Bartram – Gills win was a special day
Bartram – Gills win was a special day

In the latest of our “22 days in May” series, KSN’s chief football writer Mike Green has been talking with the man primarily charged with keeping the ball out of the Gillingham net that historic season – Vince Bartram.

Vince, who also in goal for the Manchester City game twelve months before told us “I’m surprised that no-one has made a film about it honestly – everything came full circle in the space of just over twelve months from the absolute lows of the year before and the City game to the pinnacle of a season’s work.”

“It was no surprise then I think that when we went back in, we had to overcome the disappointment as well as having a new manager – change things around with a different philosophy. PT (Peter Taylor) was different to Tony (Pulis) and I don’t think it was too much of a surprise that we didn’t start too well that season,” Vince added, “though I think we started slowly most seasons!”

“Under Tony, we’d pretty much played three centre halves – on a good day Ady, Ash and Butts – three solid centre halves and that was how Tony worked. Peter though ideally would have like to have gone four-four-two and it took a while with one or two people getting used to him and him getting used to the lads and it took five or six games for things to really settle down and for everyone to realise what the strengths of the team were and how we were going to move forward.”

The Gills had their best ever FA Cup run that same season – Vince told us, “you look back now, we beat Bradford and Sheffield Wednesday – we were League One whilst they were both Premiership clubs – two seasons later we were in the Championship and they were both in League One.”

“So sometimes, those games are indicative of the direction that the Clubs are going rather than a massive feature on the day – don’t get me wrong, they were great experiences and fun times, but we did get behind and were playing catch-up in terms of games and points come the end of the season. And the worry was that it was going to be too big a job with too many points to catch up right at the end of a long season!”

“We knew that if we won the last four or the last five games of the season, it was in our own hands. I remember we played Cardiff on the Tuesday before going to Wrexham and we came off the pitch and the Chairman and the Gaffer and everyone thought just one more, one more.”

“You talk about the disappointment of Man City – and that was massive, but at least you had the “comfort” of having played at Wembley and been part of something – to me Wrexham was probably more of a low than City was…”

No automatic promotion then, and in the first leg of the Play Offs at Stoke, it looked like the campaign was over before it began as Vince remembered, “I think that was possibly one of the poorest team performances of the season – two-nil down seven minutes in and you’re on the back of the Wrexham disappointment, and you’re thinking “it’s not meant to be and it’s not going to happen!” Then going into the last minute of the game and we’re three-one down and you think that you’ve got everything against you, and then the “little dynamite” pops up with a thirty-five yarder in the top corner in injury time and suddenly it changed everything – one shot, one moment and the lads suddenly started thinking it could be meant to be!”

“Goals change games and momentum – just look at the City game and if Kevin Horlock doesn’t score the first one, they don’t get the second one – but that one mattered from a physiological point, that goal was just massive. It gave us the lift and I think that any confidence that Stoke had coming down to Priestfield, they knew then that their job had just been made a whole lot tougher!”

And so, to Wembley and what does the Gills stopper remember? “Very little!” he admitted. “I’ve seen it since on social media, but my actual recollection of the game, I can’t remember much about it to be honest.”

“Probably the one thing that I do remember vividly was literally my last kick of the game. The ball went out for a goal-kick and I remember thinking that one good kick now and we’re done, I kicked the ball – and I think I must have been so pumped up – it went near enough the length of the pitch, but literally as I kicked the ball, I remember just standing there with my arms in the air expecting the referee to blow the whistle, and added another five or ten seconds on…”

Both the Play Off Finals will live long in the memory of the Gills fans, and Vince remembers the impression that the fans and their backing left on him.

“I remember at the first one, Tony made us wait in the dressing room letting City go out because he wanted the City players to hear our supporters and the roar of the Gills fans when we all came out together – he wanted them out there to hear the roar!”

“The fans were as loud and as brilliant again against Wigan and they were brilliant the day after when we had the open topped bus. We stayed at a hotel in Maidstone and then next day we had the open topped bus tour and coming up Bluebell Hill on this bus, it was freezing cold looking round thinking there would be no-one around, but as we came down into the Towns, the people who did come out were unbelievable – someone said there were 200,000 – and everyone was there and made it a really special day and will live in the memory forever.”

Next time the focus is back on Deal’s Wembley winners and one of the mainstays of Tommy Sampson’s side – we spotlight Steve Best.