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Gillingham FC History (1893 -)

Posted on: Fri 05 Jun 2009

Updated February 2008

It took 107 years for Gillingham to realise the dream of Division One football, although they were within a whisker of achieving it exactly one year earlier.

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Into the last minute of the regulation 90 at Wembley and surely it was game over with Gillingham holding a 2-0 lead in the 1999 Division Two play-off final. With a heavy heart, supporters will also remember what happened next.

 

Euphoria and despondency switched allegiance as Manchester City pulled one back in the 90th minute, equalised in the fifth minute of stoppage time and went on to win on penalties after extra-time. It was a bitter pill to swallow for everybody connected with Gillingham.

 

But 12 months later and the Gills were back at the venue of legends, this time backed by a huge army of more than 43,000 fans. And this time there was a reversal of roles as the team hit back from 2-1 down to beat Wigan Athletic 3-2 via extra-time goals from 38-year-old Steve Butler and Andy Thomson. At last, after more than a century of waiting, the club had attained a place among the elite in the top two divisions of the Football League structure.

 

Dreams do come true, but sometimes they take a little longer than anticipated. Such dreams no doubt abounded towards the end of the 19th century when a group of Victorian gentlemen, heartened by the success of Excelsior FC in local competitions, convened at the Napier Arms pub in May 1893 to form New Brompton FC.

 

The share capital was set at £1,500 and a plot of land, subsequently to become known as Priestfield Stadium, was purchased for £600. The club adopted professional status the following year and became founder members of the Southern League, winning the Division Two title in 1895 and gaining promotion by beating Swindon 5-1 in a test match (a prelude to today's play-offs).

 

But, after changing their name to Gillingham in 1913 and becoming founder members of the Third Division in 1920, there was little else to shout about in the years leading up to the Second World War. Quite the reverse in fact and the club's fifth application for re-election met with failure in 1938.

 

Ipswich were voted in and Gillingham were voted out. A major blow, but the directors decided to continue - on the chairman's casting vote - and the club went on to enjoy considerable success in the Southern League during the immediate post-war seasons. So, when the decision was made to enlarge the old geographical Third Divisions from 22 to 24 teams in 1950, the Gills, as expected, topped the voting by a long way and were readmitted.

 

Yet Football League honours continued to elude the club until that magic moment in 1964 when Freddie Cox's tight defensive team pipped freescoring Carlisle United for the old Fourth Division title on goals average (goals scored divided by goals conceded).

 

Relegated in 1971, the club bounced back as runners-up to Peterborough in 1974 and came extremely close to going up another level in 1979, finishing fourth in the final table and only two points behind champions Shrewsbury.

  

The KM Medway Stand

 

A period of unrivalled consistency came during the middle 80s under Keith Peacock's wing and the Gills finished just below the promotion places on several occasions before almost doing it when the play-off system was introduced in 1987.

 

They overcame Sunderland on the away goals rule after drawing 6-6 on aggregate but strangely - and rather annoyingly - the same rule didn't count in the final against Swindon. If it had then Gillingham, with a 1-0 home win followed by a 1-2 defeat in the second leg, would have been up. Instead, the final went to a replay, at Selhurst Park, which Swindon won 2-0.

 

The team went into decline thereafter, dropping back into the basement division in 1989 and almost into the Conference four years later. All depended on the result of the final home game, billed as judgement day against fellow strugglers Halifax. Whoever won stayed up; whoever lost went down. Simple as that. It was an emotional occasion in every sense with the Gills winning 2-0 to secure their safety at Halifax's expense.

 

The situation was far more serious when the club went into administration in 1995. The most dreaded word of all - extinction - loomed as a possibility until Paul Scally took control at the 11th hour.

 

So much has been done and so much achieved under his direction and leadership. The club's rapid rise and progress has included two promotions, two Wembley appearances, passage through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, a massive increase in support and the generation of funds to construct three new stands.


After finishing 13th, 12th and 11th in their first three seasons in Division One Gillingham found themselves in a relegation battle for the final half of the 2003/04 season.

In fact Gills Division One survival was not secured until the final day of the season at the Britannia Stadium after a goalless encounter against former manager Tony Pulis's Stoke City.

Gillingham stayed up by a solitary goal, but they were not so fortunate in 2004/05 and in December player-manager Andy Hessenthaler decided he had taken the team as far as he could and stepped down. At the time Gillingham were in a precarious position in the League and a whole nation of football pundits predicted that their time was up in England's second tier of football.

