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 game against Oldham Athletic.
As ever, I’d like to welcome the chairman, directors, players and management team, and supporters who have travelled down from Greater Manchester for today’s match. I’d like to wish them a safe and enjoyable day in Kent, albeit apart from the result come 5pm.
In my 21 years as Gillingham Football Club Chairman, I thought I’d seen everything that the game can throw up. But it’s safe to say that I’ve never experienced the situation we faced with Jamie O’Hara since I wrote my last set of programme notes. Jamie was so disappointed that the injury he was carrying was more serious than he believed it to be when he joined and, as a result, he came to me directly asking not to be paid. He felt it was wrong of him to take any money from the club. As a result, Jamie has gone away to address his injury, and get back to the level of fitness that saw him play in both the Premier League and Championship in recent years. Full credit goes to Jamie who, in his short spell at the club, was a true professional and a great lad to have around the dressing room. On behalf of everybody at Gillingham Football Club, I wish him all the best in his recovery.
Jamie was one in an unprecedented list of injuries we’ve had at the club since the start of pre-season. Incredibly, six of our other additions to the squad - Lee Martin, Scott Wagstaff, Deji Oshilaja, Joe Quigley, Jonathan Bond and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas – have also been sidelined at some point since joining. On top of that, Aaron Morris, Bradley Garmston, Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald have also been ruled out of games with injuries. Credit goes to manager Justin Edinburgh, our coaching staff, and the other first-team players for continuing to play on unaffected by this situation. Our backroom physiotherapy staff are working tirelessly to get everyone back to full fitness as soon as possible to increase the competition for starting XI places.
In football they say the table doesn’t lie and, now that we have reached nearly the quarter mark of the current campaign, this season promises to be one in which any team in League One can be either involved in a promotion or relegation battle. Only five points separate the last promotion play-off spot and the final relegation place going into today’s game.
So this season is going to be an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows, as it appears from the first part of the campaign that every team is capable of beating each other. Despite our opponents today propping up the league, they are only half-a-dozen points away from our tally of 15, so this is one of many six-pointers that we will be involved in throughout the coming weeks and months. I need you to keep up the great support you have given the players all season to secure an invaluable win, one that could take us in to a top-six slot.
With this being an international weekend, a few games have been postponed in our league due to players being called up by their countries. It is therefore vital we make this most of this by securing a win to not only close the gap to those above us, but will also open up one on those below.
I am obviously in constant dialogue with manager Justin Edinburgh to ensure we have a squad of players who are able to be in contention at the right end of the table. With the changes introduced this season that only allow clubs to bring in loan players when the transfer windows are open (over the summer until the August 31, and throughout the month of January), my focus, along with our Director of Football Keith Burt, is to scour the market for the right players who are currently out of contract.
Weeks of work culminated in us adding two new additions to our first-team squad this week, with striker Frank Nouble returning to the Gills and defensive midfielder Chris Herd putting pen to paper until the end of the season. I’d like to give a warm welcome to both and hope they have a successful spell with us. These new additions will give Justin more options as we battle against the aforementioned unlucky period as far as injuries are concerned.
Off the pitch, football in general has taking a real hammering in the wake of the Sam Allardyce’s resignation from the England job, and others being named and shamed in the Daily Telegraph. In the wake of all this negativity, I strongly believe it is clubs like ours who have to be the torchbearers for maintaining strong relationships with the community they are an integral part of.
To this end I am working with our CEO Steve Waggott on a fan engagement initiative aimed at both introducing new potential new fans to Gillingham, while increasing our fan base right across Kent and beyond.
This initiative started for our last home game against Coventry City on September 24, when we invited 50 local primary schools to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium. The feedback we received from teachers, parents and pupils alike showed the value in this; for many, it was their first taste of live football, and took many children away from the notion that football is a sport only accessible via television. This scheme will continue today, with a further 20 local primary schools attending the match. Local secondary schools are being invited to watch us against Walsall on October 18, too.
As well as schools, we are also targeting universities and colleges, and we had a major presence at the Bluewater Student Day on Thursday. All of our commercial staff and first-team players attended to promote the GFC brands to over 30,000 attendees, and by all accounts it was a huge success.
We have had an active partnership with the Kent Youth League for many years now, and we will be developing this further over the short and long-term future. Starting from our Charlton Athletic home game on October 22, we will start rewarding players and their parents by issuing 125 complimentary Family Packs to fixtures at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
The league comprises 185 teams and over 3,000 players aged between 13 and 18, and this increased association will help in our efforts to secure the next generation of Gillingham fans.
I will be making some exciting future announcements around this push for the next generation of Gills fans while, not forgetting all our fantastically loyal cohort of fans who currently roar on the Gills home and away, week after week, in the not too distant future.
Finally, the next two weeks are important for the club, as I will be leading a party of 15 medics and five club staff to Sri Lanka for our annual Take Heart Mercy Mission. Upon leaving England on Wednesday, we will be there for 10 days, during which surgeons will perform three life-saving heart surgery operations on children each day. In addition, thanks to Adam Lawrence, Dean Grant, Ian Cox and Jay Scally, the club’s Community Trust will be coaching up to 1,200 children football skills. A daily blog from the trip will appear on the club’s website, so fans can keep up to date with the important work the charity does.
Up the Gills!
P D P Scally