Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and welcome to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for our latest Sky Bet League One home game against Walsall.
I'd like to extend my welcome to everybody from Walsall in attendance at tonight's game, although I'm sure their directors, management, players and fans will understand that as much as I wish their time in Kent is enjoyable, that doesn't apply to the result come 9.30pm.
Over many years in football, the difference between the thin line that separates success and failure has always been about getting the balance right on the pitch. This is key in order to secure the points required to either keep you from getting dragged in to a relegation battle, or being involved in a promotion push at the other end of the table.
During the first 13 Sky Bet League One games of this current campaign, we could be classed as both the comeback kids (as we clawed back deficits at the start of the season, most memorably against Southend and Shrewsbury), to being known as a team unable to take advantage of opening the scoring in our last few games.
We all scratch our heads as to how these sudden changes in form and results can happen but, during a long, hard season of 46 league games and around eight cup matches in which every team will have to cope with injuries and suspensions, it is the search for consistency that we all aim for.
Ahead of tonight's match, we sit in 18th position with a points tally of 15. Yes, that keeps us just three points above the drop zone, but it's important to remember that we're still only five off the play-off spots in what is turning out to be an incredibly tight league.
Lady Luck has not been kind to us to date, with a string of both long and short-term injuries hitting us hard, with virtually all of them through no fault or ill-preparation of our own. The latest one came when Cody McDonald suffered a swollen eye very early in the Bristol Rovers game on Saturday, caused by an innocuous blow to the face. That says a lot about how things on the pitch are playing out for us right now.
However, it is in times of adversity, when results go against you, that everyone must stick together and continue to stay right behind the team.
We now embark on back-to-back home matches over the next five days, starting against tonight's opponents Walsall and followed by a game against one of our local rivals Charlton Athletic on Saturday. Both teams scored three goals in victories last weekend, so we will require your great support to help us get back to winning ways. Four, or even six, points from these matches will see us move up the league table significantly, back towards our target positions for the season.
As mentioned in my last notes, we are now embarking on a fan engagement initiative to try and reach out to as many parts of our community as possible, in an attempt to drive the next generation of supporters into the MEMS Priestfield Stadium to add to our current level of loyal support.
With so much football from around the world being broadcast on television every night of the week, our national sport is in danger of having the next generation of fans bypass their local team and becoming armchair supporters.
On Sunday, I was delighted to launch our new £25 Family Ticket, the cheapest among the 92 Premier League and EFL clubs, which permits two adults and two under-18s into the Brian Moore Stand for league games. This represents excellent value, and will be rolled out to both home and away fans in November. The response I have seen from social media suggests supporters – both of the Gills, and of other clubs in the division – are fully appreciative of our continued attempts to ensure the beautiful game is as accessible to everybody.
Hopefully over the remainder of the season, you will also see an influx of thousands of new, young faces in the MEMS Priestfield Stadium, as we approach schools, colleges, universities and youth football clubs to come and watch the Gills. We need everyone across Kent to come in contact with Gillingham FC, in the hope that we can get them to follow us over the coming years.
Also, as part of the role the club plays in helping less fortunate people and communities, I have this week been joined by a team of highly-specialised heart medics in Sri Lanka for our annual Take Heart Mercy Mission, from where I write these notes.
During our 10-day stay in Sri Lanka, the charity's medical team of experts (who volunteer their time and services) will carry out up to three life-saving heart operations to those children in the country most in need. As well as the medical aspects, I have also brought across four staff members from the club's Community Trust to deliver football coaching sessions to the vast amount of young and keen footballers in the country, many of whom face difficult and uncertain upbringings through no fault of their own. These coaching sessions give them an enormous morale boost, it generates excellent community spirit, and re-emphasise the values I have installed within the football club over the past 21 years.
Our Mercy Missions require a lot of pre-planning and organisation: 16 staff and two supply trucks were transported to the country for this year's visit. As a result, I have to thank Sri Lankan Airlines for their sponsorship of Take Heart, as well as all the Gills fans and sponsors who have made this trip possible.
Let's get behind the team this evening, and give the players your 100 per cent backing – it could be crucial in tonight's match.
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally