Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good afternoon everybody and welcome back to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for today’s Sky Bet League One fixture against Northampton Town.
I’d like to give an extended welcome to the directors, management team, players and loyal fans from Northampton, and hope they have a safe visit to Kent today.
Last week saw our entry into this season’s FA Cup competition. The first round saw a rerun from 2013, as we were drawn at home against Brackley Town, and once again the non-league side came away with a draw. It is important to remember that we came from two goals down to ensure we took the game to a replay, which some people may have overlooked, and I have no doubt that we will get the right result in front of the TV cameras on Wednesday night in Northamptonshire.
As well as avoiding a defeat live on BT Sport, the incentive of a winnable away tie against Blackpool in round two should add to the motivation levels of all involved at St James Park in four days’ time.
Today we return to the bread and butter of Sky Bet League One action, with an encounter against top-six side Northampton Town, who have adjusted really well to this division having claimed the League Two title last season.
The last time we met the Cobblers was four seasons ago, when we were both in League Two, and we managed to do the double over them. One thing that stands out about our most recent game against Northampton here in January 2013 is that, while Town were on a good run and had moved themselves into promotion contention, one point from our previous two games had seen us knocked-off top spot. However, the fearless and energetic performance from the Gills players that night got our promotion push back on track, and the deserved 2-0 victory was the catalyst for three wins and a draw from the following five games. This shows how things in football can change so quickly and, having won away at West Brom in our final Checkatrade Trophy match on Tuesday night, everybody is hoping we can build on that positive result here today. Out of those players involved in our last game against today’s opponents, only Stuart Nelson and Cody McDonald remain a part of the playing squad, and we will need all their experience today (and that of the other senior players in the squad) to help us navigate us through this difficult spell.
I am not one for making excuses, but in all my time at the helm of the club I have never known so many players to be injured during the first few months of a season. Over the summer we all felt we had assembled a really competitive group of players and, when you look at our squad it does look a strong League One outfit, but things have transpired so much against us that we have only been able to name the same starting XI once this season.
The manager has had no option but to chop and change the team over the first third of the season and, although we all get frustrated with the way results have gone, the unavailability of key players inevitably can lead to inconsistency in team performances. Luckily, things appear to be improving on this front, and by all accounts AFC Bournemouth loanee Baily Cargill made an impressive debut for the club at The Hawthorns in midweek.
However, we all know the league table does not lie - 17 points from the first 16 games it is not where we want to be. Yet for every obstacle that we have faced this season, we remain within touching distance of the top six. When things go against you, it is even more important for everybody to pull together. Your support has been, as ever, outstanding this season, so can I urge you to stay right behind the players this afternoon to create the 12th Man spirit that will help the team deliver a performance that gets us back on track.
Off the pitch, we continue to work on our efforts to make football affordable for all, and today is the first game for which our £25 family tickets (two adults and two under-18s in the Brian Moore Stand) come into play for both home and visiting supporters. That is the cheapest of its kind across the entire EFL, and I’m sure we’ll see a positive take-up on this excellent initiative.
As part of our links with the Kent Youth League, together with their CEO Ken Brooke, I contacted every one of their 68 clubs this week as part of our work to strengthen what is already a long-standing and excellent partnership. Once again this afternoon, players and parents from KYL teams will be in attendance at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium to dispel the idea that professional football is a sport only accessible by watching television. I hope they have an enjoyable day inside the MEMS Priestfield Stadium, and that we send them home with the right result.
As Christmas draws closer, our events team are working incredibly hard as they make their final preparations for our spectacular Winter Wonderland parties, which have all-but sold out. Starting on November 26, we’ll be welcoming thousands of guests to the club for an unforgettable evening of entertainment – but for those companies who have left their festive celebrations late, limited availability remains. Contact the club on (01634) 300000 for more information.
Before we know it, our Great Hall will be hosting the 2017 Take Heart Mercy Mission fundraising dinner, which will take place on Saturday, June 24. The Take Heart team and I have been overwhelmed with the support people have given the charity both financially and emotionally following our recent visit to Sri Lanka, and we are all looking forward to continuing this essential medical work with your generous backing over the coming years.
Enjoy the game and let’s get right behind the team today from the first minute to the last.
Up the Gills!
P D P Scally