In most cases, our first experience of a club comes on the field. In the case of Gillingham, however, that wasn’t the case. Our success in the 2007 FA Trophy final had caught the Gills’ attention. So, when their gaffer was on his way early in the 2007-8 campaign, they came a-sniffing. Off went Mark Stimson and it’d be four years until we found ourselves meeting on the same pitch as then. And that was because Stimmo’s replacement (GW) had us promoted twice in two seasons to move alongside the Kent team in League One.
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 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.
How to get to Gillingham – Travel Information – Distance: 69 miles
From Stevenage, head south on the A1(M) and join the M25 towards the Dartford Crossing. More confident navigators can head across county via Ware and Harlow to use the M11 or A10, but it’s all contributing towards the same purpose. Once on the M25, follow the motorway around to the Dartford Bridge and cross the Thames.
After rejoining the M25 the other side of the river, join the Canterbury-bound A2 for more than 9 miles. At the start of the M2 motorway, bear left for the A289 for nearly 4 miles. Continue along to the Four Elms Roundabout and take the 2nd exit for the Wainscott Eastern Bypass; still the A289.
After more than 3 miles, take the third exit at the roundabout for Church Street. Continue onto Ingram Road and again onto Gillingham Road. Half a mile after leaving the A289, there should be a left turn for Priestfield Road.
On street parking is the way forward upon arrival in Gillingham, but be advised of resident permit schemes that have been implemented to stop football fans hogging all the spots. A full list of streets you’re advised to avoid can be found on the Gills website.
Services to: LONDON ST PANCRAS
Catch a London-bound service to London Kings Cross and make the short pedestrian switch to London St Pancras for a Southeastern service to Gillingham. It’s not a over-strenuous journey upon arriving in Kent, perhaps less than 10 minutes if you’re lucky. Turn left out onto Railway Street towards Victoria Street.
At Victoria Street, turn left and shortly after – 128ft, turn left onto Balmoral Road. Remain on Balmoral Road for 0.3 miles and this will then become Priestfield Road. The ground ought to be 0.1 miles further along. Job done!
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