Asaba recalls Gills memories
Asaba recalls Gills memories

In today’s “22 Days In May” we focus on the Gillingham striker who missed most of the “Wigan” season through injury but returned in time to play a pivotal role in the Play Off Final – a year after scoring against Manchester City.

KSN’s chief football writer Mike Green has been talking to Carl Asaba.

“I get so much throughout the year – people just contacting me by social media, just popping up not asking for friend requests or this or that, just out of the blue, just contacting me for my time at Priestfield!” said Carl.

The former striker recalls his first game for the club and how he didn’t fly to Gillingham’s away game at Blackpool along with his new team-mates.

“I turned into BA Baraccus that morning and they were not going to get me on that plane that day for love nor money!”

“I remember getting on the pitch and I’d turned up after the team as they were already in Blackpool and we went straight to the match from the airport – it was crazy.”

“It meant so much as I played the moment that I signed! It was a good match – it was a hard match; we drew, and I got a glimpse in what the next few years were going to be – it was one hundred percent on the pitch commitment from every player.”

“Everyone worked their socks off in that Blackpool match and that’s what was expected every week of you!”

“There are a few significant points during my career and that was one of them,” Carl told us.

He went on to explain his initial thoughts of the 1999 Play-Off Final against Manchester City, “It was just a massive event what with it being Man City as well. The following they had; I’d played at Wembley before when it was half full. But half of Kent turned up, so it meant that City didn’t just have a “neutral” home game – it was two sets of supporters rammed to the rafters for an amazing game of football!”

An amazing game but a heart-breaking end that the players had to live with all that summer of 1999. “All summer!” exclaimed Carl, “I went to the Man City v Man United second leg (League Cup Semi Final) a couple of months ago with my kids and we were in the stadium and Dickov’s goal goes on the Big Screen – this is just a couple of months ago because it’s such a significant moment in City’s history, it’s played before every home match played at the Etihad.”

“I’m stood there watching then… and if that’s not bad enough, they then start singing “Blue Moon” and I start shaking all over again!”

“So, in answer to the question – no it wasn’t just a couple of months; it’s something that has lived with me all my life and will for all Gills fans for life because it was that huge a moment!”

“It will never go away – and I hate it – but it’s better to have lived and have something significant than not so we’ve all got the memories.”

Carl was to miss a big part of the 1999 / 2000 season through injury. “The last few months of the previous season I knew that I had a bad injury and I was playing with pain-killers and coughing up blood after matches, because I was coughing up blood by taking too many on an empty stomach as it was hurting the stomach lining – it was an injury we could play with so long as it was masked.”

“That was the reason I was taken off at two-nil against City because we knew the following week that I was going to have an operation and we didn’t want to make it worse.”

“I was struggling but with everything that was coming up, it would have been much nicer to have had the success to look back on to think it had all been worth it!”

“It would have been a lot easier watching the following season, if my playing partner wasn’t scoring every time he touched the ball” said Carl referring to the eighteen goals that Bob Taylor scored in nineteen games for the club before his move to City.

“I’ve had a lot of words with him over that,” he jokes, “he was very inconsiderate that he turned into “Billy Wizz” and scored with every touch and make me jealous.”

“Seriously, Rob and I didn’t have a jealous partnership – it was a really strange one when your strike partner scores, you got the hump.”

“But we had this thing from our Brentford days that he’d score goals that I couldn’t and I’d score the goals that he couldn’t so you didn’t mind as if he was scoring it was helping the team and helping you at the same time!”

Carl went on to explain how hard he worked to get back in the Gillingham side as soon as possible.

“It was pent up frustration desperate to get back and I was in really good physical shape – I must have put on half a stone of muscle – I remember my left foot volley at Preston – the first goal back – was one that I wouldn’t normally have hit as I wouldn’t normally have the strength in my left foot to kick it that far; it was good as I was obviously full of confidence in myself.”

“Playing at Priestfield, I got a hat-trick in the last home game against Cardiff, but for the support there, I probably wouldn’t have scored half the goals that I did if it had been away because I had the confidence to do it.”

“So, every time the ball would come to me there, there was an expectancy and it gave you the confidence to try anything because no-one moaned if you missed.”

“They wouldn’t shout at you, they just wanted you to do it more and more – you just tried, and the third goal against Cardiff was a first time shot bent from outside the area into the top right hand corner, which is something that I’d never tried, but at home… I did, and it went top corner, so it was lovely!”

Next time in the “Twenty-two Days in May”, our discussion with Carl turns its’ attention to the Play Offs which this time were to end so gloriously for the Gills