Gillingham Football Club holds a special place in the hearts of thousands of football fans across Kent and none more so than the Thornewell family.
The Thornewells have supported The Gills throughout the decades and the club’s home tie against Doncaster Rovers proved to be a special and humbling occasion for the family who marked the passing of their beloved Father who supported the club throughout his life.
Mr Thornewell, originally from Derby joined the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. After training he was eventually posted to Kent being Billeted near West Malling airfield. He landed on the Normandy beaches in June 1944 moving through France and Belgium and into Germany.
During that period he got married and set up home in Kent. Always a follower of football he was of course a supporter of Derby County. Mr Thornewell’s uncle George Thornewell played in the 1920's for Derby County and England (gaining four caps) before moving on to Blackburn Rovers with whom he won the FA Cup 1928.
Being an avid football supporter, Mr Thornewell adopted The Gills during the 1950's. Attending Priestfield matches as often as he could throughout his life, he encouraged his sons and grandchildren to follow the Gills as well.
Ahead of Gills clash against Doncaster Rovers the Thornewell family were greeted by warm and respectful applause across the stadium as the family were welcomed onto the pitch to pay their respects to their Dad with a special Gills wreath.
Mark Thornewell reflected upon the experience and thanked the club and their fans for their reception.
"It was always going to be a strange and very emotional match being the first one without my Grandad. I remember vividly the first time he took me to Priestfield in the late 1980s versus Colchester.”
“Ironically his final match with me was March of this year again against Colchester when our whole family had a box. Being invited into the centre circle just before kick was very special. We proudly held up the Gills floral scarf tribute from his funeral the day before as well as our famous “Super Gills” banner which dates back to Wembley 2000.”
“The standing ovation we received from all sides of the ground as we walked back to our Rainham End seats was both unexpected and very moving. Being allowed to lay the floral scarf behind the goal at the Rainham End was equally special.”
Mark also revealed the meaning being the special tribute the family had organised.
“Keeping up Grandad's tradition, my wife turned his scarf (which she was wearing) around at half time to inspire the team on to victory in the second half - we think his scarf behind the goal helped pull Jakes goal over the line.”
“We’d like to thank Charlotte and the team at GFC for inviting our family into the center circle just before kick-off.”