Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good afternoon everybody and welcome to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for today’s FA Cup first-round tie against Brackley Town. I’d like to extend my welcome to our visitors from Northamptonshire, most notably their directors, management, players, staff and supporters, and I wish them an enjoyable visit to Kent.
Today provides the usual autumnal break from the gruelling Sky Bet League One programme, as the road to Wembley begins with a home draw against an in-form side from the Vanarama National League North division.
At this stage in the season, every League One and Two team aims to reach the third round of the FA Cup in the hope of pulling a big club out of the hat. For Brackley Town and other non-league sides around the country this weekend, this is their big day, as the competition progresses into the first round proper.
Brackley Town’s journey started on September 17, with a resounding 6-0 win against Rugby Town. They followed this up with an impressive 3-0 victory away to Worcester City (who knocked out Coventry City two years ago with a shock 2-1 win at the Ricoh Arena), and in the final qualifying round they emphatically disposed of Beaconsfield SYCOB 5-0.
With fourteen goals scored and none conceded on their path to the Priestfield, today’s opponents will be no pushovers. If we think it will be a stroll in the park, then we need to think again – especially given what happened the last time the two clubs met in this competition in 2013. We will need to be fully focused and ultra professional to ensure we keep an interest in the next round of this competition. Anything less will see us as become part of the long list of so-called “bigger clubs” being beaten by one of the minnows in the cup’s history.
Since I took over as Gillingham Football Club chairman in the summer of 1995, our best run in the competition saw us reach the quarter-finals in 2000 – the furthest the club has ever progressed.
After wins over Cheltenham Town, Darlington and Walsall were achieved in the first three rounds, the way we brilliantly overcame top-flight teams Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday (both beaten 3-1 at home) to progress through the competition will live in my memory for a long time. The fearless, attacking nature of our play in those games was a joy to watch.
That set up the quarter-final clash with a star-studded Chelsea, whose team included the likes of Marcel Desailly, Gus Poyet, Didier Deschamps, Gianfranco Zola, George Weah and a young John Terry. We may have lost a 5-0 at Stamford Bridge, but the performance was certainly no disgrace, and it was another memorable day for everyone connected with the club.
I’m sure Gills supporters don’t need reminding that we ended that season with promotion to Division One, as it was known at the time. Perhaps the confidence we gained from our very successful FA Cup run helped us see through our league promotion push so, 17 years later, we’re hopeful of doing the same. Anybody who was at Vicarage Road earlier this season when we outplayed Watford in the EFL Cup will know how much these victories can transform the mood and feeling among the players, staff and supporters.
As long as the FA Cup continues to produce these shock results, it will remain the greatest club competition in the world. Of course, the majority of people inside Priestfield this afternoon will hope the result goes in the league team’s favour, so I’d urge you to get behind our players to ensure our name is in the hat for the second-round draw.
Let’s make Priestfield LOUD this afternoon!
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally