Asaba proud of Gills success
Asaba proud of Gills success

For our “22 Days in May” feature today, we conclude our discussion with the Gillingham scoring legend who despite missing a large bulk of the Wigan season was determined to make it third time lucky under the Twin Towers.

KSN’s chief football writer continues his conversation with Carl Asaba…

Carl was a true Gills fans’ favourite and he admitted that he still gets messages for the Priestfield faithful today.

He told us, “Whatever has happened in their lives to prompt it, they still remember me and it’s just so lovely and I normally take a screen shot and send it to my family because they are so proud of football and they went to Priestfield every match – they loved it there and the fans used to go over to my Mum and give her a hug and it was a special time.”

“It upset not only me but my family as well the way that I departed affected the next few years’ relationship with the Gills fans, but as time has gone on, people have gone on to understand that while I was there and played, everything I could give, I gave and it was their club and they showed love back for me – and it’s been so lovely!”

Looking at the Play Offs and the role played by Andy Hessenthaler, Carl was unrelenting in his praise for his former skipper.

He told us, “He wasn’t so much a Captain; he was our talisman. At Gillingham, they were the best set of lads for picking each other up and you didn’t really need much motivation whereas I’d been at Reading before and there was no rallying point, there was no captain even, there was just eleven players on the field doing their own thing.”

“At Priestfield, if one person was having an off day, someone like Bob (Taylor) would give me a little tap and pick me up, or Smudger (Paul Smith) or Ash (Barry Ashby) – whereas if the whole team were having an off day, the Talisman never stopped! And to see him pick us up and drag us on like he did at Stoke, it could have only been him and it was wonderful – one hell of a goal!!”

“I don’t really remember much about the second leg except for going round after the final whistle – it was a great atmosphere all-round the place and Bob’s big cheeks turned up in the dressing room after the game and he was so happy for us, it was lovely!”

As others have reminded us, the Kent football fans packed Wembley out again for the Wigan game, and like his team-mates, Carl happily remembered their backing.

“They were fantastic,” he said, “it was a great turn out, again – and for me it was a really strange match. I remember it now – and I saw it a couple of days ago – the Haworth goal (that levelled the scores at 1-1) was such a great goal…”

“There are matches when you’re on the pitch that you start wondering how we can turn this round, but there was no point at which I thought we would lose. We’d been through the lows the year before and I’d played and lost at Wembley twice before!”

“There were no nerves, there were no “oh god we can’t get back into this!” it was more “OK we’re going to win this no matter what!” – there were enough in the team who had lost before not to be overawed, but we had great additions to the team.”

“PT (Peter Taylor) had made some great signings – we had Mr Unorthodox who turned out to be on that day to have the delivery like Beckham, Junior Lewis. We had width – we had Ty Gooden – what we did have were three additional highly proven goal scorers and I was still on the pitch!”

“I was on the pitch and not scoring – you had Iffy, you’ve got Thommo and you got Steve Butler – and those goals were “proper” goals – looking round and you knew that they would have to score more than two goals to beat us.”

“And then it turned out that way – those goals… Iffy on the first – I wouldn’t have got across the near post like he did as I didn’t have the physical presence.”

“There was an amazing bit of wing work for the centre – can’t imagine who crossed the ball!” Carl added “modestly” as it was his centre!

He went on, “Butler’s header – incredible cross but Butts scored, but that’s what he did, and the best goal of all was Thommo’s who wouldn’t have had the credit from the Gillingham fans as they hadn’t seen enough of him but in training, he’d be picked way before me for the teams because he’d score more and was a natural goal scorer and the movement, the way he came off the defender and then got across his man for the perfect header, it was just incredible!”

“For a person, who wasn’t great at heading, they both were perfect headers – I wasn’t surprised at all as I’d seen them do it all the time in training day in, day out and that’s why I had no real fears on the pitch because it wasn’t down to me – if it wasn’t going to be my day, there’s goals from elsewhere!”

“I was delighted for each of them because they deserved the goals and get the credit and have the attention and never to be forgotten – they’re great players and they go down in history as the players who got us up!”

“It was so lovely not to walk off the pitch at Wembley not crying – it was great not hearing the “We are the Champions” song and not want to “shoot” Queen!

Next time in the “Twenty-two Days in May”, we highlight one of the defensive stalwarts in Deal Town’s Vase run who proved to be Mr Flexible on the famous day at Wembley as we speak to MARC SEAGER…