With some sides, we got to know them off the field some time we did on it; Gillingham being an example of how that can work...
Photo: "Mark Stimson doing trainging.jpg" by Andysteve is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

With some sides, we got to know them off the field some time we did on it; Gillingham being an example of how that can work. It’s one of those odd situations where you never normally have anything to do with each other. You’re in different divisions. You have different battles to fight. And you’re minding your own business. Suddenly, one sees the other has something they want. Next thing you know, you’re locked in talks about how to end it all nicely. Not that you can be sure it will end nicely.

Ah well. It adds an extra bit of spice to that first time you do meet each other on the pitch.

Who are Gillingham?

Back in the day, Chatham Excelsior were quite the junior team in Kent. Wanting a bit of that success, some guys got together in 1893 to form a club that could compete at a higher level. That club would be… New Brompton. And with the birth of this club came the purchase of some land that’d end up being the place we know today as Priestfield. More or less straight away, New Brompton became members of the Southern League.

In their first campaign, New Brompton clinched the Division Two title – then beat Swindon Town in a test match to gain promotion. Life at a higher level was tough and they finished bottom at the end of the 1907-8 season. But the expansion of the league spared them the humilation of relegation. Not even a decision to change name to Gillingham in 1912 could raise their fortunes and the 1914-5 season saw them finish bottom again.

The outbreak of World War One stopped them being relegated on this occasion. And they had a third stay of execution in the first campaign back. Again finishing bottom of the table come the end of the 1919-20 season, the Gills won’t just escape relegation. They’d get lumped into the Football League’s brand-new Division Three South!

A pretty spectacular way to reward failure.

The Gills ended their first Football League season in bottom place. But the idea of instant ejection from the competition wasn’t on the cards. Instead, they’d last until 1938; another bottom-place finish costing them their Football League place on election day So, the Gills went off and took out their frustrations on the Southern and Kent Leagues. The club did return to the Football League in 1950. And this time it’d be ‘permanent’.

Why do we know them?

For much of the next 50 years, you’d catch ’em swapping between the bottom two tiers of the Football League. A new century brought with it new fortunes, though; the Gills up into the second tier for the first time in their history in 2000. Here they remained for a good few years to their credit. But 2005 saw them drop back down into League One. And they didn’t find it easy. And those struggles continued into the 2007-8 season – when Ronnie Jepson stepped down in early September.

So, the Gills were now looking for a new manager. And our FA Trophy triumph the season before hadn’t gone unnoticed. Mark Stimson was courted by chairman Paul Scally and we held firm. After all, we had high hopes for promotion and a run of eight clean sheets on the bounce had put us in a good place. It got a little bit ugly – but Stimmo ultimately quit on us; named Gills boss in mid-October. And we got Peter Taylor in. Lose-lose all round, then…

Not even Stimmo could keep them in League One that season. But they bounced straight back up to start the 2009-10 season in the third tier. Alas, it was again a step too far for our ex-boss. He left at the end of the campaign by mutual consent after ending three points from safety. And that’s a shame because they came down to League Two at the same time as we came up. No chance to show him what he’d left behind…

Well, we did get that chance as he went to Barnet. But that’s by the by.

What is our record against the Gills?

Onto the important stuff and, to start, the Gills had the measure of us. We lost 1-0 at their place on New Year’s Day 2011, before a Byron Harrison brace got us a draw at the Lamex. We had the last laugh, however; securing promotion to League One. For them, it’d be two more seasons before they joined us. And it was another fleeting encounter as we lost our League One status at the end of the 2013-4 season.

That said, we did record our first-ever win against them; a 3-1 home victory in February. It did little to save us in the end, however.

Gillingham: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 6 — W 2 — D 1 — L 3 — F 10 — A— Pts 4 — WR 33%
Our last tango: Stevenage 3-0 Gillingham, 07 December 2015

What happened to them?

As we’ve stayed put in League Two ever since, so too have the Gills in League One. Just. The 2016-7 season saw them survive at the expense of Bury on goal difference. But we’d already squeezed another two cup encounters in by that point. In fact, we didn’t have long to wait at all after relegation; the 2014-5 Paint Pot Trophy bringing them to us. We lost 1-0 (again).

And we met again during the 2015-6 season too; the FA Cup Round One draw setting up a home tie for us. It won’t rank as a major upset. But a 3-0 win is nowt to sniff at as we eased into the next round. Still, we’d rather swap league positions with them. It’s now looking like the Gills have learned from their 2017 escape and are now pulling themselves up the table. Maybe a playoff push could be on the cards this season as things stand?

They can’t have our manager though.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Gillingham club profile


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