Following their first league defeat of the season, Posh travel south to Gillingham. James Bloodworth tells us all we need to know about our opponents tomorrow.
Who the hell are Gillingham?
Gillingham formed in 1893 under the guise of New Brompton FC, as a group of local businessmen wanted to emulate the glories of a highly successful local junior club, but on a much larger scale. Bloody glory-hunters.
What’s their history?
Despite the high hopes of their founders, the newly renamed Gillingham struggled in the Southern League Division One in the early 20th century. By a stroke of luck in 1920, they found themselves within the league pyramid without going through the ball ache of election/re-election, as the Football League created the brand new Division Three (South) by wanging all of the Southern League Division One teams from the previous year into the shiny new league. Gillingham had actually finished bottom in 1919, and would have been relegated into the lower reaches of The Southern League had they not dodged this particular bullet. Given sides such as Folkestone, Margate, Guildford United and some lot called Peterborough & Fletton populated these divisions, it would have been unlikely that Saturday’s opponents would have ever overcome that setback.
Their luck ran out pretty soon after that. In the interwar period, Gillingham finished bottom and had to apply for re-election 5 times. They eventually succumbed in 1938, but returned to the League in the early fifties due to their local success and a further Football League expansion. This decade saw a period of stability for the Kent outfit, until 1964 when Freddie Cox’s team lifted the Division 4 title. The club yo-yoed between Divisions 3 and 4 for a further decade, although they eventually found their feet in the third tier following promotion in 1974 behind D4’s champions… Peterborough United, following a memorable defeat by Posh at London Road.
The lack of remarkability continued for a long old time. There was the odd promotion and relegation as the millennium drew to a close, but Gillingham continued to just… Well, be Gillingham (weirdly, we were only in their league on 3 occasions between 1980 and 2013). Financial troubles in 1995 left them on the brink of extinction, before current owner Paul Scally (definite nominative determinism) saved the club and appointed Tony Pulis (that’s “Poo-lis” to us Fen dwellers) as manager. This heralded a golden age for Gillingham, as Pulis took them back to the third tier in 1996, established them at that level, before taking them to within minutes of second tier football in 1999. The Gills were 2-0 up in the play-off final against Manchester City, but blew their lead in injury time. They lost the subsequent penalty shoot-out; had Nicky Weaver not kept Pulis’ side out, Gillingham could have become a worldwide brand who could spunk gazillions on whatever they wanted. Or perhaps not.
Pulis left under a cloud, allowing Peter Taylor to rock up and bring second tier football to Kent for the first time. Midfielder Andy Hessenthaler replaced a Leicester-bound Taylor, and was a success. Gillingham stayed up for 5 years, before a decline saw them end up back in League 2 in 2008. There was a bit more yo-yoing until 2013, when Martin Allen brought only a second league title to Priestfield. The club have been in League One since, with Justin Edinburgh’s foray to the cusp of the play-offs in 2016 being a rare escape from lower midtable obscurity.
A couple of play offs, a couple of titles and a smattering of Kent Senior County Cups. Come to think of it, how have they not won it every single year? Are Sandwich Town FC really good and I’ve not noticed?
What’s the ground like?
Tucked away amongst a swathe of terraced houses, Priestfield reminds me a little bit of London Road. 2 modern(ish) stands complete with swanky commercial and hospitality facilities are juxtaposed by the ageing Gordon Road stand (Gillingham’s answer to our North stand). And then, we come to the final stand: the infamous away end. Acquired following The Open Championship held at St George’s Golf Club in 2003, the temporary stand has been in situ oxymoronically for 15 years. The Brian Moore stand features no niceties such as a roof or walls, allowing gusts from The Thames estuary to whip around what is essentially a shitload of scaffolding and Gaffer tape beneath your feet; It’s a novelty that soon wears off when you realise how much the structure sways in-game. Fortunately we’re facing them early on in the season: I’ve been to Priestfield twice, in January and December, and I’ve never been colder. On the plus side, they do hand out waterproof ponchos when it rains, so you can look like a miserable, damp Mexican whilst you watch your team do battle.
What’s the town like?
Make no mistake, Priestfield is a hole. But, it’s probably still the best thing about a town that clearly belongs in the past. The flagship shop on Gillingham high street is Poundland, and away from the commercial zone, every street looks identical: bland, grey and depressing. The 10 minute walk to Priestfield is an emotionally draining labyrinth through a generic town stuck in the 1960’s, making you long to be back in Peterborough (which says a fucking lot). It isn’t even the best place called Gillingham in England (DISCLAIMER: I’ve never been to Gillingham, Dorset, but there is no way it can be anywhere near as bad as this hell hole)
Anywhere decent to drink?
The Fleur De Lis looks like your best bet, approximately 10 minutes from the ground. It’s unclear whether they’re still pre-decimal or not though.
How should I get there?
Players to watch?
Big striker Tom Eaves has always looked a handful when playing against us, and he’s Gillingham’s top scorer in a so far tough season for his employers. Posh’s back line couldn’t cope with Oli Hawkins last week, and Eaves could cause similar problems this time around. Elsewhere, familiar face Gaby Zakuani is still at the heart of defence, and ma-hoo-sive goalkeeper Tomas Holy was attracting the attention of some big clubs including Arsenal and West Ham in the transfer window just gone.
What’s their nickname?
The Gills. It’s either as a tribute to famous fans Gillian Anderson and Gillian McKeith, or a reference to the fact they’re called Gilling-fucking-ham.
Do they have a forum?
There’s a few, but GillsConnect looks the most active.
Got a prediction?
We’re flying high, they’re struggling. There’s a general fear from their fanbase about facing us right now. It all points to one outcome: Gills 2, Posh 1.