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19 July 2012

Richard Day looks back on the career of the prolific striker

Steve was only at Priestfield for around five and a half years as a player but in that time he scored 104 goals in his 275 league and cup games for the club, a record which leaves him fourth in Gillingham's all-time top goalscorer's list behind Brian Yeo (149), Brian Gibbs (109) and Tony Cascarino (110).

Before he made his debut for Palace, away at Wolves at the start of the 1980-81 season, he played a summer season for the Memphis Rogues (May-August 1979) where he made 18 appearances and then Stockport County where he played a dozen games.

Lovell was part of the outstanding Eagles youth side of that era, playing initially at full-back or in midfield and, having graduated through the youth system, he signed his first professional contract at Selhurst Park in the summer of 1977.

Born in Swansea, he played for both Swansea and Wales at Schoolboy level, before signing apprentice forms at Crystal Palace where Terry Venables was youth coach and Malcolm Allison was the first-team manager at the time. In his time at Selhurst Park, not only did he score three goals in 74 league appearances, but he gained further recognition from Wales adding to his Schoolboy and Youth caps by making his senior debut for his country when he replaced Joey Jones in the 85th minute of a World Cup Qualifier against Russia in Tblisi back in November 1981.

Following his release by new Palace boss Alan Mullery, former team-mate George Graham made Lovell his first signing as manager of Millwall and it was Scot who switched the Welshman into a striking position due to an injury crisis. He scored twice in a 2-0 win over Brentford and never looked back.

While at the Den, he took his tally of full Welsh caps to six, playing against Norway in Bergen where he scored on his full debut, Scotland, Hungary and Canada (twice). However, he was injured in the 3 - 0 win in Vancouver and that kept him out of the South Londoners side long term. Having scored 43 goals in 146 league games for the Lions, he couldn't force his way back into the team and he moved to Gillingham for £20,000 in February 1987.

Having not been 100% fit at the time of his arrival, he didn't make his debut until the 18th April, when he came on as a substitute at Walsall. Two days later he scored his first goal in a 4 - 1 thumping of Fulham and in all made eight appearances including two in the Play-Off's that season.

Then in 1987-88, and obviously back to his best, he became the first Gills player to score more than 20 goals in a season since Damien Richardson's exploits back in 1974-75. He was ever-present that season, playing 55 games in all competitions and netting 27 goals, which earned him the bragging rights as top scorer. This included four in the 8 - 1 thrashing of Southend United and a hat-trick in the 4 - 1 win over Chesterfield at Saltergate.

He set a club record of scoring in seven consecutive games at the start of the following term (1988-89) and was to again lead the way with 17, 18 and 21 goals over the next three seasons. His 18 strikes during the 1989-90 campaign included no fewer than nine from the penalty spot!

David Crown joined the Gills at the start of the 1991-92 campaign and he went on to take the leading scorer mantle with 22 goals but Lovell still managed to help himself to another 16. This included another treble, this time in a 5 - 1 home victory over Rotherham United.

The following season he added another hat-trick, against Wrexham at home, but after a short spell on loan at Bournemouth, Steve joined non-league Sittingbourne in December 1992.

In between his spells at Sittingbourne, he has been with a number of other clubs, in playing and managerial positions - Braintree Town, St Albans City, Hastings United, Gravesend & Northfleet, Weymouth and Tonbridge Angels at various times.

Lovell became player-manager of the Brickies, then dubbed 'the Manchester United of non-league football' in February 1995 and led them to the Southern League (South) title and has since had two other spells with the club at both Central and Bourne Park.

However one of the highlights of his whole career possibly came during the twilight of his playing days, when he was with Deal Town. That was because in the 1999-2000 season, the Kent League side not only reached the F.A Vase Final at Wembley but in front of a 20,083 crowd they beat Chippenham Town 1 - 0.
He remained at Homelands until the summer of 2010 when the club resigned from the Ryman League Division One (South) having been suspended by the F.A due to their unpaid debts.

In October 2007, Steve left his post as Football in the Community Officer here at Priestfield Stadium and resigned as manager of Sittingbourne to take over as boss of their Ryman League One (South) rivals Ashford Town.

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