Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why I'll Be In A Bad Mood After 2:30pm Today

I'm a Gillingham fan.

(And yes, it does feel like I've stood up at a meeting for Pillocks Anonymous and admitted my reason for being there.)

I have been for a good ten years, and if you'll cast your eye up to your address bar and note the first part of the URL you'll see my normal username. It's a contraction of "James The Gillingham Fan" caused by a limited amount of space on the Harry message board back in 2003. I regularly check the scores if the matches are in progress; at work on a Saturday I've had the BBC vidiprinter up to update me with the text commentary. Many a time I've had to put a customer on hold briefly in order to shout with joy/swear at the screen.

This season it's mostly been the latter. We're on our third manager this year. He's bought in a fair few players from non-league; some of whom have been successful, most of whom haven't. He's replaced the dross left under the old regime with cheaper, more enthusiastic dross. They've tried hard, bless 'em, but with two games to go we still find ourselves 3 points behind safety, sat currently in a position which, if we stay here, will see us playing in a lower league next year.

(A quick aside - it's three points if you win a game, one point if you draw, and nothing for a loss - but you knew that already.)

Quite simply in today's game a win is vital. Lose and we're screwed - even a draw for Cheltenham later today will see us down. A draw will postpone the misery for another week but as our final game is against Leeds, a side who would have won the league were it not for a points deduction at the start of the season, I can't see us getting anything from it. It's our last home game of the season today, and it's kicking off at 12:30pm on the advice of the local police, as the visitors are our old chums from Swindon.

In the late 1970s the Gillingham side was actually rather good. In the same league as they are now, but gunning for promotion to the next league above, a place Gillingham had never gone (and won't do until 2000, when Andy Thomson scored a neat diving header at Wembley three minutes from time to win the playoff final) but a place we'd quite like to go to. Enter Swindon. A report of the home game that year written from a Gills perspective can be found here; similarly the away game report is here. It left a bad taste in the mouth of Gills fans and Swindon are regularly referred to in none too kind words on the Gillingham message board.

We played them again in the late 1980s, with much the same result - them denying us promotion to the promised land. After that we went our separate ways; they always seemed to be a league or two above us, and when we finally achieved promotion in 2000 to what is now the Championship, it was that year that they dropped out of that league, passing us on the way up. (The game at Wembley was won in part by two players we'd bought from Swindon on January 1st that year - oh, we did chortle). Sadly our run in the Championship didn't last, and the start of the 2005/2006 season we found ourselves in this league, in the same league as Swindon for the first time in nearly 20 years. In the run up to the January 14th home game there was much posturing from the keyboard warriors on various message boards - neanderthalic old men looking to prove they still had it by harking back to the "glory days" of hooliganism. Sensibly myself and my Dad were sat in the Town End, near the away support - to give them their due, the knuckle dragging portion of the Swindon fans (and it was by no means the majority) thought rightly against winding up the two bikers. The Gills won that game 3-0, and the yobs departed - off with their tails between their legs, we thought.

Not quite. To cut a blog post that is already getting out of hand short, there were pitched battles all down the roads from the ground to the station, with both groups of fans having yobs who knew nothing better joining in. Being perched on the back of a Suzuki Bandit while all this was going on around us was not my idea of a fun time - a swift escape down a footpath saw us leave this behind, but I was never more glad to have a crash helmet on than that night!

They went down that year, and so last season we were free of them - until they won promotion, and this year shared our league with us again. We played them early in the season at their place, losing 5-0 in a game that saw the end of Jepson's reign as manager. He's since been replaced by Iffy Onuora, who took Swindon down in 2006 and was a tad more successful here, but was only a caretaker and was replaced himself by Mark Stimson, the present incumbent who will be doing his utmost to get us a win today. Last Saturday we drew to a late goal away - Swindon, by contrast, hammered Port Vale 6-0. We need to win today in a game we're likely to lose. Doesn't bode well, does it?

If you want to follow the game, the BBC text commentary that I've been following all season is available here. Kickoff is at 12:30pm. I'd better get going really.

1 comment:

Jack said...

I'm quite amazed that I understood most of the things that you were referring to there.

And, nothing personal, but because Amie's prettier than you and Swindon has a nice railway museum, I'll be supporting Swindon. Sorry!