Portsmouth edge a dockyard derby
While I was sat on a crowded rail replacement bus, outside Chatham Station, I started to wonder if a Sunday trip to Gillingham was a good idea. On paper it was a simple trip, high speed train from St Pancras to Gillingham and a 10 minute walk to the stadium.
The game against Portsmouth stuck out on the fixtures, mainly because it was the only league game on this particular Sunday. I was also interested to see how Portsmouth were fairing in their new era, and whether, managerless, Gillingham could turn around their recent poor form.
Competition: League One
Refreshments: Burger and coke (£5.80)
Star Player: Jamal Lowe
A brief history of Gillingham
The Gills, who are currently the only league club based in Kent, began life in 1893 when New Brompton FC was founded. In 1912 the club changed its name to Gillingham FC. From 2000-2005 the club competed in the second tier, finishing eleventh in 2003, their best ever league finish.
In 1999, led by Tony Pulis, the Gills were 2-0 up with two minutes remaining in the Division Two play-off final. Their opponents, Manchester City, scored twice in the final few minutes and won promotion after a penalty shoot-out. City then rapidly returned to the Premier League and the rest is history. Could Gillingham have become a European super power had they held on to that lead?
Gillingham returned to Wembley the following season for a second play-off final in a row. This time, however, they beat Wigan 3-2 after extra time and were promoted the second tier of English football. They remained there until 2005.
2016-17: 20/24 League One
2015-16: 9/24 League One
2014-15: 12/24 League One
2013-14: 17/24 League One
2012-13: 1/24 League Two
The Gills home can be reached easily from Gillingham station or, as I found out, via a rail replacement bus from Rochester (not available every week). Follow the crowds or turn left out of the station and down the road until you reach a crossroads. Away fans should then carry on straight down Priestfield Road. Alternatively, turn left and then right to reach the main Medway Stand and ticket office. There wasn’t much parking near the ground, so check the football grounds guide website for potential parking options.
I mention the ticket office because it seemed impossible to buy tickets via the club website. I tried on several occasions to buy one online but couldn’t find a link to create a ticketing account. On arrival at the ticket office there were no queues, however, and I got a great seat.
The stadium is typical of a lower league ground. The Rainham End is a modern stand and houses the nosiest Gills supporters. The Gordon Road stand has a more traditional look and is complimented by an old fashioned digital scoreboard. Opposite the Gordon Road Stand is the Medway Stand, which is two-tiered and contains bricked-in offices at each end. It reminds me a of Stadio Luigi Ferraris, shared by Genoa and Sampdoria.
The final part of the stadium is the temporary away end, the Brian Moore Stand. Its named after the commentator, rather than the rugby player, who was a big Gills fan. It did remind me of a stand for a tennis tournament, but for my visit it was full of Pompey fans and was more impressive than expected.
The atmosphere was noisy at each end and quieter on the sides. The home fans have had little to shout about in recent times and turned their attention to the club’s Chairman in the second half. The crowd around me were friendly and some were slightly confused as to why a neutral would want to come and see their team.
Both teams had mixed form going into the game. Gillingham, who were one place off the bottom in League One, had only one win in their last six. Portsmouth were on a run of alternate wins and losses in their six previous matches, and sat in fifteenth place.
The Gills had been suffering from a lack of potency in front of goal in recent weeks. Portsmouth, on the other hand, appeared to follow up every good performance with a bad one. Ominously for the home side Portsmouth were coming off a loss against Oldham and needed a win to keep their sequence going.
Gillingham started well in the opening few minutes and got the ball forward to try and apply pressure to the visitors. Pompey withstood the opening onslaught and soon began to look the more confident side. There was little in the game to enjoy in the first half, but the brightest moments came from Lowe and Bennett combining down the right-hand side.
The key moment in the game came immediately after the break. More good work down the right led to a cross that Main headed against the post. The rebound fell to the feet of Kennedy who finished with ease.
Portsmouth almost added a second a few minutes later, but the goal failed to ignite the game. Gillingham made some changes to try and force an opening. The home fans thought they had got back in the game only for their cheers to be snuffed out by a linesman’s flag.
The home side threw a few crosses in to the Pompey box towards the end of the game but they couldn’t find the finishing touch. It was difficult to say anyone deserved a win from this game but Portsmouth did look the better side. A few visiting fans on the rail replacement bus’ return trip lamented the fact they’d missed the only bright spot of the game while they were queuing for beers.
I had some issues getting a ticket in advance, the replacement bus service was a pain and the game was terrible, but I still enjoyed my trip to Gillingham. The stadium was good and mostly full considering the Gills’ troubles and the game being on TV.
The locals were friendly and there was no queuing for tickets, food or drink. A good turn out from the away fans helped create a better atmosphere. I’d go back for big games or matches against teams, like Portsmouth, that bring big away followings.