Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Gillingham 1 Wycombe Wanderers 1

Match 35/08/719 - Sunday, 28th December 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Weston 84
Wycombe Wanderers (1) 1 Lewis o.g. 31
Att. 5,979

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,885

Match Report

So Father Christmas came and went and the child Gillingham Football Club was left slightly disappointed with the contents of her Christmas stocking.

In times of credit crunch and recession that children do not understand, she had high expectations. She had done her bit, her behaviour had improved prior to the big day, putting behind her a bit of contrary temperament from a few months earlier.

Unfortunately Santa has a long memory and punished said child for her misdemeanours. It was not that he left her socking entirely empty it just didn’t hold the goodies for which she had hoped and thought she deserved.

Her first present from an old auntie in West London came in the shape of woolly jumper. It was of a nice style, not tacky in the time ordered Christmas fashion, but unfortunately it just did not fit. Auntie, being a bit absent of mind, had not offered the receipt and the present could not be returned, our child would just have to grin and bear it.

Plunging her hand back in the stocking she came across something that was badly wrapped and, to be quite honest, smelled absolutely shocking. On further examination she found some fruit that had long since passed its sell-by date. What on earth had she done to receive such a present and who could of sent it, was it a joke? Retrieving the badly written tag she saw that it was from a cousin from the East End of London, one that she had not visited for many years. His Dad had a vegetable stall in the market and a warped sense of humour.

By now she is in despair, but there is one small package from a rich Uncle in leafy Buckinghamshire. Uncle Peter was close and had always been good to the family. She found that the package contained a small jewel. It was beautiful, it looked a pure diamond. But unfortunately even Uncle Peter was touched by the downturn and on closer inspection the diamond was flawed and while far from worthless, once again it was not quite what she hoped.

So she has been quietly disappointed, but there was a silver lining on the horizon. One of her mega-rich aunts from the Midlands is coming down to spend New Year. Her present has been kept under wraps, could it be that 2009 might be the start of something much better. The lessons have to be learned, to get the presents for which you crave, you have to be good all year long.

And the game on the day:

The official site gave the possession as Gills 44% WW 56%, which I find quite frankly bemusing. I thought the first half was fairly even and we certainly didn't deserve to go in a goal down. Second half was one way traffic with Wycombe showing why they are top of the table, a team that manages to pick up a point after taking such a pounding will inevitably be top or near top come the end of the season.

Thankfully some sort of justice prevailed with an excellent Weston strike. I thought Adam Miller took the captain's armband and performed both admirably and responsibly, Weston was back to his best and Trigger showed that he is wasted at full back. Sadly Miller still polarises opinions and there are still people who are on his back, it appears that this is not going to change.

The Wycombe back four were far too strong for Jackson, who I thought resorted to going down far too easily.

Hundred per cent better than Boxing Day and a good game to boot.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Dagenham 2 Gillingham 0

Match 34/08/718 - Friday, 26th December 2008 - League Two

Dagenham and Redbridge (1) 2 Strevens 1 Benson 50
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 2,844

Entrance: £16
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 88/3,840

Match Report

Over 1,100 Gillingham fans gave up the comfort of their armchairs in their centrally heated sitting rooms to brave a six mile crawl to the Dartford Tunnel, freezing temperatures and poor viewing conditions only to be rewarded with a display as inept as those suffered in the larger defeats at Shrewsbury and Exeter.

Take your choice of adjective, woeful, wretched, appalling or just plain lousy, because they all perfectly describe Gillingham’s performance at Victoria Road this afternoon.

Things could not have started worse, a goal conceded in just 20 seconds and it failed to improve from that low point. I’m going to struggle to describe the goal such was the poor vantage point that I had, but firstly how do you manage to concede so quickly given that you have the ball from the kick off? Having lost it, the ball was pumped forward, Garry Richards and Alan Julian dithered and Ben Strevens got in between them to roll the ball in, off a post. Strevens and his partner Paul Benson have scored plenty this season, but this was pure charity.

Gillingham went on to have an equal share of possession in the first half. This is not a compliment, Dagenham were awful and for Gillingham to fashion just one shot on goal, a weak effort from Albert Jarrett is a testament to the pathetic 45 minutes put in by the visitors. They did have the ball in the net from a Adam Miller header, but the flag had long since been shown by the linesman. It had been a half when as a spectator you were aware that it was getting colder and colder because there was nothing happening on the pitch to divert your attention.

Surely the second half could not be any worse. Wrong. Five minutes into the half and Benson added a second. He picked the ball up deep into Gillingham’s half on he right hand side, unchallenged he shot across the face of Julian’s goal into the bottom right corner. Once again the angle of my view wasn’t great, but it certainly looked that the keeper could have done a whole lot better. Julian’s inclusion had been a surprise, Simon Royce was on the bench, so it didn’t appear to be an enforced selection.

After 52 minutes another of Stimson contentious selections was finally substituted. Albert Jarrett produced another performance of stunning nothingness. Misplaced passes, the odd run into the inevitable cul-de-sac and the lack of understanding of the winger’s role in supporting his full back, turns his selection into a team playing with ten men from the first whistle.

Dagenham now had the game in their control, sadly for the home support they were far from good enough to inflict on their visitors a far bigger humiliation. Benson wasted a better chance than the one from which he scored and Nicky Southall forced Tony Roberts into his only meaningful save of the game, comfortably catching an on target free kick.

A train of thought is that Gillingham’s minds are elsewhere with the upcoming FA Cup tie, could it be that no bookings show a lack of application that could be said to have been apparent. League leaders Wycombe are the last opponents of this Christmas period and if the one point gained against Brentford is to be our sum total, then the Villa game might be seen as a costly distraction.

The mouthful that is the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium is typical of football grounds of clubs recently promoted from non-league. I last visited this stadium forty years ago on an equally cold, in fact snowbound, first round FA Cup day. Since then they have added a functional grandstand in that prefabricated style seen all too often. We were housed in the terracing behind the goal that had not enough height to make viewing pleasurable. Opposite the new stand is a length of covered terracing that has survived from that 1968 visit.

Back home the left over turkey was accompanied with a dollop of piccallili, how ironic that our turkeys also left a sour taste.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Gillingham 1 Brentford 1

Match 33/08/717 - Saturday, 20th December 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 60
Brentford (1) 1 McDonald 28
Att. 5,521

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,752

Match Report

Gillingham extended their unbeaten home sequence to 10 games with a stirring second half performance to earn a well-deserved point.

Brentford went into the break a goal to the good following a defensive nightmare for the Gillingham central defensive pairing. First a poor backward header from Garry Richards saw Simon Royce charging from his goal but failing to get to the ball before it was put across the face of the goal. Simon King appeared to be in a position to clear the ball, but he somehow could not adjust his feet and the ball rolled to Charlie McDonald who had the easiest of tap ins. To be fair, despite the nature of the goal, Brentford were good value for their lead. The Gillingham faithful had to endure rather than enjoy a first half in which they were second best and by quite some margin.

A very different Gillingham emerged from the dressing room for the second half. Attacking the Rainham End a couple of chances were forged for Simeon Jackson before the top scorer got onto the score sheet with a stooping header following a Mark Bentley flick on. The home side were now very much the dominant side and Andy Barcham was inches wide when a ball rebounded off him.

Brentford were reduced to ten men with 20 minutes to go after a mass brawl erupted, which from a distance was seemingly out of nothing. A couple of players seem to tangle on the ground and within seconds it was all kicking off. Nathan Elder was eventually shown the red card, but in the melee the referee did well to pick out a perpetrator, or did he guess?

With the man advantage Gillingham took the game to their visitors, who then had their keeper Ben Hamer to thank for safeguarding their point with a couple of excellent saves.

Late in the game Gillingham skipper Barry Fuller was also red carded for an innocuous challenge that he had no real reason to make. Perhaps the red mist was still down from the brawl in which he picked up a yellow card. Whatever the reason it was a foul that has cost him a suspension ruling him out of the Aston Villa cup tie.

Whilst the FA Cup game is money-making and prestigious, this Christmas period could be pivotal in the quest for promotion. Today was the first of three games against opposition in a similar or better position than ourselves, I hope that the players’ focus is going to be on the game in front of them, not one in the future.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Gillingham Reserves 2 QPR Reserves 2

Match 32/08/716 - Wednesday, 17th December 2008 -
Football Combination

Gillingham Reserves (0) 2 Cahill 64, Rooney 70
QPR Reserves (2) 2 Di Carmine 9, Ledesma 30
Att. 200 approx

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: Free
Mileage: 45/3,707

Match Report

Good afternoon's entertainment in bright sunshine that left the linesman on the Medway Stand side wearing a cap.

Dennis Oli returned and played well, looking sharp and enthusiastic. He put so much into the first half I was guessing that he was only going to play 45, but he went on to play 75, a good shift put in.

Of the triallists, the Aussie Cahill scored a brilliant free kick and showed a bit more than Micah Hyde, who I thought was "no better than what we've got!". The full back, Joe Howe, presently non-contract at Fisher Athletic, looked better going forward than backwards, but did OK.

Whether any of them a worth a second look, I have my doubts.

Early in the game, QPR cut through the Gills back line with some neat passing and a last gasp challenge from Connor Essam saved a certain scoring chance, but the ball broke to the QPR forwards and from here Alan Julian made two superb stops.

QPR controlled the first half and despite Andy Pugh hitting a post with a header, the West Londoners could have been more than two goals to the good come half time.

But credit to our Ressies as they came back strongly. Following Cahill's strike, Stuart Lewis made a good interception and slotted a pass to Luke Rooney who finished with the composure of his more illustrious namesake.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Barnet 2 Gillingham 2

Match 31/08/715 - Saturday, 13th December 2008 - League Two

Barnet (0) 2 Leary 46, O'Flynn 70
Gillingham (0) 2 Barcham 68, Jackson 90
Att. 2,248

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 156/3,662

Match Report

Just over one year on from an FA Cup defeat at Underhill that was met with angry derision from their own supporters, Gillingham produced a far better performance but a just as disappointing result from this afternoon’s League Two encounter. Gillingham’s away form is such that no result can ever be taken as a given, but Barnet’s dreadful home record, just one win from nine home games, left the Gills in the unusual position of bookies favourites.

Ultimately it took a 93rd minute equaliser from Simeon Jackson to earn Gillingham a point from a game that they largely dominated, but so nearly lost.

High on confidence from their FA Cup victory at Stockport, Gillingham, and Adam Miller in particular tore into their opponents from the kick off. He surged deep into the opposing half but his pass was cut out, sadly when Barnet’s Michael Leary copied the move 45 minutes later his outcome was more successful.

Miller had set the tempo for the early stages of the first half. Andy Barcham was wreaking havoc down the left side, skinning his full back time and again. It could only be time before the visitors got their noses in front and from there go on to an easy victory. But it didn’t happen. Jackson had the ball in the net after 20 minutes but was ruled offside and five minutes before half time a inch perfect through ball from Miller saw him one-on-one with the keeper, but he failed to take the chance.

However, it was not all one-way traffic as Adomah missed with a close range header and long range shot that was deflected narrowly went wide.

Gillingham’s impressive away support, almost a thousand strong, were stunned within 12 seconds of the restart. Leary literally ran down the hill unchallenged, got to within 30 yards of the goal and let fly with a shot that had Simon Royce groping thin air.

A couple of chances came and went before Barcham, who had been quieter than in those first 20 minutes, collected in midfield and ran across the face of the goal, his first shot appeared to have been blocked with the hands of a Barnet defender but the ball broke to him and he drove home confidently.

The joy was short lived as Gillingham fell for the old sucker punch of a lack of concentration following their goal. A cross from the left was met by the unmarked John O’Flynn who headed in from close range. It was a terrible goal to concede.

As the clock ticked into injury time, the visitors fashioned an equaliser with the two substitutes instrumental in its making. Firstly Nicky Southall, on for Albert Jarrett, who for an hour was quite frankly awful, won a throw in with some determined play. Gary Richards threw it long, Mulligan (on for Bentley) nodded on and Jackson reacted quickly to turn it home from four yards. Cue a relieved celebration from team and support alike.

So a couple of points lost, or one gained, at a rain-soaked Underhill, that has housed Barnet for a over a 100 years and their relocation battle with the local council continues. This season has seen a minor ground improvement with a small temporary stand that housed 150 of the Gillingham support under a tarpaulin cover. The sloping pitch that had a lush look to it held a lot of water that had players splashing their way through the puddles.

Royce, King, Bentley and Southall are the only players that remain from the shameful FA Cup exit of last season and for them today’s cheers, albeit of relief, from the Gillingham support will erase some of the memories from that dark day.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Gillingham 2 Chesterfield 1

Match 30/08/714 - Saturday, 6th December 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 2 Miller 18, Jackson 45
Chesterfield (0) 1 Lester 60
Att. 4,622

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,506

Match Report

What possesses a team to take the field and play and behave in manner that Chesterfield did at Priestfield yesterday. Was it a preconceived tactic to knock a Gillingham side with a fearsome home record out of their stride or was it a result of the run around that the home side had inflicted on their unwelcome visitors.

Whatever it was it was far from pretty as Chesterfield literally set about kicking lumps out of their opponents. Six bookings is not only a fair reflection of the way they set about their task, they were fortunate to get away with no worse. During the first half there appeared no way that Chesterfield could avoid finishing the game with ten men or even less, with the aid of a lenient (to the extreme) referee, they managed it.

They compounded their sins midway through the second half when Jamie Ward laid on the ground supposedly injured, Barry Fuller put their ball out of play so he could receive attention, upon which Ward promptly got to his feet without the trainer being necessary and from the resulting throw-in Kevin Austin refused to give the ball back to Gillingham. It was gross bad sportsmanship, but something that was only in keeping with the rest of their performance.

Priestfield echoed to the sounds of “Cheat” being directed at Austin, but this could have been aimed at any number of the Chesterfield side. Ward, with 12 goals to his credit this season, was far more adept at feigning injury than giving any problems to the Gillingham central defensive pairing of Simon King and Gary Richards, who shackled him to the point of obscurity.

At half time Gillingham were winning this game at a stroll. Adam Miller had given the home side the lead and then was instrumental in the build up to a sublime Simeon Jackson finish to put them two up. For all this, Miller seemingly cannot win over some of Gillingham’s support, who cheered when his number was put up for substitution, what more does the bloke have to do?

Lee Richardson sent his Chesterfield side out early for the second half and had obviously got into their heads during the break. As had been the case with Stockport the previous week, the visitors enjoyed a much improved second period, though their attitude to the beautiful game remained unchanged.

When Simon Royce inexplicably went walkabout on the hour, the Spirites were back in the game courtesy of a Jack Lester goal and the stroll was threatening to turn into a stumble. Had Royce not redeemed himself with an absolutely blinding save from a close range Lester volley then the Chesterfield bad boy tactics would have taken home a point. But justice prevailed and they returned to Derbyshire empty handed and for that football can be thankful.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Gillingham 1 Stockport County 1

Match 29/08/713 - Saturday, 29th November 2008 - FA Cup 2nd Round

Gillingham (0) 0
Stockport County (0) 0
Att. 4,419

Entrance: £16
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,461

Match Report

The magic of the FA Cup returned to Priestfield this afternoon for the first time in nearly five years. There has been a straightforward victory over Bromley since the momentous victory over Charlton in 2004 but early exits away from home have been the watchword since.

This tie was always going to be a tall order for Gillingham, whose formidable home form was matched point-for-point by Stockport County’s splendid away record. I had been forewarned by a Millwall supporting colleague that County were the best side he had seen at the New Den this season, so there was no surprise in the quality of our opponents.

Sadly the FA Cup these days doesn’t get the casual supporter out of his armchair and a 4,419 attendance was, while unsurprising, disappointing. What they lacked in numbers, the crowd made up for in volume. This was Priestfield of the good old days, the Rainham End giving wholehearted support that spread to the rest of the ground, making for a vibrant atmosphere.

What ensued was a enthralling cup tie, far more deserving than a goalless scoreline. Gillingham had the best of the first half with Mark Bentley spurning the best chance, a header that he steered wide. Adam Miller saw a drive tipped over by Owain fon Williams and another Bentley header had the Medway Stand mistakenly on their feet as he rippled the side netting.

Perhaps the defining moment of the game came midday through the half. Simeon Jackson chasing a long ball appeared to have got clear of County’s James Tunnicliffe. Jackson was wrestled to the ground, had the referee decided that it was a foul, the defender would almost certainly have been shown a red card, being the last man, as it was the referee saw nothing wrong, much to the disgust of the home crowd.

So a superb first half performance went unrewarded for the home side and unfortunately Gillingham could not quite replicate it in the second half. The best of the chances fell to the League One side, but while Simon Royce was called upon to make a couple of saves they were not of the spectacular kind. Simon King, named man of the match, and Gary Richards marshalled the tall twin strike force admirably, both strikers eventually substituted.

Taking the positives, Gillingham have matched one of the better sides from a division above and, for 45 minutes at least, played some of the best football seen this season. Unfortunately it has been not enough to win this stirring cup tie.

At least we are in the hat for tomorrow’s third round draw, but for me this brings mixed feelings. Do we want the Holy Grail fixture against one of the big four, knowing that defeat in the replay adds to the disappointment, or a draw against, say, Macclesfield, and the knowledge that we are not missing a big day out should we falter at Edgeley Park.

But in the spirit of the optimism shown at Priestfield this afternoon, on and off the park, we are not out of the FA Cup until the final ball is kicked, a week Tuesday at Stockport.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Gillingham 1 Rochdale 1

Match 28/08/712 - Tuesday, 25th November 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 Jackson 17
Rochdale (0) 1 Le Fondre 61
Att. 4,029

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,416

Match Report

It is an age-old question that is posed after a home draw, is it a point gained or two lost? On this occasion I would come down in the point gained camp.

Rochdale, last year’s beaten play-off finalists have made another good start to the season and showed for long periods last night why they have to be taken seriously as contenders again this term.

After a bright start from both sides, Gillingham fashioned a superb goal to take the lead. Curtis Weston fed Albert Jarrett with a beautiful cross field pass. The winger’s cross was pin point perfect for Simeon Jackson to turn home from close range. Two passes and a tap in, it was incisive and must have delighted manager Mark Stimson, as it did everybody supporting the Gills.

Albert Jarrett has become a player that can delight and frustrate is probably less than equal measure. Give him a little space and he has a cross that can drop on a sixpence and along with the goal made three or four further chances. But his downside is that he can be a liability virtually everywhere else of the pitch. Particularly poor in his defensive duties offering no protection to John Nutter who is struggling for form anyway.

Gillingham may well have gone into a two goal lead when Jackson was one-on-one with the keeper who saved well, but the feeling was that Jackson should have done better. Before the break Simon Royce made a stunning close range stop to preserve the half time lead.

I’m sure there are idiots in every part of Priestfield Stadium, in the Coffin Dodgers we have one particular “gentleman” for whom part of his afternoon/evening’s entertainment is to harangue the linesman from the first whistle to last and to select one of the opposition for similar treatment. The Rochdale player on this occasion was Adam Le Fondre, who admittedly liked a whinge. For this he became the rhyming equivalent of a merchant banker, so there was more than a twist of irony when Le Fondre beautifully curled in a leveller for his fifth goal in three games, some banker. Likewise, the butt of this individual’s criticism on the home side is presently Albert Jarrett, who in an off-the-wall selection was named man of the match.

Despite ending the game, due to injuries, with ten men, Gillingham exerted some pressure in the closing moments but were unable to force a winner. So a point gained? I think so.

Tonbridge 1 Harrow Borough 1

Match 27/08/711 - Saturday, 22nd November 2008 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Storey 58
Harrow Borough (1) 1 Clarke 1
Att. 421

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/3,371

Match Report

In weather that was reminiscent of that in Berlin, but without the rain, Tonbridge failed to capitalise on their fine midweek victory over Dartford. With Staines not in league action, the Angels had the opportunity to go second in the table with a victory over bottom three opponents, Harrow Borough.

In another throwback to Wednesday night, a goalkeeping eeror from Lee Worgan gifted the visitors the lead after just 14 seconds. A punt over the top of the Tonbridge back four saw Worgan chasing to the edge of his box before fatally hesitating allowing Dewayne Clarke to nip in and prod the ball past him.

The remainder of the first half was even, but the visitors continued to belie their lowly league position. Clarke was a real speedster, on a couple of occasions making Scott Gooding look pedestrian. Worgan made amends for his earlier mistake with a good save from Robin Shroot, a Northern Ireland Under-21 international, evidently being watched by Peterborough United, who have a good record of dipping into non-league football for signings.

Tonbridge must have had misgiving of what the day was about to bring when midway through the first half Harrow goalkeeper, Andray Baptiste, made a quite stunning save.

The second half began with Clarke once again troubling the Angels defence before Anthony Storey finally brought them level in the 58th minute. A Leon Legge long throw that had previously been giving Harrow problems fell to Carl Rook who laid it back to Storey to drive in from the edge of the box.

At this point, and once again being lulled into a false sense of security by Harrow’s league position, it was felt that the home side would go on to seal the points. But none of it. Directly from the restart, Harrow central defender, Tobi Jinadu crashed a 25 yarder against the bar and before the end, Rook was needed to forego his attacking duties to clear off the line.

So, on the face of it, a surprising drop of points by the Angels, but either Harrow had a really good day or they are destined to climb the table to safety in the coming months.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Germany 1 England 2

Match 26/08/710 - Wednesday, 19th November 2008 - International

Germany (0) 1 Helmes 63
England (1) 2 Upson 23, Terry 84
Att. 74,244

Entrance: £19
Programme: Free
Mileage: 100/3,345
New Ground: 227 (33rd abroad)

Match Report

A year ago tonight on a rain soaked Wembley night, Croatia inflicted a Euro 2008 exit and the demise of the Wally with the Brolly. English football had reached a crossroads. On one hand there was the Premiership, supposedly the best, certainly the richest league in the world and on the other was that league’s players, for some reason performing way below their club form for the national team. It was an embarrassment for the whole country and the FA in particular that the international side would not be appearing in Switzerland and Austria.

Fabio Capello was appointed on an enormous salary and the obvious comparison with the wages earned and the quarter final destinies of Sven. Were we heading down the same road and wasting our money on a foreign manager? Following Wednesday’s victory in Berlin, you will not find many England fans complaining about the size of Fabio’s salary.

It was cold and wet in Berlin on Wednesday and the wind cut through you like a knife through butter. We had been in the city since Monday and the weather had not changed. Unfortunately it was all change in the England team. Withdrawals of the star names of Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney, with the late injury to Walcott, had left the 6,000-odd England supporters that had descended on the German capital with very little hope of any repeat of that famous night in Munich seven years ago.

But whatever Mr Capello has should be bottled and sold at extortionate prices, because his team, that looked cobbled together, won with a style that deserved even more than the 2-1 scoreline. There was some wonderful performances, Shaun Wright-Phillips looked every inch the star he threatened to be before his ill-fated move to Chelsea. There was a brilliant debut for Gabby Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry made light of the absence of his more illustrious peers in the centre of midfield. The Lampard-Gerrard conundrum solved on a cold Berlin night, leave them both out! Not really, but it showed there is an alternative to the sometimes less than dynamic duo.

Sure enough, another Scott Carson howler, just as a year ago, was a downside to the evening, but the way England controlled the majority of the game was a delight. Skipper John Terry might have taken responsibility for the goal, but the reality does appear that Carson freezes in an England shirt. Mind you most of us did.

The game had began with a taunting England chorus of “5-1 and even Heskey scored” and finished with “2-1 and even Upson scored”. I personally cannot be had with the monotonous 10 German bombers let alone its lack of political correctness, but I have to admit to being amused by the arm waving of the Dambusters, I actually think the Germans take this in good humour.

The Olympic Stadium is a grand old edifice. Built for Hitler’s 1936 games and updated for the 2006 World Cup Final it retains its original fa├žade, but has a modern feel on the inside. It has the oddity of the gap at one end where the marathon runners would have entered the stadium 72 years ago. Unfortunately this gap extends to the roof and, naturally adjacent to this was where the England support was housed. As the rain got heavier and the wind blew harder the covering provided no protection. Although we had been at the ground a couple of hours before the kick off, we left it to a half-an-hour before taking our seats as the icy wind was to much to bear.

In the surrounds of the stadium there is still the swimming pool and the Olympic rings hung between two imposing columns to be viewed from those ‘36 games. It is a fascinating mix of old and new. Downside is the running track that does make the far goal seem like a mile away with less than 20-20 vision.

Berlin itself was just as interesting. Visits to Checkpoint Charlie, the remnants of the Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, with its strange symbolism that I did not quite understand but still very moving. Absolutely fascinating museums documenting the persecution of the Jews, not just in the two World Wars, but for hundreds of years previously. What I personally like about Berlin was that it is facing up to the atrocities of its forefathers and saying this is what we did and we face up to the wrong-doing. They were sobering thoughts in amongst the joy that the simpleness of a football match can bring.

There were several Gillingham fans in evidence and the Binman’s Pride of Kent flag was flying. Baldangel now has his own hat trick to rival that of Sir Geoff Hurst. I’ve been in attendance at the 1966 World Cup Final, the 2001 Munich 5-1 and Wednesday night’s 2-1. I await my telegram from the Queen, arise Sir Baldangel!

Berlin in Pictures

The WallThe Holocaust Memorial
The Brandenburg Gate
The Reichstag
The TV Tower at Night
The Berlin Dom (Cathedral) upriver
Top of the TV Tower
The Dom Ceiling
The Dom organ
The Dom from the TV Tower

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Gillingham 4 Rotherham United 0

Match 25/08/709 - Saturday, 15th November 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 4 King 6, Miller 58, Richards 78, Cumbers 88
Rotherham United (0) 0
Att. 5,304

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,245

Match Report

It is one of football’s great imponderables, it drains away faster than it becomes evident, but when you have it the result can be awesome. It is called confidence.

On the back of the rare luxury of two away wins on the trot with a pair of clean sheets for good measure, Gillingham took on dangerous opponents and surged into the play-off places at Fortress Priestfield.

Rotherham have made light of their points deduction and have pulled away from the relegation zone, in fact their 26 points gained would have placed them in a play-off spot had it not been for the imposed penalty.

That new found confidence was consolidated with an early goal. A looping header from Simon King crept in at the far post for his first goal for the club. But for the best part of half an hour thereafter Gillingham had to be at their best at the back as the visitors took the game to their hosts. Garry Richards did a fine job controlling one of the Division’s hotshots Reuben Reid and a great save from Simon Royce kept the Gills in front before the game’s defining moment.

