Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good afternoon everybody and welcome back to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for our final Sky Bet League One home fixture of 2016 against MK Dons.
I'd like to welcome everybody associated with today’s opponents - their players, management and staff, Pete Winkelman and fans - to Kent for today’s game. Result aside, I hope that their visit is a safe and enjoyable one.
As this year nears its end, and 2017 lurks ever closer on the horizon, it is a good time to take stock of the events of the past 12 months. Naturally, missing out on a return to the Championship was a bitterly disappointing outcome to the 2015/16 season, and it took me several weeks to come to terms with the way that campaign ended. Nonetheless, our final position of ninth was still the highest the club has achieved since our cruel relegation from the sport’s second tier in 2005, and was the fourth-consecutive season that we’d improved on our previous year’s placing.
But, as over two decades in football have taught me, it is not a sport that rewards those who wait for things to happen to them. Our summer recruitment and squad strengthening was as good as it has ever been, if not the best. I still maintain that we have the talent at our disposal to mount a serious promotion challenge in the time between now and April, and that our much-desired dream of playing in England’s second tier once again will come true. Finishing eighth or above, and making sure we continue to progress from season to season, is vitally important in the coming months.
After 21 games, we sit in seventeenth position, with a points haul of 26. This equates to 1.2 per match, which is just short of the 1.5 tally that is normally needed to secure a play-off place come the end of the season.
We therefore need to do the reverse of the 2015/16 campaign, in which we had a really strong first half of the season, only to fall away in the second. A consistent run of positive results will move us in to promotion contention, especially since we still sit only two wins off the top six.
Off the pitch, work continues on our plans to build a new stadium – one that would strengthen the club and be a real asset for the local community. In May, we were delighted to be visited by Mark Francois MP, the Thames Gateway Minister, and he was extremely passionate and supportive of our plans. Once we are ready to unveil full details, supporters will be the first to see the hard work and progress that has gone on behind the scenes.
Our Great Hall and banqueting facilities continue to be in great demand, and our Winter Wonderland Christmas parties have been a huge hit. Ensuring that we are extremely competitive both on and off the pitch is vital for clubs like ours, and we’re proud to have worked with so many local businesses and charities in staging their events this year.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the support that fans have shown Take Heart Mercy Mission throughout 2016, and seeing the rewards of every donation contributing to crucial life-saving treatment to so many sick children during our visit to Sri Lanka in October is always an annual highlight.
Unfortunately, televised fixtures have not been a happy hunting ground for us in 2016, and that trend continued on Monday night away to Bolton Wanderers.
Naturally, I’m always glad when the club attracts national media coverage, but once again this latest Sky game didn’t show the watching audience the level of talent and quality we have assembled at the club.
It was a difficult evening for all involved, and our opponents certainly showed their class throughout. Then again, even with their much-document financial problems, with the backing and resources at their disposal, they should be challenging for an immediate return to the Championship.
Nonetheless, we have won three out of the last five Sky Bet League One games, which over the course of a season would put any side on course to be in the hunt for automatic promotion. If we can continue to build on that this afternoon, against an MK Dons side, who themselves have already picked up their form under a new manager, then there’s no reason why we cannot move up the table and enter 2017 in a healthy position.
Can I take this opportunity to wish everyone associated with the club a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you all back here on January 2, 2017 when we entertain Oxford United.
Make sure you all get behind the team this afternoon and play your part in what will hopefully be a vital pre-Christmas victory.
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally