In 2005, as Neale Cooper looked to rebuild the recently relegated Gills side, he brought in a defender who would go on to make history.
Four players arrived from north of the border, none of whom quite excited the Priestfield faithful as much as one Brent Sancho. Sancho was an established international, a taste of the exotic and already on the plane to the 2006 World Cup, should his nation qualify.
Paul Shields came from Forfar; Tony Bullock came from Dundee United and Steve Hislop came from Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Brent Sancho, meanwhile, came from Dundee, but that was only his last stop. Before that, he had played in America and was a Trinidad international. Exciting times.
Sancho’s career had taken him from the oddly named Joe Public in Trinidad to Portland Timbers in the USA via Finland. He wasn’t the only Trinidad player at Gillingham, either; Ian Cox also hailed from the Caribbean island. Sancho settled in quickly, becoming a cult hero for his tough tackling, which often meant his awful first touch was overlooked. That didn’t matter, not when the Gills had a player heading to the World Cup – well, almost.
Chairman Paul Scally, never the most popular of people, wasn’t having any of that. When Sancho joined up with the national squad for a vital qualifier, Scally took it as a slur on the club. He ranted to press about player loyalty and vowed never to play Sancho again. Sure enough, when he returned to Kent, he was immediately told to train with the youths. No more Sancho, or ‘Dirty’, as the fans had affectionately christened him.
Without their talisman in defence, Gillingham crumbled. As if relegation the year before wasn’t bad enough, it became a stark possibility that it could happen yet again. Fans were indignant; after all, there was an international defender sat on the bench.
Scally backtracked, claiming an apology had been received; fortunately just as Gillingham’s fortunes hit rock bottom. Sancho came back into the side and immediately scored against Brentford. Six games, five wins and one red card later, he was on the plane to Germany.
Sancho became the first Gillingham player to go to a World Cup and, in his opening game, kept a clean sheet as Ibrahimović and Larsson failed to score for Sweden. One 0-0 draw in the bag, it was time to face England. England can be found at 16/1 via this URL, but in 2006, they were much more fancied. Sancho had his work cut out.
For 82 minutes, Trinidad fought bravely, but finally, Peter Crouch broke the deadlock, rather famously pulling a defender’s dreadlocks to gain the upper hand. That defender’s name? Brent Sancho.
I don't get football fans.. They moan about poor officiating cost their team and now they moaning about VAR interrupting the flow of the game….Its like going on a diet and complaining there is no melted cheese on your broccoli…
— Brent Sancho (@brent_sancho) January 28, 2018
In his final game, Sancho put the ball into his own net, thus becoming became the first Gillingham player to score in a World Cup. He returned a hero of sorts; BBC South East couldn’t get enough of him and he even proposed to his girlfriend live on TV!
However, the fame was fleeting, and Sancho never played for his country again. An argument over bonuses resulted in many of the squad refusing to play for their country again. Worse was to come 12 months later, as Gillingham released him.
It wasn’t all bad, though: in 2015, Brent Sancho was named minister for sport in Trinidad and Tobago, whereas more recently, he can be found on Twitter commenting on the English game.