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|Medway in the 20th century 1901 - 2000|
|Gillingham Football Club|
An area of land off Gillingham Road was selected for the ground – there was no Priestfield Road in those days, just open spaces. A pavilion was built and the ground laid out ready for the first match of the 1893/94 season, a friendly with Woolwich Arsenal’s reserve team on 2 September. Arsenal won 1-5; their first team played its first ever Football League game that day. The new status of the club meant their entries to the F.A.Cup and the Amateur Cup were accepted; they lost in the first round of the F.A. Cup against Ilford, but had victories over Maidstone United and the Royal Scots Fusiliers before losing to the Royal Ordnance in the Amateur Cup. The season was filled with friendly matches, with visits from Long Eaton Rangers, Burton Swifts, Swindon Town and Tottenham Hotspur amongst others. The Chatham Charity Cup was won, so there was one item of silverware to show for their efforts.
New Brompton were keen to join the new Southern League when it was formed in January 1894. The guaranteed fixtures against the leading clubs in the south meant that turning professional was essential. In the event, New Brompton’s relatively new status as a senior club was perhaps the reason that they found themselves in Division Two of the new League. Eleven wins in twelve matches gave them the first championship at the first attempt. Promotion to the First Division followed after a test match against the bottom club, Swindon Town.
New Brompton (and Gillingham) finished bottom of the First Division of the Southern League on three occasions, yet always avoided relegation – something of a record perhaps. Bottom in 1907/08, the Division was increased in size. Following the growth of the Borough of Gillingham, the club changed its name in 1912/13. Bottom again in 1914/15, the outbreak of war led to the League being inactive for four seasons. After the war, the club were bottom again in 1919/20, though it was still elected to the new Football League Division Three along with the other Southern League clubs. Success remained elusive in the Football League; after five successful re-elections, they were voted out of the League in 1938, Ipswich Town taking their place.
After five seasons back in the Southern League, winning the championship on two occasions, they were elected back into the Football League in 1950. Re-organisation of the old regional Third Divisions in 1958 found them in Division Four; the only way now was up. Their first and only championship came in 1963/64 when they were promoted to Division Three, where they remained until 1989 apart from three seasons back in the lowest division. It was back to the basement in 1989/90.
Following receivership in 1995, new management has overseen unparalleled success for the club; promotion in second place in 1995/96, consistently better season-by-season finishes in Division Two, with promotion via the play-offs in 2000 and best-ever progress to the sixth round of the F.A.Cup.
Contributed by Roger Triggs
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