From my seat in the Coffin Dodgers it was difficult to see whether the challenge on Barry Fuller was late or two footed, but the immediate reaction of the Gillingham players in confronting the perpetrator, Danny Harrison, indicated that it was probably a poor tackle. The referee, fussy throughout, produced a straight red to leave Rotherham with ten men.

Fuller was fit to continue, but the second half began without the influential Curtis Weston who was substituted by fit again Mark McCammon. On the hour Adam Miller put the big striker through on goal, his shot was parried by the keeper but Miller followed up to bundle it home.

Two-nil and with the opposition a man down, the confidence spread to the stands and the Rainham End took time out from their ongoing dispute with the stewards to chant for Mark Stimson to give them a wave. Many of them were waving their own salute at him not so long ago.

A well-placed header from Richards, having seen off the threat of Reid, put Gills on easy street and when Albert Jarrett came on for his weekly ten minute cameo, his cross ended with young Luis Cumbers having a tap in for his first goal for the club, the demolition was complete.

So confidence reigns supreme at Fortress Priestfield, six home wins in seven and an attendance that topped 5,000 for the first time in a while, albeit that Kids for a Quid probably made up the increase. Long may that confidence reign.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Blank Saturdays

Hats off to the exiles and stay-at-home Gillingham fans that regularly endure the Blank Saturday. These are days that I hate and attempt to avoid at all costs. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I had to go through the horror of the videoprinter every Saturday my life would be shortened by a number of years.

Work commitments on Friday night had decreed that a trip to the FA Cup tie at Gigg Lane was out of the question, so as always in these situations my attentions turned to Ryman League Tonbridge Angels.

I had a nice plan, a visit to my Dad to sit with him to watch Arsenal v Manchester United and then on to Longmead. Following heavy rain during the morning I took the precaution of checking the internet before I left home and was assured that the game was going ahead. Dad, an exile himself and a dyed in the wool Manc, is 87 years old and although his eyesight is near perfect, it becomes a bit one eyed when United are playing. As the Reds fall behind, over the course of the first 45 minutes, he would have subbed Rooney, sold Ronaldo, retired van der Saar (very astute, Dad) and questioned the senility of Sir Alex.

At two down and with a few minutes left on the clock, I took my leave to make my way to Tonbridge. Radio 5 relays that United have pulled one back but ultimately in vain. As I arrive at the Angels’ car park there are cars heading in the wrong direction and I’m immediately suspicious of the outcome of this little journey. A quick word out of the window confirms my fears, match postponed, waterlogged pitch.

At 2.50 p.m. I am stuffed, there is absolutely no time to make a detour, especially with the knowledge that the other local side, Tunbridge Wells, are away from home. So it’s home to sit and watch Gillette Soccer Saturday with the excitable Jeff Stelling.

On the few occasions I’ve been left in this situation, I’ve turned to Radio Kent and their commentary, but invariably this has proved unlucky, so I’ve decided not to follow this route.

So the videoprinter ticks away, goals flow, but nothing comes up from Gigg Lane. I sit, I stare and I sit and I stare, on and on it goes. Mr Stelling gets rather depressed as his beloved Hartlepool go a couple of goals down at Brighton and from the background Paul Goddard and his mates get excited as incidents happen on their monitors. But from Gigg Lane, still the big nothing.

The first time the Gills click onto the screen is the goalless half time score. The clock ticks on and the video printer seems to take on a life of its own as the scores fairly rattle in. There are shocks in the offing as the likes of Curzon Athletic and Blyth Spartans lead Football League clubs and from Gigg Lane, the silence continues.

Then at 4.32 the ticker trots out a line that probably never moved the majority of households, Bury 0 Gillingham 1 (Weston 71), I shout, but then double-take, the line is still there on the screen, the Gills have the lead. The ticker trots out another line and the scorer is amended to Barcham, of this I don’t care, but all of sudden the ticker inside my own body has started to beat a whole lot faster.

Now it is back to sitting and staring, the goals still appear but my focus is now on the time that these goals are scored, watching the clock tick down. I wait, I sit, I stare, back into the big black hole that is a lack of information. The thought runs through my head to turn on the radio, but I’m fearful of jinxing the situation. Jeff Stelling lightens the moment as James Brown scores for Hartlepool and he celebrates wildly with his James Brown doll singing “I Feel Good”. Sorry, Jeff, but actually I feel quite sick at this moment.

The videoprinter is now churning out full time scores, they are streaming through at a rate that the redoubtable Mr Stelling cannot keep up with. I’m not listening anyway, the heart rate has reached manic proportions and the stare is now fixed. Did every FA Cup score come through before Gillingham’s, probably not, but it sure felt that way. But there it is: FT (--) FAC1 BURY 0 GILLINGHAM 1. The whoop causes the cat to momentarily show a flicker of interest. We are through to Round Two and I make myself a little promise, wherever we are drawn in the next round, I’m not going to put myself through this again.

I’m sure you do your job well, Mr Stelling, but I cannot subscribe to those long spells of nothingness from the only match in which I am interested. How do the exiles cope, do you make yourselves copious cups of tea, immunise yourselves with liquid of a stronger nature? There must be ways to combat the sense of helplessness, but I suppose I could have turned everything off and busied myself with the hoovering, Nah.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tunbridge Wells 1 Holmesdale 0

Match 24/08/708 - Tuesday, 4th November 2008 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (1) 1 Tate 41
Holmesdale (0) 0
Att. 82

Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/3,200

Match Report

Tunbridge Wells moved to within two points of their visitors Holmesdale with a hard fought, well deserved single goal victory.

The weekend’s deluge had left the game in some doubt but a lunchtime inspection had given the go-ahead. On a mild night, the pitch had obviously taken a soaking but played pretty well.

The first half was an end-to-end contest with both sides creating and failing to take several good chances. The Wells finally made the breakthrough four minutes from the break when Wes Tate side-footed in from close range.

The second half was far more clear cut and although the home side could not add to their lead they dominated the 45 minutes. Good chances went begging with Mike Lord being the unfortunate fall guy on several occasions.

Holmesdale are a Bromley-based club now in their second season in the county’s senior division and to have moved to second place in the current table is a testament to the progress they have made. Their first half display showed that they have the ability to compete at the top end of the league in the coming months.

As for the Wells, they are a club on the up. Much will depend on the destination of Ross Cable, their leading goalscorer. It is speculated that he could be moving on in the near future and he will be difficult to replace. The number of chances that were passed up on the night, although Cable was also guilty, showed the need to keep players of his quality at the club.

Disappointing aspect of the night was an attendance that again failed to reach three figures. Tunbridge Wells have a good side playing decent football and a game against the second placed side should attract more than the 82 that attended. Perhaps Champions League football on the television accounted for a few missing bodies, but it is a shame that local interest doesn’t appear to be increasing despite the club’s early season success. My visit last month also produced an attendance of 82, could it be that they were exactly the same people?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Ashford Town (Middlesex) 1 Tonbridge Angels 7

Match 23/08/707 - Saturday, 1st November 2008 - Ryman Premier

Ashford Town (Middlesex) (0) 1 Harris 57
Tonbridge Angels (3) 7 Legge 9, 33, Olorunda 38, 67,
Storey 55, 69 (2 pens), Logan 80

Att. 144

Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Mileage: 132/3,174
New Ground No: 226

Match Report

It rained heavily and incessantly and it rained goals for Tonbridge Angels. At the beginning of the day Ashford Town (Middlesex) sat one place above their visitors in the league table and last Saturday held Conference side Forest Green Rovers to a draw, so there could be no indication of the scoreline that would follow.

Leading goalscorer Carl Rook was serving a one match suspension and he was replaced by Ade Olorunda, back after a 6 week spell on the sidelines through injury.

Two Leon Legge headers put Tonbridge in control of the game in the first 20 minutes and when Olorunda was played through by John Westcott, he finished effectively to give Tonbridge a 3-0 half time lead.

Olorunda was tripped for an Anthony Storey penalty to increase the lead to four, before Ashford pegged one back. The home side failed to deal with set pieces and anything in the air all afternoon and when Olorunda nodded home the fifth from a corner, any thought of an Ashford comeback was dispelled. Another Storey penalty made it six and a 25 yard free kick from Fraser Logan completed the scoring.

Tonbridge supporters made up the bulk of the attendance and their jovial renditions of “It’s Raining Goals” and “Singing in the Rain” was a humorous end to the afternoon.

The Short Lane Stadium is a bit of an ugly duckling but I was certainly grateful for the covered enclosures that kept us from a real soaking. The backdrop of the fuel plant containers behind one goal make for a less than scenic landscape and the match is played to the continuous drone of planes taking off from nearby Heathrow Airport.

It is quite a strange place to watch football, but there was none stranger than today’s result.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Lincoln City 2 Gillingham 0

Match 22/08/706 - Tuesday, 28th October 2008 - League Two

Lincoln City (2) 2 Frecklington 11, N'Guessan 14
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 4,396

Entrance: £17
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 386/3,042

Match Report

Credit where credit is due. On Saturday I bemoaned the lack of quality in this Division, but last night at a freezing Sincil Bank, for 45 minutes at least, we saw a Lincoln City side that showed the necessary class to mount a promotion challenge.

Two goals in the first 14 minutes left Gillingham with a mountain to climb, one, which on the night, they were a long way off getting to even first base. High on confidence that a seven game unbeaten run brings, Lincoln out played their visitors in every department. After a relatively bright start, Gillingham were hit by two goals in four minutes. A cross from the right from Paul Green saw a Lee Frecklington header opening the scoring. My first impression was that Simon Royce had made to come for the cross and stopped, but question marks must also be pointed at the central defenders who failed to make a meaningful challenge.

Gillingham found themselves almost out of the game with just another four minutes added to the clock. A move broke down in midfield and a single pass from a Romanian, Adrian Patulea, to a Frenchman, saw Danny N’Guessan racing clear of the Gillingham defence. As he bore down on goal he still had a lot to do, but finished with an unstoppable drive into the top left.

Secure in their lead, Lincoln started to stroke the ball about with a cockiness that can only be bought with confidence. One sublime piece of skill, unfortunately I’ve no idea which Lincoln player produced it, was worthy of Soccer AM’s showboating section and once he had bought the space, Lincoln then embarked on a passing piece of about 20 or so, that had their home fans giving it the big ole. Only twenty minutes gone and they were taking the piss.

Gillingham were being thoroughly dominated in midfield and a front three of Mulligan, McCammon and Barcham were getting no joy from a solid Lincoln back line that included two outstanding central defenders in Kovacs and Hone. As the odd Gillingham attack broke down the visitors were getting caught on the break as Lincoln responded with pacy counter-attacks. Several opportunities were passed up as we prayed that our favourites could at least get to the break no worse off.

Thankfully, Lincoln failed to reproduce their first half form in the second and we had more of an even contest. Albert Jarrett came on for the injured, but ineffective McCammon, and once again produced a little cameo from the bench. There was a misguided feeling that should we get a goal back we could exert some panic in the closing minutes but by the time the final whistle sounded our shots on target count totalled precisely none.

When it comes to giving credit, lets give our travelling support some. Despite a poor weather forecast (snow was falling heavily not too many miles west) and that depressingly poor away record over a long period of time, 322 turned out. Initially shoe-horned into a small block the Lincoln stewards had to open the section behind to accommodate a far greater number than the 50 to 100 they had be told to expect. They were in good voice prior to the goals but obviously became more subdued and frustrated as the game unfolded.

Sincil Bank is these days all-seated and they have one of those old, full of character grandstands that are sadly being lost in these days of prefabricated ordinariness. Albeit an advertising hoarding, but the arched Lincolnshire Echo sign sets it off. The rest of the stadium is less than inspiring, small box-shaped enclosures behind each goal and whilst the stand that housed the Gillingham support is substantial in size it has the opposite in character to its facing counterpart.

As the temperature dropped to zero, the ride home was at least snow free and we can be thankful for that given the abandonment at Wycome, Luton and Swindon. We can reason that at one point in this match we faced another humiliation and we came out of it with nothing more than having been beaten comfortably. Simeon Jackson is a big loss and the quicker he gets fit the better because no shots on goal can only mean no goals scored. But the performance that Lincoln produced in the first half is the standard we need to attain to mount a meaningful challenge of our own.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Gillingham 2 Chester City 0

Match 21/08/705 - Saturday, 25th October 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 2 Barcham 71, Mills 73
Chester City (0) 0
Att. 4,852

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,656

Match Report

Goals win matches and goals also change the perception of the game you have watched. For 70 minutes this game was total dross. Two sides as bad as each other, neither able to pass to a team mate.

On the hour, Albert Jarrett entered the fray as a substitute for Adam Miller, whose departure was rather unkindly jeered, he was no worse than anybody else. Jarrett has failed to sparkle since his exciting performances for the Reserves earned him a short term contract that has recently been renewed for another month. So there was little expectation of a turn for the better.

Jarrett, whose first touch had brought a booking for James Vaughan, turned in a cross in the 71st minute that was headed goalwards by Garry Richards. This effort was headed off the line and back to Jarrett whose second cross was eventually touched in by Andy Barcham. Two minutes later and a John Nutter corner was met firmly by Leigh Mills and from a position of frustration all was right with the world.

Simon Royce made a couple of good saves and Jarrett wasted a one-on-one chance to embellish a much improved substitute appearance before the final whistle.

Gillingham’s formidable home form, five wins and a draw from their last six, leaves them on the cusp of a play-off spot, but this disguises the quality of some of the performances. The first half had been a thoroughly depressing affair. Perhaps Chester can be forgiven for having a lack of confidence following a six goal hammering by Rochdale during the week, but they were the team that created the best of the chances that brought some smart saves from Royce.

The effort put in by both sides cannot be faulted but the quality of this Division is at times desperate. At the season’s start I had felt that we would not see an appreciable difference between Divisions One and Two, how wrong I am. The ball seems to be endlessly in the air and nobody appears to want the ball longer than five seconds. As long as the work rate is matched, any side with a little bit of quality can win this Division.

Simeon Jackson was unfit for a second game, Barry Fuller and Mark Bentley were serving suspensions and Andrew Crofts, who was transfer listed during the week could not even make the bench, from where Jack Payne, 16 years of age, made a two minute appearance.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Gillingham 2 Notts County 2

Match 20/08/704 - Tuesday, 21st October 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Mulligan 39, Southall 63
Notts County (1) 2 Butcher 65, Facey 79
Att. 4,396

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,611

Match Report

Two-nil and you mucked it up, the 100 or so Notts County fans rather less politely sang behind the goal and they were not far from calling it correctly. More incredible than Gillingham losing their two goal lead was that the final result meant that from their first 12 games of this season Notts County have now drawn nine of them.

It was the curse of the returning player that finally undid the good work that the home side had put in for the first hour of the game. Delroy Facey, brought to Gillingham by Ronnie Jepson with a big reputation, failed to win any hearts with the Priestfield support. He scored a memorable goal at Swansea, but for the rest of the time he looked fat, lazy and hopeless. Last night, following a Gillingham attack that had broken down he galloped, yes, galloped into the open space afforded on the right hand side and let fly from the edge of the box into the top left corner with the aplomb of a top notch striker. He has hardly set the world alight at Meadow Lane, on Saturday he scored his first goal for the club, but there was a certain inevitability about last night’s outcome. He certainly moved more about the Priestfield pitch than he ever did in Gillingham’s colours.

Following Saturday’s encouraging 2-2 draw at Bradford City, Simeon Jackson, scorer of both goals, failed to pass a fitness test prior to the game. Andrew Crofts, now seemingly at odds with manager Mark Stimson, was not selected even for a place on the bench.

It was the first chilly night of the season but the performance overall was warming. Andy Barcham, whose loan spell from Tottenham is about to expire was a livewire and Nicky Southall showed all of us contemplating retirement by the coast that a dose of sea air is invigorating.

Gillingham went ahead on 39 minutes when a Southall free kick deflected upwards off the County wall and Mulligan was first to pick up the loose ball. A really well-worked goal in the 63rd minute from Southall gave Gillingham a lead that looked unassailable. Unfortunately they fell for the sucker punch, conceded quickly and then allowed Facey to steal the show. As the last ten minutes wound down Gillingham themselves were the side hanging on and thankful for the final whistle.

A half-time substitution for the unwell Simon King had not helped matters at the back, but from two-nil up, we really mucked it up.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Tonbridge 2 Ramsgate 3

Match 19/08/703 - Saturday, 18th October 2008 - FA Trophy 1RQ

Tonbridge (0) 2 Rook 48 (pen), Twyman (o.g.) 90
Ramsgate (0) 3 Ball 63, May 79, Hadden 88
Att. 372

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,566

Match Report

Another disappointing first hurdle exit for Tonbridge as they departed the FA Trophy, a competition they had graced last season and included their fine win over Conference side, Oxford United.

This afternoon, everything was so flat. The only atmosphere in the ground was generated by a noisy, enthusiastic following from Ramsgate. Whether Tonbridge supporters are now inhibited by the comments from the chairman regarding bad language, I don’t know, but there was a distinct lack of support for the side.

A post was hit by Carl Rook in a lifeless first half in which Tonbridge created the best of the chances. The second half was only three minutes old when the home side were given the softest of penalties for hand ball following a long throw by Leon Legge. Rook converted as the keeper guessed right but failed to save.

Tonbridge should have taken the game on from this point, but it was Ramsgate that took the initiative and they bounced back with three goals in 25 minutes, much to the delight of their passionate support. The front two of Stefan Ball and ex-Angel Jay May edged them in front before a absolute screamer from Andy Hadden wrapped it up.

In what was already an odd game there was still time for the Ramsgate keeper, Danny Twyman, to somehow manage to punch the ball into his own net to give Tonbridge a couple of minutes of hope.

Time to concentrate on the league and rid themselves of the inconsistency that has dogged this season so far.

Monday, 13 October 2008

England 5 Kazakhstan 1

Match 18/08/702 - Saturday, 11th October 2008 - World Cup Qualifier

England (0) 5 Ferdinand 52, Kuchma (og) 65, Rooney 77, 86, Defoe 90
Kazakhstan (0) 1 Kukeyev 68
Att. 89,107

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/2,540

Match Report

In a heart-stopping moment four minutes after half-time, Kazakhstan were offered the golden opportunity to open the scoring at Wembley. Tanat Nusserbayev wastefully lofted over the bar from four yards with the goal at his mercy. Another four minutes had passed when a Frank Lampard corner was completely missed by the Kazakh goalkeeper leaving captain Rio Ferdinand with the easiest of nod-ins. The cheer raised by the Wembley crowd was one of relief more than celebration.

The full house had booed the home side from the pitch following another half of football that had produced none of the quality from Croatia that had re-ignited the passion for the international team. The star of Zagreb, Theo Walcott had not only added a fair few thousand to the gate, but led the Kazakhs a merry dance for the first 20 minutes. Their only recourse was to foul the flying winger, but slowly they got a hold of him and sadly Theo faded from the game.

The second half transformation had been brought about by a change to a formation that didn’t waste the talent of Wayne Rooney. Stuck out on the left, Rooney looked frustrated as the game passed him by. Fabio Capello is still tinkering with 4-3-3 while the rest of us know that England are not capable of playing anything other than 4-4-2. Gareth Barry, rather unluckily was sacrificed for Shaun Wright-Phillips, this was not the change that made the difference but the move allowed Rooney to move inside and play off Emile Heskey.

When a Lampard free kick had skewed off the head of a Kazakh defender into his own net, England were on easy street until an incomprehensible error from Ashley Cole allowed the visitors back into the game. A wayward back pass left Kukeyev with the chance that he buried to the delight of the small assembly of Kazakh supporters. This prompted an outrageous reaction from some England supporters. Cole was booed every time he touched the ball, much to the disgust of both proper supporters who attempted to drown out the noise with clapping and later from coach and captain in interviews. It was really quite shameful, completely unnecessary, we all make mistakes.

Although it failed to stem the abuse on Cole, Rooney converted a Wes Brown cross with a well placed header and following David Beckham’s rapturously received entry, Rooney added another and Defoe, on as a substitute also, completed the scoring.

Five goals and a comfortable victory flattered England completely, although Kazakhstan performed much better than their world ranking of 131. The group is beginning to take shape and England lead the way, but they are a long way from convincing their rather fractious and fragile support.

My 365 article on the booing of Ashley Cole.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Tunbridge Wells 4 Sporting Bengal 0

Match 17/08/701 - Tuesday, 7th October 2008 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (2) 4 Cable 3, Tate
Sporting Bengal (0) 0
Att. 82

Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/2,440

A evening’s football at Culverden Stadium is a very civilised affair. The half-time tea is still served in a china mug and the people you are among in an 82 attendance are genuine football people.

In the past, it could be argued, that this polite approach has failed to pay dividends in terms of success on and off the field. But could the times be a changing. Mike Robbins has put together a side that has started the season with just the one defeat in the league and progress being made in the Vase.

Tonight’s game saw one of his signings, Ross Cable hit a hat-trick in a one-sided match against EastEnders Sporting Bengal. Cable is a proven goalscorer at this level and this trio took his total to 11 for the season from 14 starts. I’m reliably informed that the Wells are a good footballing side and are going to produce plenty of chances for Cable to accumulate a mighty haul come May.

This was the first time that I’ve seen Sporting Bengal. The club were formed by the Bangladesh Football Association in 1996. In 2003 they were elected into the Kent League and speculation was that they would be a major force, supposedly backed by wealthy people and having a supporter base in the local community that could amount to thousands. The reality has been that they have struggled to establish themselves at senior level and their support is virtually non-existant. This season they have now lost seven out of seven, shipping 29 goals in the process. Tunbridge Wells certainly missed an opportunity to enhance their goal difference.

Sporting had a goalkeeper that, while agile and made several good stops, was the smallest I’ve ever seen at senior level and (this is not racist in any way), given their background I was surprised to see a couple of white lads in the side.Their approach is all-inclusive within the community so I should not be surprised.

A very pleasant evening washed down with a mug of tea, what more can you ask.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Exeter City 3 Gillingham 0

Match 16/08/700 - Saturday, 4th October 2008 - League Two

Exeter City (3) 3 Logan 7, Stansfield 39, 43
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 4,819

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.80
Mileage: 427/2,414

Match Report

Another away day disaster from a group that call themselves Gillingham Football Club but turn into a spineless rabble not worthy of the name as soon as their coach turns onto the A2 leaving behind the shelter of their home comforts.

Twelve goals have now been shipped in the last three away games, two of which came in a performance at Aldershot that belied that spineless tag with an endeavour that deserved more. The first half at Exeter was, in my humble opinion, actually worse than the first 45 at Shrewsbury, where there was at least a mitigating circumstance in Richards’ 10 minute absence during which two goals were conceded.

Slow out of the traps and down within seven minutes to a poorly defended goal, matters went from bad to worse at the back end of a dreadful first half when two goals of comedy value were conceded. If any of you have eight year olds (and more of them later!) and saw the second goal on their school playing field most Mums would spit out the dummy, let alone the Dads, but such is Gillingham Away the laughable is no longer a surprise.

As a pundit, I’m never going to grace the Match of the Day studio, but I have accumulated enough football nous over too many years to recognise that sometimes players are just not good enough and I accept that through financial constraints or just bad management they are the players that wear the shirt on the day. But a lack of ability is no excuse for bad attitude, a lack of application, concentration or a will to win. This should be in every professional footballer’s psyche and too often, for years it seems, away from home Gillingham have been unprofessional to be kind and utterly spineless to be truthful.

There was some thoroughly lamentable performances. Nutter, who I thought was going to be one of the success stories of the non league batch, had a horrible game. The midfield were poor across the line. Crofts, how does he get in the Welsh squad, are they really that bad? Weston, on the day couldn’t make a pass towards Keira Knightley yet alone a geezer in a blue shirt. Bentley, likewise and Jarrett who might be absolved by a better second half, showed that the step-up from the reserves is bigger than might be thought.

The midget strike force can be spared only through virtue of a dire service.

The second half was nothing more than an academic passing of 45 minutes. Jarrett hit a post and there were a couple of worthy efforts from Barcham, but not in our wildest dreams was a stirring comeback on the cards. This half was made memorable only by the impassioned rant of a frustrated Gillingham supporter.

The weather forecast and Exeter’s open terrace had threatened a soaking through to the undergarments and a few light showers had been encountered on the trip down. So when we were offered the opportunity of a seat under cover for a couple of quid we readily accepted. Whatever possessed Exeter’s community project to offer free seats to eight-year-old schoolboys directly adjacent to the away support beggars belief and their high-pitched voices quickly became a tad wearing. Following our side’s juvenile defending the soprano singing of “you’re not singing anymore” left most of the away support biting their tongues. One guy was the exception and initially his rant was aimed at Marcus Stewart, who had gone down under a challenge. Stewart, no longer able to command a Championship place, had pitched up at the only club willing to take him on, was a cheat, never was any good, on an on without a breath until his words on the subject began to run dry only to be replaced seamlessly with a tirade at the kids. There were a few expletives in the extended sentence and for that we should be embarrassed, except for the fact that it was so bloody funny. It earned him a ticking off and nothing more from the stewards who in turn had a word with the headmaster of the miscreant kids. It was a bit of humour to be extracted from a black afternoon.

Forewarned with 365's Eccles’ recounting of long tiresome journeys on the A303 and my own experiences, not least enroute to our honeymoon hotel a trillion years ago, we had made good mileage by the time we reached Stonehenge. We glanced across to see a fair sized gathering surveying the stones. Now I’m not a Philistine, in fact I’m always in awe of the fine Gothic cathedrals I’ve seen around the world, but Stonehenge just leaves me cold. What is it about a collection of over-sized breeze blocks that drags people from all over the world to stop and stare. But then, as I ridicule a static row of stones, I travelled over 400 miles, drove for eight hours to watch a Gillingham defence do their own portrayal of the said edifice.

Forty years ago I witnessed Manchester United winning an FA Cup tie at St James’ Park and I’ve not returned since. A couple of relatively modern stands have been erected, one giving a large terrace housing the home support. The away terrace where I stood in 1968 remains as was and its shallowness makes for a poor view. The old stand that was inhabited by the Gillingham seated support and our eight year old friends is a wooden structure which did lead to speculation that it might not be entirely legal in respect of legislation following Valley Parade, but it must have passed safety certificates.

The rain never really materialised in any great amount during the match so the uncovered terrace lads and lassies didn’t get the feared soaking and they had arrived in Devon in decent numbers, over 400 seeming a good estimate. Unfortunately it did catch up with us for a damp and depressing ride home along the tediously long A303.