Ashby relives Gills Wembley win
Ashby relives Gills Wembley win

Today we turn the focus back on Gillingham’s Play off Final win over Wigan Athletic, as our “22 Days in May” series continues with KSN’s chief football writer Mike Green talking to Priestfield legend and crowd favourite BARRY ASHBY…

Losing to Manchester City the previous season, left its’ mark on the Gills going into the following season as Barry recalls, “To be honest I think it lingered around a lot of us for a few weeks in pre-season when we first came back.”

“With Tony Pulis leaving and Peter Taylor coming in I think it did freshen up the place a little bit – we just needed another voice maybe at that time as I think it helped in that initial first couple of weeks that we came back.”

“I remember after the City game when we went to the dinner, not too many of the boys hung around afterwards – I know that I didn’t!”

“We were gutted Tony left as he brought most of us to the Club – I knew that he could be on his way; we’d heard rumblings after the game and again I’d worked with PT at Watford and so knew what sort of character he was, and I think it was something that, at the time we didn’t know we needed, when you look back on it, I think as players. we needed it as it was tough especially when we came back and met pre-season.”

“It was tough, but did I have any doubts that we would come back? No – it just took a little bit of time. I’m convinced that we would have held our own if we had got promoted – there was quality throughout the team from back to front; there was a good mixture of lads who had been about and had the experience and we had some good young players coming through.”

“Looking back on it now, there were a couple of seasons when we were in the Championship that if we had had the finances to maybe bolster our squad a little bit, to add something in January or a little bit more at the start of a season, I think we would have pushed on if I’m honest!”

“That’s maybe a bold statement but we weren’t that far off – we knew from when you get in the Play Offs, funny things can happen.”

“Look at the Stoke away game in the Semi, we were two-nil down out of nowhere, and then pretty dominated the half and had chance after chance and really and truly it took an absolute wonder goal from Hessie to keep us in the tie.”

“Play Off football is crazy and I’ve played in a few of them and every game has been mad! I think if we could have just added a bit of quality – we had some fantastic players, but there were times when we had a few injuries and if we could have bolstered the squad a little bit we really could have made the Play Offs.”

“I felt quite nervous as I’d lost in a Final with Brentford and then to lose one of the greatest ever Finals at Wembley funnily enough for the third time I felt really calm.”

“I knew we had a good team; I knew we had enough in the team to beat Wigan on our day. But I do know that I had a calmness about me and the whole team did – the year before we were more like excited kids as we knew it was City and we knew it was a big day.”

“But for the Wigan game we all seemed to be a lot calmer – we were tense in terms of what had happened before, but we’d been through the process before and I think the attitude was that it couldn’t have been any worse than the previous year.”

It was Barry who conceded the penalty that put Wigan ahead for the only time in the contest. Was it a penalty we asked, “Of course not!” Barry said laughing, “not in a million years – he went down like he was shot.”

“To be fair, I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it, but it is what it is. I didn’t think that I’d done enough to bring him down, but at the end of the day, we’re a contact sport, not that you’d believe it these days!”

“I knew we had quality and I knew that we’d have the chances to get back into it. That’s what I mean about quality at times in games when players are getting tired you look at the two bits of quality, they deserved to win a Final.”

“It still gives me goose bumps but for us as a squad it’s the fifty sixty games we played that season – it was a long season and you put a lot into it especially after the year before.”

“I’ll never forget it, the year before I’d looked at Guy (Butters) and we’d looked up at the scoreboard and it was two-nil at ninety minutes and then we got beaten on penalties after playing so well – that’s all on your mind after the final whistle and just to enjoy it.”

“I remember saying to Ady (Pennock) afterwards we’ve got to make the most of this and I don’t think that there’s been a team who has stayed out on the pitch longer than we did that day! I even think the fans had gone home by the time we went in!”

“I’ll never forget that after the Final, I went on holiday to Cyprus and the very first night we went out, totally randomly a family ran over with a Gillingham shirt – honestly, it was bonkers,” Barry remembers laughing.

“What is was they had a relative or friend over there and they had a shirt for him, and they were taking it to him that night as I was walking down the street with my family!”

Next time, the “Twenty-two Days in May” spotlight turns onto the man who’s goal won the Vase for Deal Town as we talk to the man himself… Roly Graham!