We join Gills fan Mark Hadlam on his exclusive away day experience with the team
Mark Hadlam and wife Samantha Bagnall have delivered their final diary posts after their exclusive behind-the-scenes experience during the Gills stay in Chesterfield over the weekend.
Mark won the `Away Day` prize last year at the Take Heart Mercy Mission Dinner and boarded the team coach at 9.30 on Friday morning from MEMS Priestfield and travelled with the side as far as Nottingham where the players trained before heading for their hotel.
They ate with the management on Friday evening, enjoyed breakfast with the coaching staff the next morning and then set off to set up the dressing room prior to returning back to the hotel for the final pre-match talk.
We caught up with Mark, and wife Sam, on Monday morning, having spoken on a few occasions during their stay, for their reflection on the away day experience.
Mark said: “We had a brilliant time and it was very special for the both of us and absolutely worth every penny. The Gaffer, John Schofield, Gary Hemens, James Russell, Malcolm and even Frank the driver were absolutely fantastic to us.
“We enjoyed so much of it for so many different reasons. I enjoyed sitting round the table with the management team on the Friday evening, it was quite relaxed and we were talking about all sorts of things and that was as good as an evening as you could have had – it was like being with a group of friends.
“For me as a Gillingham fan it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that didn’t, in any way shape or form, disappoint.
“The management team and all of the players were absolutely brilliant – they couldn’t have been friendlier, could not have been more informative. We could have potentially been a distraction but they dealt with that impeccably and we were not excluded.
“We were included in as much as the gaffer could have included us in.”
Mark revealed what the atmosphere was like on the journey home with the club having set a new record of 11 away wins in a season.
He added: “We were on the bus on the way home and 10 minutes in to the journey the preparation for Tuesday night had started. The atmosphere on the coach was great but that was history, the focus began on Tuesday and the preparation and planning began again.
“They were lively and bubbly when we got on and everyone got a pat on the back but the focus quickly changed for the next three points.
“It was that attention to all the small details which was amazing, and they cared. It was important to them and that’s refreshing as a fan to see that.
“I saw that first hand, they care a lot.
“There is a really strong mental strength in and around the team and when people talk about the team they think about the 11 on the pitch, but it isn’t just those 11.
“Everybody, even down to the coach driver, plays their part and all those little bits and pieces come together to make up those 90 minutes.
“My heart held thanks to all and I would like to pass on my immense gratitude to everyone behind the scenes because it was a wonderful experience and we are very grateful.”
Wife Sam added: “It was a fantastic experience and something that as a fan you don’t normally get the opportunity to do.
“We were treated as part of the team - on Saturday during the pre-match team talk in the hotel you could feel the tension starting to build but Martin works really hard to not let the pressure become too much.
“He breaks it with jokes and bits and pieces just to keep them all upbeat but focussed, and that in itself is quite fascinating.
“Going to the ground it was quiet and most of them [the players] have their headphones on and listening to their own songs which they like to listen to as part of their own preparation, and the management team were discussing last minute bits and pieces.
“Afterwards they were all pleased that they had done their jobs, they were jubilant and were pumped up.
“I’m not sure that all clubs would be quite so open to include fans in so much of it. We were able to do all the bits that we wanted to do.”
Saturday February 23 - Post Match, 5.30pm
Mark said: “Towards the end it was a bit `backs to the wall,` but they did it, as they have done several times this season, especially away from home.
“The new record is very special. We are very pleased and we still have the journey home too.
“One of the things that has come across is that it’s a team of people, everyone is involved and the attention to detail is quite remarkable.
“Everything is shaped up towards the 90 minutes on the pitch and that’s what counts, but everything that leads up to that there is a whole series of people and events which make that occur.
“Even to the extent of setting out the dressing room, there is a set way that is done and it has to be done that way.
“We thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Wife Samantha added: “It’s been really interesting to see behind the scenes and how hard everyone works to get the team out on the pitch.
“They were very upbeat, they are very well behaved, they honour their curfews and made us feel very welcome.”
Earlier in the day we spoke to both Mark and Sam as they were preparing to set up the dressing room for the players’ arrival, and this is what they said at around 10am Saturday morning.
“It was great to sit around the team at dinner and have a conversation, it wasn’t all about football,” Mark said. “It was about us and what we do and it was just a very good evening.
“It was relaxed but the players were focussed because, at the end of the day, they are there to do a job but it was a very enjoyable night.
“We had to be down for breakfast at 8.45 and we are now on our way to the ground with Malcolm, James and Gary to set up ready for the team’s arrival.
“Once we have set up we will go back to the hotel, have our pre-match and then along with the team come back to the ground ready for kick-off at three o’clock.”
When we spoke to Mark on Friday he was aware that he may have to sing a song as is the tradition when a new signing or youth team member travels with the squad, however he was fortunate enough to see others go through that initiation instead.
He added: “I saw four people go through that but I wasn’t one of them so I escaped that, a couple of them were actually quite good!
“The two loanees (Michael Richardson and Ryan Williams) and the two younger lads Josh Staunton and Aaron Millbank had to do it.”
Samantha joined up with her husband late on Friday evening and she was very impressed with the set-up and in particular the sports science aspect of match preparation.
She said: “It’s been great, the science behind the match is fascinating and I think James was excited that I found that intriguing.
“I didn’t realise how much work goes on behind the scenes – the management and players work really well as a team.
“Everything is very efficient in terms of timing and it’s all checked and worked down to the finest detail. They are all where they are supposed to be.”
Friday February 22, 4.30pm
"It was a good experience being at training and the one thing that comes through more than anything is the feeling of being in a team.
“It’s a nice atmosphere, everyone is having a laugh and a joke but at the same time the serious business is taken care of and it was nice to watch.
“All the players have introduced themselves – they are doing their own thing and I’m just observing really because they have a job to do.
“We [Mark and the management] have had a couple of chats which has been quite interesting. Being at the hotel will be a nice experience and I’m looking forward to the evening meal.
“One of the things that did come out is that everyone gets on with everyone and it’s a unit. It’s not 18 or 20 individuals, it’s a team and that’s the overwhelming feeling I have got.
“You understand the time, effort and attention to detail that it takes to getting a team here – all of the right food, drinks, clothing and all of the little bits and pieces. The attention to detail is quite remarkable when you think it is just a football match.”
If you missed his very first post prior to setting off on Friday, this is what he had to say:
“We’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. For a 51 year old man it makes you feel a little bit like a kid in a sweetie shop.
“I’ve been a supporter of the club for more years than I can remember but it feels almost surreal to be inside the inner sanctum.
“The only thing is I spoke to John Schofield on the phone last night and he suggested there might be the possibility of me having to sing on the coach so I will try to avoid that if at all possible!”