Stan Ternent took over the managerial reigns in December, along with assistant Ronnie Jepson, and took on a daunting challenge of proving the critics wrong and maintaining Gillingham's status in the newly named Coca-Cola Championship. The fortunes of the team were dramatically transformed and it appeared that the Ternent-Jepson combination was going to have the desired outcome.

Chairman Paul Scally consoles Nicky Southall following relegation to League OneAgainst all the odds the team was just five minutes from safety in the penultimate game of the season only for Cardiff to force an equaliser which meant Gillingham's destiny was going to be determined on the final day at already relegated Nottingham Forest.

Once again the team was just five minutes from safety at the City Ground, but a Forest equaliser and results going against them elsewhere meant Gills dropped back into the relegation zone at the final whistle and in a twist of fate were condemned to playing League One football in 2005-06 by a solitary goal.

Ternent rejected a new contract at Priestfield but Jepson remained at the club as Assistant Manager to the newly-appointed Neale Cooper.  Cooper would manage the Gills for only 22 matches before resigning in November 2005.  Jepson was promoted to Manager and would steer the Gills to mid-table finishes in 2006 and 2007, however, he left the club in September 2007. 

Gills Legend Iffy Onoura took over the reins as caretaker manager until Mark Stimson was appointed Manager on 1st November 2007. Despite a strong late season rally he was unable to prevent the Gills relegation to League Two. Gillingham's spell in the basement division proved to be a short one as Mark Stimson's team achieved promotion at the very first attempt. Simeon Jackson etched his name in club history by heading the 90th minute winner that secured a 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town in the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium  

Honours:

Division Four champions 1964, runners-up 1974
Division Three runners-up 1996
Division Two play-off winners 2000, beaten finalists 1987 (Div 3) and 1999 (Div 2)
League Two play-off winners 2009
Southern League champions 1947 and 1949, runners-up 1948;
Southern League Cup winners 1947
Southern League Division Two champions 1895
Kent League champions 1945 and 1946
Kent Senior Cup winners 1946 and 1948, beaten finalists 1939, 1949, 1950 and 1995 

Record attendances:
23,002 v QPR (FA Cup, Jan 1948),
League Cup 20,566 v Arsenal (Sept 1966)
Football League 20,128 v Millwall (Sep 1950)

Highest average attendance: 12,576 (1951-52)

Biggest Football League win: 10-0 v Chesterfield (Sept 1987)

Biggest FA Cup win: 10-1 v Gorleston (Nov 1957)

Biggest Southern League win: 12-1 v Gloucester City (Nov 1946)

Heaviest Football League defeat: 2-9 v Nottingham Forest (Nov 1950), 0-7 Shrewsbury Town (Sep 2008)

Heaviest FA Cup defeat: 3-9 v Sutton United (Nov 1945)

Most Football League goals in a season (team): 90 (1973-74)

Fewest goals conceded: 20 (1995-96, a League record for a 46-game season)

Most Football League goals in a season (player): 31 Ernie Morgan (1954-55), Brian Yeo (1973-74)

Most goals in one game: Six (Fred Cheesmur v Merthyr Town April 1930)

Most career goals: Brian Yeo 135 (1963-75)

Fastest hat-trick: Jimmy Scarth three in two minutes and a half minutes v Leyton Orient (Nov 1952).

Most Football League appearances: John Simpson 571 (1957-72)

Most League and Cup appearances: Ron Hillyard 657 (1974-91)

Best FA Cup run: Quarter-finals 1999-2000 (losing 5-0 at Chelsea)

Best League Cup run: Reached fourth round in 1963-64 (losing 3-1 at Leicester City) and 1996-97 (losing 1-0 at Ipswich)

Record transfer fee paid: £600,000 to Reading for Carl Asaba (August 1998)
 
Record transfer fee received: £1.5m from Manchester City for Robert Taylor (Nov 1999)

Capped players:  Andrew Crofts 12 (Wales), Ian Cox 11 (Trinidad & Tobago), Mamady Sidibe 7 (Mali), Brent Sancho 6 (Trinidad & Tobago), Tony Cascarino 3 (Republic of Ireland), Terry Cochrane 2 (Northern Ireland), Damien Richardson 2 (Republic of Ireland), Simeon Jackson 1 (Canada), Freddie Fox 1 (England).

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