Thomson | "There was a special bond"

We recently caught up with the man who scored one of the club's most important goals.

Former Gillingham striker Andy Thomson has been reflecting on the goal that wrote him into the history books.

Thomson played a huge part in the 2000 second division play-off Final at Wembley, scoring the decisive third goal as the Gills came back from 2-1 down in extra-time to secure victory over Wigan.

Thomson immediately entered himself into club folklore with that goal as his header put the Gills in the ascendancy with just two minutes of extra-time remaining, helping Peter Taylor’s men seal promotion to the second tier of English Football for the first time in the club’s history.

Andy, now 49, spoke to the Gills media team recently, sighting how confident he was after coming off the subs bench, and his thoughts when Ty Gooden’s cross resulted in him finding the back of the net.

He said: “As I saw the space at the front post, I knew with good timing I could get across and knock it in.

“I knew the timing was good and as soon as the defender put his weight on his back foot I was across him. The cross in was great and I knew it was in straight away.”

The goal led to an iconic celebration and a photograph which will live long in the memory. The striker said it is something he remains proud of.

He added: “I was never one for celebrating when I scored, so I was probably over celebrating for me! It was just brilliant to score the goal and for it to be 20 years ago and to still be remembered, it’s brilliant.”

However, before the 1999/2000 season started, Thomson was still on the books at Oxford.

During the pre-season campaign Thomson got a call from Peter Taylor, his old manager from his days at Southend United.

Despite taking some time to agree a fee, it did not take the Scotsman long to sign a deal with the club as he reminisces on the process of joining the Gills.

“At the start of pre-season I was at Oxford and they had begun negotiations and it seemed to have dragged on for a while. At one point I didn’t think it was going to happen, eventually it did. My first ever meeting with the Chairman was the start of the negotiations.

“We were going for two hours and ended up agreeing on the deal that I wanted.”

Gills, attempting to recover from the heartache of losing to Manchester City in the previous play-off Final, began the season slowly taking 13 points from their first ten games.

Thomson, who was 28-years-old on arrival, put the inconsistent start down to a few factors.

He said: “It’s difficult; not necessarily because of what happened in the previous year, but it was a new manager and a different way of playing. There were players there who played with a different style in a successful spell under the previous manager, so to try and change that in a small space of time is always going to be tough.

“It takes some positive results to reinforce the things that are happening and when you get a slow start it can be difficult.

“As soon as the players got on a run, confidence grew, the self-belief grew and you could see the things working. It was pretty clear to see that it was going to be a successful season.”

That season was not only famous to the club for its promotion, it was also huge because of the club’s history making FA Cup run.

The Gills reached the sixth round for the first time ever, but for Thomson there is one memory that sticks out the most in his mind.

He said: “There were some really good games. We beat Bradford 3-1, there was a brilliant atmosphere and the place was bouncing. We fully deserved to beat them. I scored a really good goal to be fair, the first one.

“I lobbed the goalkeeper, although a lot of people thought it was an own goal! I was running away from goal, got in behind the defender and flicked it with the outside of my right boot.”

Following that result, Taylor’s side went on to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 after trailing 1-0 at half-time.

Thomson scored the Gills’ second goal on that day in a memorable afternoon in Kent. However, they were abruptly stopped in their tracks as a 5-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge ended their cup dreams.

Yet, Thomson still looks at the run with great joy.

He said: “Sheffield Wednesday, again, big players and they were paying big money at the time. We didn’t have a great first half, but in the second half we played really well. We forced the tempo and got in the lead and thoroughly deserved to win it. Then we go to Chelsea in the quarter-finals. It was a great experience going to Stamford Bridge and playing in front of a big crowd.”

Following this run, the Gills finished third in the league.

A final day defeat to Wrexham meant the club agonisingly missed out on automatic promotion by three points; a win would have seen Taylor’s men go up with Preston. However, the play-offs were once again needed and the Gills were paired with Stoke City.

They travelled to the Britannia Stadium in the first leg, but looked set to have it all to do in the second leg as they trailed 3-1.

Then Andy Hessenthaler scored an iconic goal deep into second half stoppage time to give Gillingham a huge lift for the return game.

Thomson added:  “It sums up his contribution to the team when you look at that goal. It would have been really difficult to come back and beat Stoke by the amount of goals that we needed. That flipped the balance of the tie.

“They felt they were in the ascendancy until Hessy scored that goal. As I said, it summed up his contribution, not only in that season but in previous seasons and the seasons after. He’s been a big reason for why Gillingham have done really well over the years.”

The Gills won the second leg at MEMS Priestfield Stadium 3-0 despite needing extra-time to overcome nine man Stoke, but it ensured a second Wembley appearance in as many years.

Thomson was named as a substitute for the game, but in the circumstances leading to the build-up of the final, he was delighted when others would be gutted.

The 49-year-old said: “I was just delighted to be on the bench, I was out injured for a long period, about six weeks with a bad ankle injury. So I was just delighted to be on the bench. I wasn’t nervous either, I loved being at Wembley.”

Thomson had to wait 97 minutes to see the field of play, but when he did, he made his short time on the field count.

His goal is still remembered as one of the biggest goals in the club’s history. However, his biggest memory from the promotion winning season is not the achievement itself.

He said: “The thing I remember most was the connections you make with your teammates, the supporters and everybody at the club. That’s what makes it even more special. There was a real special bond between the players, the staff and the supporters. That’s why it’s still remembered and so great.”