This evening at 7:45pm the Gills will kick off at AFC Wimbledon searching for their first win of the 2017-18 campaign. It will be our seventh attempt at achieving this fate.
Due to family commitments and unsociable working hours I have to be selective with which away games I attend.
Tonight would normally be one such game.
AFC Wimbledon is pretty local compared to some of the far-flung northern trips we have to endure seemingly every year. It is one game I attended last season, albeit to watch the most abject of 2-0 defeats.
I currently have no such desire to travel, though. None whatsoever. No desire to spend money on watching a club that so for long I have loved but currently almost despise.
No desire to – what right now feels like – go through the motions, merely waiting for the almost inevitable disappointment come the final whistle.
“It is frustrating and almost heartbreaking that I feel like this. That I feel little or no connection to Gillingham Football Club. My club. Our club.”
This is the same club that just 18 months or so ago was considered real contenders to win promotion back to the Championship.
Yes, you did read that right. The Championship.
Since that fateful night in January 2016 – where we lead 2-0 at Wigan before contriving to lose 3-2 – we have been on the most agonising of declines.
That 2015-16 campaign under Justin Edinburgh promised so much but in the end delivered very little.
Yes, our final position of ninth represented our best finish in over a decade.
However, for a side not out of the top four for two-thirds of the season it felt like a huge disappointment, especially considering we failed to win any of our final eight games.
The start of 2016-17 brought what we now all know was only brief respite and hope, as the additions of Jamie O’Hara, Scott Wagstaff, Paul Konchesky, Jay Emmanuel Thomas et al raised expectation levels. But August was effectively as good as it got.
Their were brief highlights of course:
- Winning 2-1 at Watford in the EFL Cup to earn a dream tie at Tottenham
- Our ‘back from the dead’ 3-2 win at Shrewsbury courtesy of an Emmanuel Thomas stunner and Max Ehmer’s late winner
- That trip to White Hart Lane, where THREE THOUSAND Gills fans sung themselves hoarse despite a 5-0 thumping
However for every good thing that we did, it seemed as though we were getting three or four things wrong.
Constantly chucking away leads, conceding late goals and generally being poor defensively all seemed to become too much of the norm as we won only ONCE from the end of August up until the beginning of November.
Justin Edinburgh seemed to be on very thin ice, only being kept in the job due to Chairman Paul Scally’s health scare.
Hope sprung eternal as we approached the festive period having won five out of eight but, being Gillingham, we still contrived to get knocked out of the FA Cup live on national television to lowly Brackley Town during that period.
The end was fast approaching for Edinburgh, who seemed to becoming more and more curious in his interviews and press conferences. The pressure was clearly taking its toll.
The final nail in his coffin came hours after our first game of 2017.
After one of the most insipid, disgusting and pathetic Gills displays I can recall – a 1-0 reverse at home to Oxford United – Edinburgh claimed that, in 17th position and some 10 points adrift of the coveted play-off berths, his side was ‘over-achieving’.
The next morning he was gone.
For me it was the correct decision, especially with the likes of Steve Cotterill, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, Chris Powell and others all available.
But we all know happened next, and Mr Scally has since astonishingly admitted that he did not conduct any real interviewing or recruitment process due to his ongoing heart problems at the time.
So Adrian Pennock was appointed as head coach (not manager) and was to be supported by Jamie Day and Steve Lovell. It was hardly a dream team in the eyes of the majority of Gills fans. Not even close.
But, nonetheless, he rode in on his white charger and told us in front of the chairman that the play-offs were still very much the aim.
Anyway – to cut a long story short – we all know what happened for the remainder of the campaign.
A mixture of curious team selections, players played out of position, the releasing of the so called ‘big names’, signing players who couldn’t actually play for us (remember Bondz N’Gala?), awful football, lucky wins and THAT penalty hat-trick.
Oh, and we survived on the very last day due to Port Vale’s inability to score a goal in their encounter with Fleetwood.
But with only four victories from 21 matches, surely it was to be a case of ‘thanks and goodbye’ to Adrian and his band of merry men.
Then we could all look forward to a summer where we would get things correct off the pitch, go through the right and proper recruiting process, appoint a proven football league manager and add some continuity and belief back to our cherished club.
Around a fortnight after the campaign had ended, it was announced that Pennock – him with the 19% win ratio – had been granted a stay of execution in the form of a new one year contract as head coach, with former manager Peter Taylor returning to the club for his third stint, this time as director of football.
Mr Scally stated that he would have felt bad if he hadn’t given Ady a chance with his own squad after all the turmoil he had gone through since arriving in January.
I’m sorry, but since when has football become a game where we give chances to individuals because we feel bad for them? I’m certain that’s not how a certain Scotsman who was based in Manchester for two and a half decades became so successful.
The likes of Bill Shankly and Brian Clough – giants of the English game – would surely turn in their graves at such a sentiment.
However, despite my anger and disappointment, for the club to be successful Ady and his staff had to be successful, so we had to get behind them.
Pre-season was a mixture of (relative) promise and hope, tinged with the disappointment and sadness that two of our best players were departing.
As Cody McDonald and Bradley Dack headed off for pastures new, Ady set about bringing in reinforcements to address the issues of 2016-17.
On the whole the recruitment would have to be filed under the ‘promising if not proven’ tag, but I was by no means disappointed with who we brought in.
Therefore this, coupled with the pre-season results and performances, meant I was a tad more optimistic as Saturday August 5 started to appear on the horizon.
My optimism has sadly proved to be horrendously misplaced, because since the campaign got underway in earnest I am not even sure I recognise what we have become, both on the pitch…
- No win in six league games
- Five defeats from first eight games
- Two points from the first 18 available
- Second from bottom in the league
- NO goals scored in four away games
- Two missed penalties
- Only two goalscorers in our first eight fixtures
- Blanks in five of those eight games
And also off it…
- Stuart Nelson – former POTY and 2012-13 title winner – rumoured to be training with the Under 18’s
- A row between Adrian Pennock and Josh Wright leading to the latter – last season’s top scorer & POTY – having his contract torn up when we could have sold him for a fee
- Court case with former caterers Centreplate still hanging over us
- An employment tribunal with former manager Justin Edinburgh too
- Our now ex-vice chairman Michael Anderson to answer charges of fraud in America
- Cutting all ties with our established and well respected Community Trust programme
I have always tried to have a positive disposition and to have my glass half-full, but the bottom line is we have been in decline and a state of stagnation since that evening at the DW Stadium back in January 2016.
Sadly, unless drastic changes are made rather quickly, I can only see us heading one way, and that way is not up.
We are a pale shadow of the side of 2015-16, where we played a vibrant brand of football and worked hard for one another.
Yes it ultimately ended in disappointment and heartache, but back then I felt nothing like I do right now.
At least during that campaign I was afforded the luxury of being able to do one thing.
As I write this now, with a man in charge of us who has a win ratio of just 17.2% in all competitions, I feel nothing but resignation.
I have never ever before wanted my football club to lose a game, but things are currently so desperate that, if a defeat tonight meant the end of Adrian Pennock… well, you know.
Look, of course I don’t want us to lose because we need all the points we can get.
But what I will say is this…
“Adrian, if you love this club as much as you keep telling us, then please – I beg of you – do the right thing.”
Go and offer the one thing to the chairman that will stop me and thousands of other Gills fans feeling it.
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