BMH - The Early Years - Part 17

On Sunday 31 October 1993, the Sunday Express newspaper covered Gillingham as part of their series spotlighting football clubs and their rather uncomplimentary feature was reproduced in issue thirty-seven of Brian Moore’s Head, dated November 1993.

The A to Z section included ‘antagonism from small section of crowd’ under racialism, lights reported as ‘floodlights dusky and street lighting only satisfactory at certain ends of the ground’, whilst the view was deemed to be ‘poor from terraces, so close to pitch it is hard to judge distance and angles at far end of ground.’

The accompanying article, under the heading, ‘Friendly Gills, but dated ground is showing its age’, stated that Priestfield looked more suited to 1893 than 1993 and that the ‘reformation of English stadiums, post-Bradford and Heysel, has left clubs such as Gillingham with terrible problems.’ Commenting that some teams had been able to splash millions on new stands, the Express noted that the Gills ‘were forced to knock down their unsafe wooden stand, and not replace it with anything. In an era of all-seater stadia, nearly 90% of the capacity at Priestfield Stadium is made up of old-fashioned terraces.’

The piece included the odd positive comment, such as the ground being well served by rail, being only a short walk from the station, and the fact that there was some free parking available, but even their complimentary mention of the fans who did go being fiercely loyal was tempered somewhat by ‘although their partisan attitude to their club is sometimes expressed in foul language.’

The paper stated that ‘with smaller clubs, economies have to be made, and the overall standards of catering, toilet facilities and hygiene would need to be somewhat improved to attract a true family audience.’ The fanzine’s reaction to this piece was that ‘the author obviously failed to take into account that he / she / it was visiting a hard-up third division club, and the fact that most of the ground is made up of ‘old fashioned terracing’ is something we have in common with all bar a couple of clubs at this level.’ BMH also commented on the careless errors that littered the piece, which included ‘Manager Mike Flanagan relies on the experience of striker David Crown’, when the forward had left the club the previous summer.

BMH38 was first sold at the Northampton game two days after Christmas 1993. It featured a picture of the 1986-87 squad on the front cover, under the heading ‘Cheer up, it’s only six years since we had a decent side...’, whilst, on page two, there was the following disclaimer, ‘We would like to apologise for the totally unwarranted outbreak of optimism in the last issue. Readers can rest assured that this was caused by an attack of temporary insanity amongst the staff, caused by the sudden occurrence of an away win. Any previous disclaimer that may have suggested being miserable about the Gills is anything other than totally normal should be completely disregarded.’

The Headitorial recounted events since the publication of the previous edition, with the Gills having plunged down to seventeenth in the table following a dismal run of results. Three scenarios for how the season was likely to pan out were mentioned, with getting sucked down into trouble at the foot of the table disregarded as bottom club Northampton were ten points adrift of Gillingham at the time of writing (the Cobblers did end up in the same position, the only relegation place that campaign, but were saved from the drop when Conference champions Kidderminster Harriers were denied entry to the league as their ground did not meet the necessary criteria).

A challenge for at least a play-off place was deemed to be not likely at the time, leaving ‘cruise around in the mid-table area’ as the ‘option that currently looks to be the favourite, for a team with quite a good home record and a disgracefully poor one away. Last season we would have done anything to be a middle-of-the-table side, safe in the no-man’s land between the high-fliers and the low-life. However, now we have seemingly become that team, it is just not good enough.

Unless we make a concerted effort and move up the table, to a position where a challenge for promotion can be made, the season will die and the fans will lose interest in a team going nowhere. What the fans need is an injection of belief in Gillingham Football Club and that can only be provided by the team. The big question is whether or not they can provide it. The supporters need to be convinced that, with exits from the Coca Cola Cup, Autoglass Trophy and FA Cup already, the 1993-4 season is not over by the turn of the year.’

After an absence of a few issues, the ‘BMH XIs’ returned with the ‘They went on to be famous (sort of) after appearing in obscure games at Priestfield XI’, featuring Ian Rush, who scored his first ever league goal while playing for Chester at Gillingham in 1979, future England internationals Ray Clemence (here with Scunthorpe in 1966), Malcolm McDonald (for Fulham reserves in 1968), Terry McDermott (Bury 1972), and Ron Atkinson, who played here for Oxford United in 1966.

The article ‘Evolution rush’ looked at the development of the fanzine since its inception in August 1988, ‘You may well have noticed that, in the last year or so, the style and variety of typefaces used has been going through something of a cataclysmic change. The process began back in issue 31 (December 1992), when we made the jump from the old typewriter, glue and letraset method of producing the magazine to the new-fangled computer, printer and desktop program method.

Initially, this was achieved using a second hand computer and an out of date DTP program called Pagesetter.’ The technology was embraced a little too fully and the sudden availability of numerous new fonts led to excessive experimentation, the results of which were not always successful, with some fonts looking messy and not particularly easy to read, ‘We can hold our hands up and say, yes, the results were slightly on the sad side – but you learn from your mistakes.’

The subsequent addition of an all-singing, all-dancing Amiga 1200 allowed for an upgrade of the old DTP program for one of the BMH typists, but with the other two still labouring with the out-of-date program, the mixture of the two styles only resulted in making the whole effect look even worse. The latest step had been taken in November 1993, when the profit from the season to date helped to subsidise the purchase of two new computers and peripherals at the ‘Future Entertainment Show’ at London’s Olympia. BMH38 was the first to be produced using the new machines, with the result that the text was ‘now as clear as can be.’ However, ‘despite all these advances, there is no way Brian Moore’s Head is going to turn into a slick, professionally typeset, glossy magazine.

That never has been, and never will be, what we are about. We will continue to evolve, but will endeavour to retain the quirky charm that has been a vital part of the magazine from day one.’
The combination of the BMH team not bothering to do any writing over the festive period and a dearth of contributions from elsewhere meant that we didn’t have nearly enough material to bring out issue thirty-nine at the home game against Walsall on 22 January 1994, as planned.

As soon as the decision to put back the publication date had been made, contributions duly started pouring through the BMH letterbox at a rate of knots, resulting in the odd piece having to be held over until BMH40. The Headitorial analysed our continuing poor away record, stating that, since the beginning of the 1990-91 season, Gillingham had won the fewest league away matches, just seven, the same as Colchester United, who were discounted as they had played outside the league for both the 1990-91 and 1991-92 campaigns.

Ironically, it was a win at Colchester whilst BMH39 was at the printers that gave us victory number eight on our travels. The Head mentioned that failing to try and extend a lead away from home was a major contributory factor to our abysmal record. The Gills hadn’t taken a two goal-lead in a league match on the road since the 3-0 victory at Halifax on 12 October 1991, ‘since that date we have played another 47 away games and won just three of them. What this shows is perfectly clear – time and time again we have failed to kill off opponents when we have been on top, we have thrown away leads on occasions too numerous to list and we have conceded so many late goals it has become a standing joke.’

Although we didn’t take a two goal lead at Colchester, the 2-1 win (courtesy of Neil Smith’s goal just after half time and substitute Nicky Forster’s last-minute winner, when the striker, put clean through, rounded the home goalkeeper before slotting the ball into the net) brought our post-Halifax record up to four wins in forty-eight, an average of one in every twelve. Defensive errors had been mentioned as the main reason why we had consistently failed to hold on to leads.

The Head’s opinion was that hardly any clubs went through a game without making at least one potentially goal-costing defensive error but that ‘the point is this. If you have got a decent lead, it doesn’t matter. One goal leads are totally insecure, no matter how well you are playing. Maybe the next time we go in front away from home, it would be a good idea to try for the second goal, because our away support deserves better than watching the side embark on yet another failed attempt to sit on a lead. The ever-decreasing number of away fans suggests it’s time for a change.’

Cover star of BMH39 was a man with a big torch. On 27 December 1993, which was a Monday, Gillingham had a home match against Northampton Town. As was customary for a Bank Holiday fixture, the kick-off time was at 3pm. However, the club had set the floodlights to come on for an evening kick-off, necessitating the recruitment of an electrician, the aforementioned man with the big torch, to reset the lights.

The game eventually got underway at 3.40 and finished at 5.30. This incident was mentioned in a piece entitled ‘You’re an embarrassment’, in which the writer aired his grievances over some of the Gills’ shortcomings. The floodlight shambles was ‘just typical of the way Gillingham FC tends to present itself to the paying public. Despite all the worthy efforts and well-meaning statements, the commercial side of the club is still a shambles. Okay, so it has gone from totally inept to just plain amateurish, but there is still room for vast improvement.

This is needed, too, if any semblance of respectability can be saved from the centenary celebrations that have not been worthy of celebrating one hundred days, let alone one hundred years.’
One gripe concerned programmes at home games, with sellers at the Rainham End regularly out of stock well before kick-off, with the continued lack of matchday magazines deemed as a massive public relations blunder as well as causing a loss of revenue. As copies tended to be available in the shop at the following home fixture, the fanzine reckoned that the club needed to sort the distribution out better around the ground.

Another complaint was that the much-publicised centenary book had been severely delayed, ‘Apparently, it is going to be well worth the wait but, at the Bury home game at Christmas, we were reliably informed that the authors were “up to 1983”. Now, I don’t blame those working on the book, I blame the club. They should have realised that it takes time to produce such a book. The fact that many copies have been ordered and paid for does not hide the fact that this is another P.R. disaster, courtesy of the commercial department. Not only is the book going to be six months late, but the club has missed the Christmas market and was forced into offering gift vouchers to people wishing to give presents!’

The ‘biggest disaster of the lot’ was the centenary video. Apparently, two hundred copies had been sold, unseen, and very few since, ‘which is not surprising given the amateurish nature of the tape.’ There were no goals on it, with the only game featured being the 2-0 home defeat against Chesterfield on the opening day of 1993-94, and that comprised just some action and crowd shots.

It was believed that the club had turned down local independent television channel Meridian’s offer to convert their news footage of the Gills on to video for £1,000. BMH believed that such a video should have contained the best of our action shown on national television, interviews with players and managers who had something worthwhile to say, and a compilation of action shown on the three local independent television broadcasters that had covered the club over the years; Southern, TVS and Meridian. The article included, ‘Okay, so it would be lacking in old material, but a few talking heads and decent photos / shots of programmes / souvenirs would have compensated.

I’m sure the club would have shifted between 500 and 1,000 videos and boosted their flagging commercial reputation into the bargain. At the moment, the club has developed a reputation for being incompetent and amateurish. Not all of it is deserved, but the club has done very little in the past year to challenge the dominant view. Some things will be easy to rectify, others will take longer and require more effort, but so what! For Gillingham FC to prosper on the pitch is somewhat out of their control. To prosper off the pitch is largely in their hands.’