the points deductions for financial shenanigans handed out to Luton and Bournemouth would be sweating on their League status. However when they realised that we were trying to play tippy-tappy football in the midst of a tropical downpour and that we’d left our shooting boots at home they sensed an opportunity and got stuck in. It wasn’t pretty or sophisticated but given the conditions not illogical. They made the most of their talents whilst we squandered ours.
It was mostly one-way traffic in the first period, Jackson had one effort ruled out for offside, saw a Barcham cross cleared before it got to him, headed wide, saw a smart shot saved and then as half-time approached muffed two glorious chances to open the floodgates. Simeon first hit the woodwork from close range before missing a routine one-on-one with just the keeper to beat. Barnet had sporadically threatened themselves, heading wide with our defence asleep on the job but then with the game into added time before the break we stumbled badly, enduring a mad two minutes at the back where panicky defending, sliced passes and daft decisions took the shine off what had been a more than acceptable half.
We were still ruminating about whether Jackson’s litany of missed chances would come back to bite us on the bum when it did just that. Twelve seconds. Twelve fucking seconds? How the feck did we manage that? Well Twelve seconds into the second half and mentally the team were still sucking on an orange because they rather dozily allowed Leary to run forward with the ball from half way before unleashing a speculative drive than stunningly only slowed down once buried in the back of our net. The locals were nearly as bemused as we were, a real bolt from the blue (grey) – from complacent expectation to dour indignation in twenty five yards. The mood darkened, expletives flew and as the night drew in and the rain got wetter.
Credit to the Gills, they kept their composure, didn’t panic and set about chasing an equaliser, Barcham, Miller and Jackson ran Barnet ragged but it just wouldn‘t fall for them. It felt like a cup tie – and not in a good way, Jarrett (not his finest hour!) and Miller went close before Barcham appeared to have saved the day and set up a rousing finale (67). He ran in typical fashion into the Barnet box, his initial effort was blocked by a sliding Barnet defender, “handball!” we all roared given he’d done just that, I was still in mid-apoplexy at the dozy linesman in front of us when Barcham coolly collected the rebound before dinking it over the keeper – 1-1. You’d have though the Gills would roar on towards glorious victory but instead they went to sleep at the back, four minutes later Deverdics crossed to the unmarked O’Flynn at the near post to head home – a classical sucker-punch (71). We were mortified and the team went flat. The whole afternoon looked to be unfolding, from high hopes of a jolly win on the road and a piss up in Old London Town to humiliation at the end of the Northern Line was a little too much to stomach. The travelling fans got frustrated and angry, the atmosphere got a tad ugly, we were exasperated, playing a clearly inferior team both on paper and grass and yet again it looked like we’d go home miserable once again…
With time running out the Gills did manage to rouse themselves for one last big push, Southall showed a bit of nouse, winning the ball, chasing lost causes, getting the away fans going again, we were still screaming our frustration after the comically inept Mulligan had blazed the ball wide with the goal at his mercy – our last chance gone. Thankfully Southall hadn’t given up the ghost, he chased down anther lost cause winning a throw just in front of us level with the edge of the penalty area. Richards launched it, Mulligan nodded the ball on and Jackson nipped in to deftly flick the ball over the keeper’s shoulder and into the net. Well we were pretty chuffed I can tell you, the players ran over to where we were cavorting to be engulfed by pissed, drenched but delirious away fans. Jackson had saved the day, not a classic performance by any stretch of the imagination but we’d contrived a “get out of jail” card to keep the bandwagon (charabanc) chugging towards the top seven spots in League Two.
We celebrated back in central London, first stop the Salisbury Public House. Not my favourite because they discriminate against football fans (It’s not the fecking 1980’s you wankers!) but near our curry house destination. I dutifully covered up my Gills shirt and joined our BMH mob only to catch in the corner of my eye one of our number waving frantically. Alan, a well known and respectable forty something thespian had been refused entry… was he pissed? No. Was he wearing football colours? Nope. A pikey cap? Nah. His crime? Tracksuit bottoms (as a drama teacher always ready to get down with the kids at his school his regular garb) – well the pub might be pretty but the service is slow and their attitude stinks, most of all their doorman who was arrogant, goby and smug, one by one we extricated ourselves from the scrum at the bar, told the shit in the suit what we thought of his establishment (there are 100 equally attractive pubs within a five minute stumble) crossed the road and spent our dosh where we were more than welcome. To top the night off we finished with a BMH curry, and amid the “silly hats” theme and shards of chutney-smeared popadoms we handed out the Secret Santa presents (maximum spend £5) and I was chuffed to receive possibly the only homemade Gillingham snowglobe in the entire universe. With Simeon Jackson and Simon King featuring I gleefully shook my prize and dreamt of a second half of a season that might bring a genuine push for promotion after five long years of stagnation.
Champagne Moment:- If I can’t nominate my splendid new Simeon Jackson/Simon King Gills snowglobe then I suppose Jackson’s late intervention right in front of us to save the day is worthy of getting the nod. The Curried Binman.