Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good afternoon and a Happy New Year to everybody associated with Gillingham Football Club, as we start 2017 with a home game against Oxford United.
I'd like to welcome the directors, management team, players and supporters from the U's to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for today's match, and I wish them a safe and pleasant visit to Kent.
At this time of year, we all reflect on different aspects of our lives, assess where we are with things and look for ways to improve them over the coming months. Of course, no matter if it's January or December, one thing that stays predictable is how unpredictable football really is.
When looking back at Sky Bet League One table at the start of 2016, it is incredible to see how the pendulum of fortunes can change. Coventry City were sitting one place behind us in fourth position, on the same points haul of 47, with the exact same goal difference of plus 17. Look at how things have changed for them in the last 12 months.
Meanwhile, Barnsley were languishing in nineteenth spot, just one point above the relegation places. Owing to print deadlines, these notes were written prior to the round of fixtures on New Year's Eve weekend, yet the Yorkshire side were sitting ninth in the Championship after Boxing Day.
While these comparisons make interesting reading and demonstrate how things can change either way if you gather momentum or lose it, it is exciting to know that our dream of returning to the Championship – one we've all had since May 2005 – is more than achievable. I think the Gills players, coaching team, supporters and I are hopeful for a second half to this season that replicates the first half of last and, without wishing to sound like I'm copying my notes from previous programmes from earlier in the campaign, the state of the league this season means any positive run will get any team into or around the play-off places. That to me is an exciting and mouthwatering proposition as we go into the business end of the 2016/17 campaign, and it's also something I know that we're capable of achieving.
Anybody who saw one, or both, of our first two festive fixtures will know there's plenty to be optimistic about. I don't think I'd be outrageous or controversial in saying that we could have come away from those games with six points out of six, nor do I think it would have been unjust if that had been the case. Cody McDonald, who made his 200th appearance for the Gills on Boxing Day, did what he does best with the winner against MK Dons, while Baily Cargill's equaliser against Peterborough United will be a Goal of the Season contender. Special mention must also go to Stuart Nelson, whose penalty save in his 201st Gills start against MK played a key part in that victory. It was also great to see the happy faces of the away fans at London Road whose support was rewarded when the players gave them their shirts at full-time – the perfect late Christmas present, if ever there was one!
Our home form has become really solid of late, with three wins and three draws since the last league defeat at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium against Oldham Athletic on October 8. We all know that the improvement needs to come on the road, and the point we picked up against in-form Peterborough on Boxing Day shows we are moving in the right direction. The players defended well when called upon, we looked bright and creative going forward, and hopefully we'll quickly get a level of consistency on our travels to supplement our good home results.
The run of four wins and a draw from our seven league games up to and including Boxing Day is pushing what we'll need to produce from now until our final game of the regular season against Northampton Town on April 30 if we are to secure a play-off place. With injured players such as Chris Herd, Ryan Jackson and Billy Knott returning to full fitness, Justin will have more options at his disposal and greater strength within the squad, so I am confident we can push on to better, and hopefully more than double, the current tally of 30 points (prior to the Millwall game) during the second part of this season.
January is always a busy month at the club, as we look to strengthen the squad where possible. It's not the easiest window to do business in; clubs in all leagues, be it those at the top or bottom of their respective tables, will fight incredibly hard to keep hold of their prized assets to ensure they don't disrupt the harmony and balance of their squads. As a result, price tags often become inflated beyond belief, leaving those few clubs who have sizeable transfer budgets to do most of the business. Negotiations have long been underway with those teams from whom we have loaned players on contracts until January, and we hope that we are able to keep them until the season's end, while Justin and I have identified areas in which we would like to add to.
Off the pitch, we have just completed a hectic festive season, with our Winter Wonderland-themed Christmas evenings proving a big hit with all our customers. Thank you to everybody who attended, and I know that we'll be back and even better come December 2017 – we already have some ambitions and bold plans for our festive nights, so stay tuned to the club's channels in the coming months to ensure you don't miss out on these spectacular nights. We have also completed more work in the Factory, which has created a quality VIP area for people attending our ever-expanding programme of events in this fantastic facility, a venue that continues to provide a crucial revenue stream for the club.
With my health restored, I am now planning another busy year, with a major focus being on our charity work with the Take Heart Mercy Mission Summer Ball, which takes place in June. All money raised will contribute towards the funds required for another mission to Sri Lanka later on in 2017; places will be in demand, so call our specialist Commercial team on (01634) 350350 for full information and to reserve your ticket.
I also want to increase the utilisation of the great facilities we have at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium by hosting more events and conferences throughout the year. Even though these venues were first opened over 15 years ago, I still believe they are unrivalled across the county, and we have a fantastic team of staff ready and waiting to help local businesses deliver a brilliant event. If you want to see how Gillingham Football Club can help your company, contact us on (01634) 300000.
Once again, let's hope for a happy and healthy 2017 both on and off the pitch. I know for a fact that your great support of the team will continue, and I thank you for that. Now, let's make Priestfield LOUD this afternoon!
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally