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Gillingham FC – A season in review
Gillingham FC – A season in review

What seemed like a dream at Christmas turned into reality at Priestfield and the ambition of American Brad Galinson has made the future of Kent’s only Football League club look bright.

A season that began with a certain degree of apprehension was slowly replaced by a serious sinking feeling, and then lit up by Gillingham’s own “Captain America” who arrived on one of the biggest days in the football calendar – just as the Christmas decorations were sent back to the box in the garage – to power his new team up and away from the trap door out of the SKYBet Football League to safety with targets firmly now set on what could be for next season.

For boss Neil Harris it really has been the season of two halves. The first with the boss pleading “just” for a squad who would compete and the second which saw his charges reinforced with Santa’s leftovers giving an amazing boost that would eventually rise to safety by beating the League Champions.

Rome wasn’t built in a day it’s and before Christmas it was anything but as The Gills struggled in front of goal – indeed just seven times the net was hit in the first one thousand, seven hundred and ten minutes of what looked at that point to be an agonising season – for a side rock bottom the defensive record wasn’t that bad with Glenn “The Cat” Morris returning in some style… both pre season and then again in January when he became one of the “January saviours”!

Yet in knock out football, the post-Christmas form was beginning to flicker. League Cup (in whatever guise you’d like) progress to within thirteen minutes of the last eight after beating one the surprise packages in the Premier League this season despite only having nineteen percent possession and one shot on target in ninety minutes.

Meanwhile, in the FA Cup, a nervy replay win over the side who would win the National League North title, before exit seemed certain deep into stoppage time as literally the Gills faced what many believed the “Dagger” through the heart.

Enter stage right bang in the middle of panto season, our hero Scott Kasket pounced to send Harris’ strugglers back to the frozen wastes of Priestfield and a Thursday night replay date which the Beeb decided to show on BBC3.

Those who braved the plunging temperatures and the ever-icy surface looked on as the mercury plunged.

Yet there was suddenly fight that hadn’t been seen since the warmth of August and when the ten men visitors threatened themselves, hero Kashket skated away – literally – and those shivering in the Rainham End suddenly had a new hero as on Hakeeb Adelakun hammered the Gills into the New Year and a home clash with a previous winner and another Premier League side (Leicester City), but this time at Priestfield.

By the time the Beeb cameras rolled back into town for the first Saturday lunchtime of 2023, Captain America had arrived and was introduced to a packed Priestfield in winter sun and the first seeds of recovery were sown.

For the record, the Foxes from Leicester nicked a win only which was to bizarrely mark the turning point of the season as just seven days later, the Gills won their first home League game since October and just their third of the season as for the first time in the League, Harris’ Blues actually scored more than one – indeed in ninety minutes they scored forty percent of the goals they had scored in the League in the previous five months.

And not content with scoring twice is one game, the following week it was three in forty-five amazing minutes at Swindon of all places…

The climb away from the foot began and was without doubt boosted when the Club gave back to the faithful with the “pay what you can” visit of Crawley in the next game and a third win in four was secured – doesn’t sound much now in May but back then, Harris’ side had in twenty-one days, they’d won as many as they had in their first twenty-three League games!

The recovery was dented by one of the best sides to be seen at Priestfield all year – Mansfield – ended the unbeaten run but it certainly focused on the home form and that electrifying change.

It’s said in football that if you win your home games and get the points at your base, the good sides will take care of themselves away from home and that was what we saw in Gillingham blue as the season developed and the gap between Harris’ side and the trap door, until all things came to the April night where this season’s nearest neighbours from the other end of the A2 came from the Orient looking for points to get out of League Two for the first time in over a decade.

We saw that night just how far the Gills had come as before Christmas when the Gills made the reverse trip, the leaders destroyed their visitors almost at will.

Gillingham were on the back foot from the kick off before Orient went down to ten for a silly foul and from the free kick, one of the men of the season for me, Alex MacDonald, curled home the goal that summed up 2023 Gills.

Even the Medway electricians got excited and pulled the plug on the lights before time, and by the time that another ten pence was found, all the other games had finished and both sides were celebrating – Orient for getting out of League Two the right way, and far more importantly, there was now no way that even if they miraculously won their last games, more than three sides couldn’t match the Gills’ points total that after Christmas was to grow, grow and grow by more than forty points!

The arrival of Brad and Shannon Gallinson undoubtedly changed the season at Priestfield and whilst the early years of the Paul Scally era saved the club from an extinction level event, I wonder just how the past five months will be viewed in twenty-five years times?

One thing that I do remember from the dark days of the mid 1990s was the phrase “never look back” that was associated with Gillingham.

Well, if proof was needed that sometimes you have to, this recovery must be looked at under after the introduction of Kenny Jackett – someone Neil Harris knows very well from his playing and managing days – and “Mr Gillingham” himself Andy Hessenthaler…

We now have a team that the Priestfield faithful can be rightly proud of, and an optimism going into a new season – the club’s 130th incidentally – that can barely have been matched after years of hope for a decent following season.

I’ll leave you with one thought – if Gillingham were to face Leicester City now in a competitive game at Priestfield – or maybe even the King Power – would the former Premier League champions and former Cup winners still prevail? I wonder too…

Look out 2023/2024 – yes, the Dragons from Netflix… sorry Wrexham, may be coming, but so are the Gills!!!

Picture supplied by Gillingham Football Club.