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 much-anticipated home fixture against Charlton Athletic.
First, I’d like to welcome the supporters, players, management squad and directors from south London to Kent for today’s match. Perhaps remarkably, during my 21 years in charge of the Gills, we have only met our local visitors three times. The first match, memorably, came in the FA Cup third round nearly 13 years ago, as we brilliantly came from behind to beat arguably the strongest Charlton team assembled during their Premier League years. The other two meetings came when both clubs were in League One during the 2009/10 season, both of which ended in hard-fought draws.
I am sure that this afternoon’s match will once again be a tense encounter. However, after securing a point against in-form Walsall in midweek, I am hoping that our players will respond to the big-crowd atmosphere these local clashes generate to grab three points, and in the process maintain my unbeaten record against the Addicks!
On a positive note, we have most of our injured players (other than long-term absentees Lee Martin and Aaron Morris) either returning to full fitness or getting close to being available for selection but, as is the case in football, there are many complications to deal with. These occasionally come in the form of suspensions and Josh Wright and Deji Oshilaja, who have picked up five bookings this season to date, will miss this afternoon’s match.
Therefore, manager Justin Edinburgh will once again have to shuffle the pack, but whatever the starting XI, I know you will give your continued support to the team. Many players reported back after the midweek home game that your encouragement against Walsall played a big factor in them securing a very important point.
As with all other home games this season, visiting supporters have been able to purchase our corporate packages. This will see some Charlton supporters sitting in the Medway Stand upper tier this afternoon, while we are also aware that other away fans will be guests of our Executive Box holders. They have all come to cheer on their team and while we expect them to behave in an appropriate manner, we also must prepare for them to celebrate if their team does well. They have all been carefully vetted by Charlton Athletic as part of our thorough programme of pre-match checks; I therefore hope we show them the same tolerance that visiting clubs, their directors and supporters are usually afforded by Gills fans this afternoon.
We have put a stringent sales process in place for this game for both season ticket holders and general members, but you may find that some of our fans have invited Charlton supporters to come to today’s match as their guest. Once again, can I urge everyone to behave responsibly, and to call one of our stewards if they require any assistance.
I will be using our next two home games against Brackley Town and Northampton to continue our fan engagement initiative, with significantly-reduced prices for our FA Cup first-round match (the date of which was yet to be confirmed at the time of print), and the launch of the cheapest family ticket in the EFL (£25 for two adults and two under-18s) for the Northampton game on Saturday, November 12.
With our home match against Rochdale in late November also being one of Category B games, for which season ticket holders can use their loyalty vouchers to obtain two free tickets, I hope you can see that I am taking every opportunity to drive in the next generation of Gills fans, as well as ensuring that we recognise and honour the dedication and commitment of our long-standing supporters.
Off the field, I have just spent 10 fantastic days in Sri Lanka with our Take Heart Mercy Mission team for our annual trip to the country. As ever, it was a very humbling and sobering experience throughout.
I watched on as children underwent life-saving heart surgery provided by the charity’s team of volunteer experts, all of whom worked tirelessly during their time in the country. I also met a 13-year-old who had just come out of the operating theatre, and witnessed first-hand the care and attention provided by Take Heart sister Jane Stenhouse and local staff.
Our football coaching programme was met with great enthusiasm and excitement by the 1,200 children who took part. You only needed to watch five minutes of these sessions, overseen by our brilliant GFC Community Trust coaches, to understand the value in providing this training. As I have written previously in my notes, it is vitally important for football clubs to play a key role in communities both home and abroad.
I have already set a date for our next Take Heart Fundraising Ball, which will be held in the Great Hall here at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday, June 24 2017, and I’d ask all supporters to save the date in next year’s calendar. Your vital support of this event will allow us to continue to carry out the great work within deprived areas of Sri Lanka.
Let’s get behind the team and make sure we’re the 12th Man this afternoon.
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally