Former left-back reflects on his career at Priestfield.
Former Gills defender Roland Edge has said nothing in his career will beat the feeling of winning the second division play-off Final at Wembley.
Edge, who was 21-years-old when the Gills triumphed in May 2000, spent the first six years of his professional career playing at Priestfield before going on to enjoy spells at Hibernian, Hull City and Maidstone United.
Now at the age of 41, the man born in Chatham, who is now Assistant Manager at Folkestone, conceded nothing could top that memorable day against Wigan.
He said: “There’s no way that could get beaten really. You go to Wembley, a big crowd. A home crowd really.
“I was born in Chatham, so all your friends and family are all in the stadium and you manage to win to go into the Championship.
“All-in-all it’s just brilliant, it’s hard to better that. I played in a Scottish Cup Final, I played at Hampden twice, but it didn’t hold the magic of Wembley.”
It has been well documented by several players how close the entire squad were at the time, and Edge was full of praise for his former teammates. He added:
“We were all together and we were all mates.
“Iffy [Onuora] was a great guy and always helped out; Hess [Andy Hessenthaler] was the same and always stood by you. Thommo [Andy Thomson] gave us that little bit of something else. He was a real good addition.”
Going into the 1999-2000 campaign the Gills had the added internal pressure of bouncing back after the excruciating play-off final defeat to Manchester City.
The expectations of promotion were high, but the club’s infamous cup run proved the catalyst for the Gills stepping up a gear towards the end of the regular league season. Roland said:
“It was a welcome distraction from what we do day-to-day.
“With the FA Cup I don’t think we could believe it. You get Bradford City, you get Sheffield Wednesday and end up with Chelsea. It was brilliant.
“It was a way of bonding; we could not believe what was happening. It took our minds away from the reason that we were there and that was to go up.”
The Gills got to the sixth round that season, the club’s best ever FA Cup run, but were eventually defeated by Chelsea who went on to beat Aston Villa in the Final.
The cup run is something Edge will never forget, but the 5-0 defeat to Chelsea is something that will be more commonly brought up to him.
Now a teacher, the former defender takes the brunt of the classroom banter:
“Obviously the kids at school have a lot of fun because whenever they mention John Terry and his first ever goal, you see my name when he heads it into the net,” he added. “So they just give me grief all the time!”
The Gills missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season following a 1-0 defeat to Wrexham. A win would have seen the Gills avoid the play-offs, but as it happened the club were paired with Stoke City.
Edge reflected on that semi-final and still recalls both fixtures:
“We got there [to the Britannia] and the atmosphere was unbelievable. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it.
“They came out the blocks, caught us cold, and halfway through the first leg we were thinking we just need to get something here. A little bit of a lifeline.
“Then when Hessy scored that goal I honestly thought “we’ve won, we’re going through.”
“It did something to them mentally and to us. It took so much air out of them and put us on the front foot. We were back in it and especially at Priestfield, we didn’t lose a lot at home. Getting them back there was a bonus and the rest was history.”
Edge was referring to that incredible last minute Andy Hessenthaler goal which made the score 3-2 at the Britannia Stadium.
That goal swung the entire momentum of the tie as the Gills won the second leg 3-0, but extra-time was required to book a second Wembley visit in 12 months. Barry Ashby, Iffy Onuora and Paul Smith all scored.
Edge, who was the youngest player in the squad, remembers the excitement and anticipation surrounding the Final. However, he did not expect things to be so surreal, and that leaves him with one regret. He said:
“Every kid dreams of playing there and I was just so excited. I wish I’d played there later in my career.
“That would have been lovely because when you turn up, I’ve never seen anything like it. You’re so used to being a fan watching the coach come through. This time you’re on the coach!
“You’re going to play at Wembley, somewhere you’ve always wanted to play, then you find out there’s 63,000 fans there for a second division play-off final; it was unreal.”
Edge started the game but was replaced by Paul Smith just after the hour mark, but he said he has no issues with that as the day was about the team and not individuals.
He added: “I think the moment got to me a little bit too much with my age and inexperience.
“The boss gets paid to make decisions and I think he made the right one. Smudge lets other people go further up. The goal from Thommo makes it all worth it.
“It was about winning, not about me.”
The result is ingrained into the history of the club as goals from Steve Butler and Andy Thomson in the second half of extra time saved the Gills from a second Wembley heartbreak in as many years.
Edge remembers an anecdote from that day, involving one of the goal scorers, which may not have been heard before. He said:
“He (Steve Butler) pretended to score that goal from the end of the game to about three or four in the morning and the next day he couldn’t move his neck!”
As is a tradition with winning at Wembley, all members climb the famous set of stairs to collect the coveted trophy, and winners’ medals.
Edge reminisces on that moment with immense pride, but believes it was a non-factor in regards to what had been achieved:
“I know getting the trophy and climbing up those Wembley stairs was really important, but it was about getting the job done,” he recalls. “For me, it was that we’d gotten somewhere we’d never been before.
“We were a nice bunch of lads who deserved it through hard work.”