Where next for Gillingham?
Where next for Gillingham?

With the League One season just twelve games in, a number of Gillingham fans are beginning to question which direction the club are going in.

Sitting 19th in the table with just eleven points from those twelve games, fans have started to turn their attention and ire to the club’s hierarchy, questioning what the future holds for their club.

On Saturday at Wycombe, a number of fans unfurled a banner that read “Scally Out” and this has been a message that’s been getting louder and more clear from certain sections of the Gillingham faithful in recent weeks.

Disillusioned at the way the club is being run and whether Gillingham face a relegation battle this season, fans have turned their attention to the Chairman of 26 years.

Meanwhile, manager Steve Evans hasn’t been let off from criticism from other parts of the support as Gillingham fans look for answers on where the club is headed.

Working on a tight budget and a small squad, Gillingham undoubtedly are unable to match big spending clubs such as Wigan Athletic and Sunderland, but in the past few campaigns, Evans has been able to conjure up a top ten finish in League One.

Missing out on the play-offs, Evans could well have left in the summer, but is under contract at Priestfield and seems unlikely to just walk away from the Gillingham job.

In the 26 years that Paul Scally has been in charge at Priestfield, the club have seen many highs and a few lows, but some fans are beginning to question whether he has taken the club as far as he can.

Looking for investment in the club for a number of years, Scally has been unable to land that lucrative lump of cash that will enable Gillingham to compete with the League One big boys and push on back to the glory days earlier in the century and a place in the Championship.

Some fans still look back to those halcyon days and give Scally the rightful credit he deserves for guiding the club to the top half of English football.

However, others pine for that again and are beginning to wonder whether those days will ever return.

It’s at this point some Gillingham fans are thinking about what does the future of their football club look like.

Fast forward 20 or 30 years and there is a real chance Gillingham could well be languishing in the lower reaches of the Football League, or worse still non league. The unthinkable would be the club folding altogether.

On the flip side, get things right from here on in and the club could compete at the highest level. You only have to look at what clubs like Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford have done in recent years to see theirs is a model of success that could be followed.

Both clubs were in a dire position at one point, Brighton playing at the Withdean Stadium, fans watching from beyond the athletics track, not that many years really after featuring in the FA Cup Final.

What Brighton have done has been nothing short of incredible. Having had to play their home games at Priestfield back in 1996, then off to the Withdean, they’re now living the high life in the Premier League.

Fan engagement and inclusivity has been key in the transformation of both Brighton and Brentford.

However, there have been many clubs that went for broke and literally have gone bust.

You only have to look at what’s happened to the likes of Bolton Wanderers and Derby County in recent seasons to see that looking for the promised land can land you in real trouble.

Over many years Gillingham have relied on producing their own local talent, nurturing them and understandably selling them on when the time and price is right.

Matt Jarvis and Bradley Dack are the two stand out exports from Gillingham in the past twenty years, but they have been few and far between.

Luke Rooney, Ashley Miller and now Jack Tucker have been or are tipped for great futures in the game, but haven’t yielded Gillingham the big transfer that they could well have done thus far.

Taking Gillingham to that next level could well depend then on external investement and some fans have begun to wonder if that will ever happen under Scally.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, Gillingham fans have nothing but the best interests of their club at heart and it’s been clear for some years now that a divide has begun to form.

Those that want Scally gone need to be careful what they wish for. Removing a Chairman is one thing, taking over a club that has largely one owner is another.

Paul Scally is a shrewd businessman and won’t just walk away from Gillingham Football Club, but his time running the club will come to an end one day. When that days is, no one knows, probably not even the man himself.

The question is, if not Scally then who? Who out there has the desire, passion and most importantly the money to run Gillingham Football Club?

A number of investors have clearly looked at Gillingham in the past decade, but fans thinking that a takeover akin to that at Newcastle United are either naive or foolish.

With a large catchment area and Gillingham being the only Football League club in Kent, you’d be forgiven for wondering why the club haven’t gone on to be a Championship club at the very least, but size doesn’t always matter.

Punching above their weight for some years now, Burnley have a stable, well run team on and off the pitch and yes they’ve now landed new investment and a new owner, but that came after years of hard work and a sustainable plan with stability throughout the club.

Building the foundations from the bottom up and not the top down surely has to be the way to go for clubs like Gillingham.

From the lady that sells you your cup of bovril on a Saturday afternoon, to the young lad that flogs you a programme on your way into Priestfield, to the ever faithful steward who’s been watching you for the past 20 years and not the game going on behind him, to the people that sweep the rubbish from the stands at the end of the game, they’re the people that make a football club, the local community, oh and of course the fans.

Forget the fans and start calling them customers or consumers and you run the risk of losing your paying guests.

These are the lifeblood of any football club. When fans stop going through the turnstiles, you’ve got a really big problem. Gillingham’s attendances have clearly dropped in the past decade or so, but what club hasn’t struggled at times?

A boycott from some Gillingham fans is clearly happening and they are probably staying away for a variety of reasons, but it can’t be a sustainable position for the Football Club as the years go by if that continues to happen.

Gillingham rely heavily on season ticket holders, fans coming along on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday night, paying their hard earned money on tickets, merchandise and concessions. Forget them at your peril.

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