Adam Bird

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Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Full Circle

The current football season is drawing to a close with the lucky supporters of those teams in the playoffs anticipation promotion glory, or in the case of Manchester United, Chelsea, Portsmouth and Cardiff City the chance to see their teams winning some silverware.

Unfortunately, for us Gillingham fans we have a long three months ahead of us as we deal with the ignominy of relegation back to the 'basement' division of League Two. The commercial people within the FA may have rebranded the names of the leagues in an attempt to make them sound more appealing, but as supporters there is no fooling us as we look forward to playing the likes of Morecombe, Accrington Stanley, Macclesfield Town and Grimsby.

When Paul Scally took over the club back in the spring of 1995 nobody would have predicted the wonderful journey and realms of success that we would be given over the next ten years. An immediate promotion to League One (although it wasn't called that then), glorious cup runs, including a quarter final in the FA Cup, a promotion playoff final against Manchester City where soul destroying heartbreak was replaced 12 months later at the same venue with jubilation of promotion to the Championship against Wigan Athletic.

Our Championship stay lasted for 5 seasons, where for the first three we finished higher year on year before the decline set in leading to relegation in perhaps unlucky circumstances, as Eugene Bopp scored the goal of his life to set us on our descendency against Nottingham Forest.

Our return to League One was only meant to be a temporary measure as a return back to the Championship was predicted by the supporters. The stay has indeed been short, but our exit from the league has been through the plug hole rather than the stars.

Relegation is always difficult to swallow, but this year, particularly since relegation became a possibility has been a tough one. The season started terribly with 5 defeats out of five, and one point at home was followed by yet another defeat, seeing the resignation of Ronnie Jepson as first team coach. A search was on for yet another Messiah to lead the Gillingham resurrection, but took longer than many supporters would have liked.

Finally, Mark Stimson and former Gillingham goalkeeper Scott Barrett were given the reins and a mission to ensure survival come May. Ultimately they failed that particular goal, but despite that, there are I believe, glimmers of hope for the future, as the foundations of a side capable of winning an immediate return to League One are evident - providing of course we can keep the nucleus of the side together.

When things go wrong, fingers are pointed, and to me, this perhaps has been the hardest element of this season for me. Certain sections of the Gills faithful have been calling for Paul Scally's head and demanding his resignation. Internet message forums and Facebook groups have been set up in an attempt to gather a body of supporters together in attempt to rid the club of the man that kept the club alive in the first place.

There is no smoke without fire and there deserves to be some criticism and questions pointed towards Mr Scally, which he needs to answer as solidly and honestly as possible. The lack of transparency and counter comments from Mr Scally back to the supporters hasn't been, shall I say very diplomatic, but there has been some obscene and rather profane comments written by supporters which doesn't lend well to the cause in which they are aiming to fight.

The split between the club and certain sections of the supporters is possibly unrepairable at the moment, and I don't see how this can be repaired other than honest, straight forward dialogue between the two parties, and all the time that the team continues to flounder, and sink the worse this divide will get.

Having the success we have had has increased the expectation among supporters. Especially those people who fell in love with the club when we were at our historic peak. They believe that to be the norm and believe that is our rightful place. History shows that we are and always have been a bottom two division club, flirting with the edges of the Championship and only ever getting there once. Now that we have returned back to the basement we need to rebuild and start over again, avoid where possible the mistakes of the past few years, and indeed those mistakes that saw us nearly lose our league place totally in the early 90's.

I myself am quite looking forward to next season. Back to the league in which I fell in love with the Gills, back to the footballing backwaters. Although I won't be able to make as many away games as I would like, I hope to visit Accrington Stanley and those grounds close by at Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge, grounds I have not visited. If we have a successful season next year it will be all the sweeter.

Further relegation is a scenario that I don't particularly want to contemplate, as it would surely mean the end of the Gillingham Football Club as we know it. But like I say, the foundations on the pitch are there and the models of other clubs are there for us to follow.

Walsall, Swindon, Luton, Brighton, Southend and many more clubs, have gone up the leagues in quick succession, hit a plateau and plummeted down the other side just as quickly, rebuilt and done it all over again. As a supporter of a lower league club you need to be in it for the long ride, and like a good roller coaster you cannot get off when you hit the top, but have to ride it out to the end.

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