Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and welcome back to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for tonight’s Sky Bet League One fixture against promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers.
I’d like to extend that welcome to everybody associated with Bolton attending this fixture: their directors, management staff, players and those supporters who have made the long journey to Kent from Greater Manchester.
I can safely say that I’ve never experienced anything like the 90 minutes of football that played out here on Saturday in my near 22 years as Gillingham Football Club chairman. It was possibly a fitting metaphor for this season: we seemingly went through every emotion possible but ultimately there was a happy ending awaiting us.
I praised the players’ recent resilience and commitment in my set of Scunthorpe United programme notes but I feel duty-bound to do so again this evening. Drawing away to league leaders Sheffield United and play-off hopefuls Bradford City doesn’t come about through luck; Saturday’s victory reinforces the fact that there’s a new-found mental strength among the first team, which is great to see.
Let’s not forget that Scunthorpe sat third in the Sky Bet League One table prior to kick-off at the weekend. They are an immensely talented side, one who subjected us to a difficult afternoon in the reverse fixture at the start of the season. Coming back from 2-0 down with 15 minutes left and earning a draw would have been a creditable result; to actually go on and get the victory was a fantastic achievement. It felt extremely similar to our 5-4 win over Hereford United here in early 2012, just with more drama from 12 yards!
I wonder how many of us would have been able to keep our nerve under pressure in the way that Josh Wright did when faced with taking three penalties in nine minutes. He showed tremendous composure and the release of emotion after he completed his hat-trick emphasised how much every single one of our players care about the cause. Having a team of passionate, willing footballers will make (and already has made) a big difference in our quest to secure our Sky Bet League One status for the 2017/18 campaign. On this note, I was saddened to learn that Josh was booked for celebrating his hat-trick and, owing to it being his tenth yellow of the season, will be banned for two matches. Given what was unfolding on the pitch, I’d like to think that players would be allowed to release their emotions in a sensible and harmless manner (as Josh did) as opposed to being reprimanded for it.
Of course, Saturday’s game wasn’t just about Josh. I have to credit the focus of everybody on the pitch during the final minutes of game. When it could be claimed that Scunthorpe’s players were losing their heads, those in blue stayed calm and composed. It was great to see.
The noise reverberating around the MEMS Priestfield Stadium during the game’s final stages was also incredible. I realise that people can go on about the power of the 12th Man too much, but it genuinely felt like the Rainham End was continuously sucking the ball into the Scunthorpe area. I should also mention the encouragement that those in the Medway and Gordon Road Stands gave the players throughout the match; it really was a thrill to hear such loud and passionate backing from all corners of the ground. I hope for a repeat of that this evening!
Saturday’s results mean that we are now just five points off the top half of the table and just eight away from Walsall in ninth, the position in which we finished the 2015/16 season. I am proud of the fact that we have either matched or bettered our league placing for the past five years, a run that could well be extended come April 30.
Obviously we’re expecting another challenging game this evening, with our visitors to ME7 tonight no doubt buoyed by their fantastic 4-2 victory over promotion rivals Fleetwood Town on Saturday. However, we have now beaten two of the top seven this season and drawn against two more, proving that we have what it takes to give the division’s best sides a game. We haven’t won three consecutive matches in the league since December 2015, so it would be fantastic if we achieve that feat come 9.40pm.
On Friday the club offered professional contracts to five of our under-18 players. I’d like to pass on my congratulations to Ben Chapman, Noel Mbo, Finn O’Mara, Aaron Simpson and Brad Stevenson for being awarded the chance to turn professional. Their hard work will begin in earnest this summer as they fight to earn a place in our matchday squads and possibly even the starting XI before too long.
Tickets for our next two homes games, against Peterborough United (Saturday, March 25) and Millwall (Saturday, April 8) are now on sale. After the great backing we received against Scunthorpe on Saturday, I hope to see as many of you returning to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for these fixtures as possible. Demand is already unprecedented for our commercial packages for both fixtures, so contact our specialist sales team on (01634) 350350 to book your place in the Vice-Presidents’ Club, Legends Lounge, or the Great Hall for our Watch, Wine & Dine offer.
Saturday’s win owed a lot to your fantastic support: please be as loud and proud throughout tonight’s game to help the players in their quest to claim another memorable victory.
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally