Adam Bird


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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Gillingham vs Shrewsbury - As it Happened

Gills at Wembley

Here is the full excerpt from the BBC vidiprinter of Gillingham vs Shrewsbury, League Two 2009 Playoff Final

1720: Congratulations, then, to Gillingham, commiserations to Shrewsbury. A cracking match with more drama than an Eastenders Christmas special. And if you thought that was heart-pounding, just you wait until tomorrow. The legend that is Stevo will be talking you through what promises to be a sensational day of Premier League ups and downs, with a pinch of League One play-off final action thrown in, so what ever you do - do not miss it. Nice one, legends.

"Congratulations Gillingham. Bouncing straight back up after relegation is a lot easier said than done so hats off and good luck in League One next year."
Liverpool_is_my_life on 606

"I feel for Shrewsbury; being a QPR fan I know how late, late play-off final goals feel and it's the worst feeling I've experienced, much worse than a relegation."
SuperHoops10 on 606

1705: The Gillingham players converge in front of their own fans and the champagne helps the party get started with a bang. One thing is always certain at moments like this - someone will do a dance worthy of your dad at a wedding. Simeon Jackson obliges with an effort that would embarrass John Sargeant, and the less said about that the better. Still - any Gills fans out there that wouldn't forgive him?

1702: Captain Barry Fuller leads the Gillingham players up the Wembley steps and one half of the ground goes off like a box of fireworks as he raises the League Two play-off trophy. The celebration music? Some nondescript eurotrash pop - disappointing.

1700: "We have seen the goal on our monitor and it was not a corner, the referee gave it but it came off the opposition and Graham Coughlan is not happy. Still, you just can't give anyone in the box inches. It's got Gillingham promoted and, on the balance of the match, they were the better team."
Ian Holloway co-commentating on BBC Five Live

"Re: Alex @ 16:47, I think that all Gillingham fans can push that nightmare day to the back of their collective memory now. Well done Gillingham, a deserved promotion via the play-offs if there ever is such a thing."
Cobbler-Kris on 606

1656: Well well well, what a finish. You have to say Gillingham just about edged that one, but how cruel for Shrewsbury. Controversy, too, over the goal, with TV replays showing the match-winning corner should have been a goal-kick as it came off Andy Barcham before going behind - the Gills, understandably, care not a jot right now, though. The highs and lows of football in one fell swoop.


1654: FULL-TIME: Gillingham 1-0 Shrewsbury

1652: Well well well, Graham Coughlan almost snatches a miracle out of the sky as he rises to get on the end of a cross six yards out, but it is just a touch too high and it flies wide. The fat lady is clearing her throat.

1650: GOAL: Unbelievable! Simeon Jackson - who else? - has won it, surely, for Gillingham. Josh Wright swings over a pin-point corner and the striker, unmarked, heads it in with a delicious header. Cue jubilant scenes from the Gills fans - they're on their way back to League One at the first time of asking bar a miracle.
Gillingham 1-0 Shrewsbury

16:49: More good work from the impressive Andy Barcham and it's a Gillingham corner...

"All four centre-halves have been fantastic. The concentration level has to be spot on and I've been really impressed with all of them. Brilliant."Ian Holloway co-commentating on BBC Five Live

1647: Good work from Neil Ashton as the Shrews defender clears his lines well under pressure from Simeon Jackson. No great action at either end of the pitch otherwise, though, and I'd wager both sides would take ET now.

"We've reached the stage where the only way its not going to extra-time then penalties is by a horror mistake or a wonder strike/piece of skill. Hero/villain status awaits for someone."
Liverpool_is_my_life on 606

"Come on, time to get on the live text - cue quote-friendly post... Gillingham will win on penalties... my Rice Krispies told me so."
Moyer on 606

"Entering the final 10 minutes now at Wembley and the Gills fans have gone a bit quiet away to my left. Remember the last 10 minutes in 1999 anyone?!"
BBC Sport's Alex Gulrajani at Wembley

1639: A period of relative calm after a frantic second half as this game enters its final 10 minutes or so. Will either side be brave enough to go for the win or are we looking at extra-time do we think?

1634: Today's attendance is 53,706 - the second highest turn-out for a League Two play-off final ever. Well done Shrewsbury and Gillingham.

1633: Chances at both ends as Barry Fuller bursts behind the Shrews defence and into the box only to see his cross cleared, while Ben Davies is let down by his first touch as he bears down on the Gills goal as Shrewsbury break and Mark Stimson's side are able to clear.

1630: Shrewsbury's best spell of the match, this, but - much like Gillingham in the first half - their final delivery and/or shot continues to let them down and keeper Simon Royce remains relatively unworked.

1627: Apropos of very little, by the way, Wolfsburg have just won their first ever Bundesliga title by beating Werder Bremen 5-1. German football updates on a League Two play-off final commentary huh? That's premium service footy chat, that, and you, my good people, are welcome.

1624: Well, what a chance that is - Kelvin Langmead helps the ball back into the Gills box and Kevin McIntyre, completely unmarked and six yards out, contrives to steer his header wide. This match is more even than a builder's spirit level now.

"A few more signs of life here at Wembley. Curtis Weston and Graham Coughlan almost have a coming together - all lightweight pushing and shoving, the sort of stuff that would embarrass a rugby player - but it is enough to get the crowd going. Then Ben Davies almost bangs one in for the Shrews - reminding Gillingham that this is still anyone's game even if they have been the better side. The last few minutes have been pretty even and I have hope for this final yet."
BBC Sport's Paul Fletcher at Wembley

1619: The game has taken on a bit of a see-saw mode, now, with both sides trying to force the pace. Andy Barcham and Dennis Oli threaten in the box, but are crowded out by a swarm of Shrews defenders and the chance is cleared.

"Re: 1602 - That advert terrifies me to my very core!! If I looked up to see him facing me when enjoying the bubbles I would get myself sectioned!!"
spurs_7 on 606

"That's the first time that Royce has had anything to do. He's put his packed lunch down, dived to his left, and kept it out."
Ian Holloway co-commentating on BBC Five Live

1613: Best effort of the day so far for Shrewsbury as Ben Davies gets on the end of a high ball in the Gills box and connects excellently with a volley - it's straight at keeper Simon Royce, though.

1610: Ooh - Clive Oliver has to get involved as Curtis Weston and Graham Coughlan engage in a spot of kiss-chase. A booking each for a 'scrap' that barely merits the description.

1609: Deary me, Shrewsbury are defending so deep again at the start of this half they could probably lean their backsides against the Titanic. Still, while it stays 0-0...

1606: Or maybe not as Andy Barcham dances in the Shrews box, cuts inside and stings the palms of keeper Luke Daniels at his near post. Decent effort and Daniels, again, keeps Shrewsbury in the game.

1605: A better start from Shrewsbury as Nick Chadwick narrowly fails to get on the end of a Grant Holt cross right at the beginning of the half. A sign of intent perhaps?

1604: We're back under way.

1602: The Shrews players are out first at Wembley and they engage in a little pre-kick-off huddle - what is it with footballers and cuddling? And, on a completely separate note, is there anything on this pure earth more disturbing than that advert with Carlton Palmer in a bath?

"Gillingham have dominated this first half and forced two excellent saves from Shrews keeper Luke Daniels. The front three of Barcham, Jackson and Oli have enough pace to run until Christmas - especially Oli, who has got the measure of Shrews left-back Neil Ashton. The game needs a goal as soon as possible and, at the moment, the smart money would be on Gillingham providing it."
BBC Sport's Alex Gulrajani at Wembley

1554: I tell you what you need right now - some words of wisdom from Magic Macca: "You lot have clearly been too absorbed in the action from Wem-ber-lee and Sam's chat to get involved in Player Rater. It's understandable, but why not head over there and half a half-time play?" Consider this your first warning, folks.

"I don't know about Luke Daniels that half. More like Paul Daniels."
Ian Holloway co-commentating on BBC Five Live

1548: HALF-TIME - Gillingham 0-0 Shrewsbury

1547: Shrews keeper Luke Daniels is the hero again as Josh Wright lashes a low shot through a group of bodies, only for the stopper to get down low with a brilliant reaction save to keep it out.
"Both teams know how to pass the ball around and it's getting a bit move lively as the pace picks up. Only really the finishing that is lacking at the moment. Been quite impressed with Barcham - looks pacy with a few tricks."
Zippy, George and Bungle on 606

1542: A mistake from Chris Humphrey gives Simeon Jackson a sniff 20 yards out, but his shot on the turn drifts wide of the Shrews goal. This game is like a wigwam and a teepee - two tents. As in, you know, too tense. Geddit? No? Hhmm...

1539: More good work from Gillingham as Simon King drives out of defence and finds himself on the edge of the Shrews area, but again it flatters and fumbles as the danger is cleared. Symptomatic of the Gills' play so far, really.

1536: ... but Kevin McIntyre's shot curls harmlessly wide.

1535: Ouch - Shrews forward Nick Chadwick may be seeing stars at the moment after wearing an elbow in the face, but it looks like he'll be fit to continue after treatment. Free-kick 40 yards out...

1533: Cracking save! Moments after Darren Moss's desperate chest behind clears the Shrews' lines, John Nutter brings the best out of keeper Luke Daniels with a rasping left-foot drive from the resulting corner. The closest either side have come.

"The crowd could do with something to really get them going; gone a touch flat at Wembley at the moment. The Gills are on top and look to have plenty of pace up front, but they have been let down by some mediocre crossing. The sun has disappeared and there are some pretty thick clouds over the stadium."
BBC Sport's Paul Fletcher at Wembley

1529: Kevin McIntyre has the chance to put the Gills defence under pressure with a free-kick from out wide, but he sends a poor cross straight into the grateful hands of keeper Simon Royce. A waste.

1524: Shrews go to sleep on a Gillingham corner and a short one finds its way back to a completely unmarked Josh Wright on the edge of the area, only for the midfielder to ping his effort over the bar. Our very own Jon Barbuti (see below) would do well to keep his counsel on that shot methinks.

"I had Dennis Oli as a trainee at QPR and he used to chase pigeons. He was so fast he used to catch some as well. He's a smashing lad and I'm delighted he is enjoying a career with Gillingham."
Ian Holloway co-commentating on BBC Five Live

1520: Gillingham are starting to dominate proceedings a touch at Wembley, with Dennis Oli and Curtis Weston in particular beginning to dictate the tempo. A couple of dangerous crosses from each are eventually cleared, and it looks like Mark Stimson's side are the first to get to grips with this match.

"One of the best names in the football league is on show today, I present exhibit A - Mr. John Nutter. I just love that name!"
GJ's Cider Army on 606

1516: I know what you're thinking - BBC Sport employees make up around a fifth of the people in the ground at Wembley - but let me assure you, most are there as fans. Which is nice. Anyway, defender John Nutter surges forward and unleashes the shot of the match so far, but it is bravely blocked by a Shrews defender and the danger is cleared.

"Josh Wright's name got an amazing cheer given he's only on a short-term loan at Gillingham. Turns out we are sat by all his family."
BBC Sport's Jon Barbuti at Wembley

1511: Shrews fans will not be at all surprised to hear Grant Holt is at the heart of all that is good about his side's display so far. Still, not a shot to save for either keeper yet.

1509: Kevin McIntyre charges into the Gills box in an attempt to get on the end of a Grant Holt flick, but the ball gets away from him and half-hearted appeals for a penalty as he goes down next to Barry Fuller are waved away. Correct decision.

"Spare a thought for Gillingham veteran Nicky Southall, who has not made it on to the bench. The 37-year-old has had three spells at the Gills and is a club legend but he is out of contract at the end of the season. He's not expected to be offered a new deal and, unfortunately for him, his final appearance for the club will not be at Wembley."
BBC Sport's Paul Fletcher at Wembley

1506: Former Spurs youth product Andy Barcham gives the first glimpse of his pace and skills, charging down the left with purpose before unluckily giving away a goalkick. The atmosphere sounds electric - it's days like this that get Russ Abbott singing, I tell you.

1504: Grant Holt immediately causes problems in the Gills box and it takes a bit of a desperate clearance from a defender to clear the lines. The Shrews have started very nicely indeed.

1502: Shrewsbury get us under way... deep breaths everybody...

"Remember that Liverpool trounced Crystal Palace 9-0 prior to Crystal Palace's revenge in the epic FA Cup semi-final in 1990. For that reason the Gills will do the business today."
Topanalyser on 606

1457: The players are out, meeting and greeting dignitaries, and we're about to have the national anthem sung by a chap who looks about 12-years-old - but, boy, he has the voice of an angel *weeps*. We're moments away from the start, now, are you ready? Oh - and my tip - Gillingham 3-2 Shrewsbury.

1453: Gillingham manager Mark Stimson: "We know we are in for a tough game but if we play our own game I think we can come away winners. My message to the players is to try and enjoy it and play with the freedom I like to give players."

1451: Shrewsbury boss Paul Simpson: "I think the team coming in on a run of form has a great chance, although form does go out of the window a bit - but we have a great chance. It's the best stage in the world to go and play."

"Could you imagine if they put 606 on auto-refresh? It'd kill the universe, I reckon..."
chizzleface on 606

1447: Given this weekend marks the Monaco Grand Prix, I've been desperate to use our 'celebrity spot' graphic - but it appears the rich and famous are thin on the ground at Wembley at the moment. Get in touch if you're there and you spot one - in the meantime I will content myself with a bloke in the crowd who looks frighteningly similar to Brian Blessed. Rock and Roll.

"Spotted a few Shrews in the crowd with their rubber gloves on in homage to Ben Davies, who was featured in the Shropshire Star doing the dishes with his fiancee sporting a pair of the gloves."
BBC Sport's Alex Gulrajani at Wembley

1441: 'What about the teams' head-to-head record', I hear you cry! Well, this pair have met 50 times, Shrewsbury winning 19, Gillingham 16 and with 15 draws. Earlier this season, the Shrews stuffed the Gills 7-0, before a late Grant Holt double denied Gillingham revenge in the reverse fixture in a 2-2 draw. Of course, though, as we all know - the form book often goes out the window on days like today. And it's a game of two halves. And there are no easy games at this level etc.

"I just hope Curtis Weston is on his game, he is such an awesome player and i think he will run the midfield, and he surely is the key to our success along with Simeon Jackson and Andy Barcham attacking wise."
Gills-Matt on 606

1433: The sun is bright and blaring at Wembey, now - what a day to celebrate promotion huh? Or, indeed, cry into your post-match pint. This gives me the opportunity to use our sun graphic - plenty more where that came from, I tell ya. Anyway, looks like the stands are filling up nicely - our boys' tip of a bumper crowd looks like coming good and then some. Nice.

"Made a little £2 single bet on Gillingham, Millwall, Burnley and Barcelona to win the upcoming playoff and European finals at combined odds of 50-1. I may be a neutral, but as a poor student, this week just got a lot more interesting...! Good luck, Gills!"
Darren, Warwickshire via text on 81111

1427: TEAM NEWSGillingham boss Mark Stimson sticks with the side that saw off Rochdale in the semi-finals, meaning Adam Miller and Mark McCammon both have to settle for places on the bench. Shrewsbury make two changes from the side that put them through to the final, with Omer Riza and David Worrall dropping to the bench and Nick Chadwick and Chris Humphrey coming in.

"I've got a feeling Gills will blow it like they did against Man City in 1999. Shrewsbury have already come back from 2-0 down against them to get a draw this season."
Dan from York via text on 81111

1421: TODAY'S LINE-UPSGillingham: Royce, Fuller, Richards, King, Nutter, Lewis, Weston, Wright, Oli, Jackson, Barcham. Subs: Julian, Bentley, Miller, McCammon, Jarrett.Shrewsbury: Daniels, Darren Moss, Langmead, Coughlan, Ashton, Humphrey, Davies, Murray, McIntyre, Holt, Chadwick. Subs: Garner, Worrall, Cansdell-Sherriff, Ashikodi, Riza.
Referee: Clive Oliver (Northumberland)

"Had a chat with a couple of Gills fans over a lunchtime shandy. Veterans of two previous finals, they were quietly confident of a victory today. Anyway, hoping for a good crowd today - Gills fans were saying they were expecting as many as 50,000 today, with Shrewsbury bringing 20,000!"
BBC Sport's Alex Gulrajani at Wembley

1416: So, a bit of background for you ahead of today's match - I may quiz you all on this later. Gillingham, unbeaten in six league and play-off games, qualified for the play-offs courtesy of their fifth-place finish and reached the final after beating Rochdale 2-1 over two legs in the semis. Shrewsbury, meanwhile, edged into seventh spot on the final day of the season thanks to their 2-1 win over Dagenham and Redbridge and then snuck into today's final by beating Bury on penalties in the semi-final. Paul Simpson's boys have been beaten just twice in 14 matches and are hoping to earn promotion via the play-offs for the first time in their history. Now put down your pens.

"The relaid pitch at Wembley looks good from 50 yards - not sure we'll get too many complaints about it today, though it will be interesting to see if it cuts up over the weekend. Fans are starting to filter into the stadium and the consensus of opinion is that the attendance will break the League Two record, which stands at 61,589, set in 2007 when Bristol Rovers defeated... Shrewsbury."
BBC Sport's Paul Fletcher at Wembley

1409: Now then, if you're not familiar with Paul Fletcher's work, get to the back of the class and face the wall of shame. Fletch is to Football League journalism what Celine Dion is to lift music - ie, the king. Read his thoughts on all this weekend's play-off finals, including today's Gills-Shrews clash, take notes and then quote the odd soundbite to your mates in an attempt to sound like you know what you're talking about. Happy days.

1405: Today's fare is certainly a cracking prospect as two of the form sides of the division meet up to battle for promotion to League One - and we have all angles covered with our resident Football League expert Paul Fletcher alongside Alex Gulrajani in situ to bring the biggest and best chat from Wembley. Still, don't feel like my arms aren't stretched out wide to welcome all your banter by way of 606 or via text on 81111 - I crave your chat like a pregnant lady craves gerkins dipped in mustard. Or something like that.

1400: Ah, the smell of freshly cut grass, white lines glistening off Wembley's green turf, excited chatter among fans as they pass under the arch, hot dog sellers pedalling grease in a bap on street corners and sets of Gillingham and Shrewsbury players scrapping for position in rest-rooms as they expel pre-match nerves down the U-bend... it can only mean one thing - it's the League Two play-off final folks!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Dreaming of Gathering Cups in May


I read a book last year entitled "Here we go Gathering Cups in May", a seven story account written by seven Liverpool supporters and their encounters of each of the seven European Cup finals Liverpool have been part of. The name of the book derived from a flag made by a Bootle lady named Mrs Margaret McDonald, who was thanked in the preface with the line "For gathering a needle, a thread, and a line from her head, before waving her son off to follow the red".

Being a Gillingham supporter we are not accustomed to "gathering cups in May", indeed, if you are not a supporter of the "big four", namely Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester Utd the chances of picking any silverware at the end of a football season is an alien concept.

However, each club outside the Premier League does have the chance to cover themselves in glory by either winning their league outright, or as the case may be for most finishing within the top six or seven and entering the end of season playoff lottery.

The football league playoffs are loathed by some supporters, if you are a Leeds United, Preston or Ipswich fan you have my sympathies, but with me having my greatest footballing memories from the playoff finals, I for one am happy to see them stay.

Ten years ago, Gillingham reached Wembley for the very first time with a game against the mighty Manchester City, whom only three years previously had been playing in the Premier League. They had been tipped to bounce straight back to what is now the Championship, but like most "big" teams who find themselves in League One, the going tends to be a lot tougher, and so the blue half of Manchester had to face the might of the Gills to claim their place in the league above.

Walking up Wembley Way for only the third time in my life, the first following the team I love, the others being a school boy international, and an England friendly against Chile, I am not ashamed to say that the occasion got the better of me. With my Dad and Steph, in the infancy of our relationship together I had a tearful moment as the realisation of a dream became a step closer. Gillingham at Wembley for the very first time against Manchester City and a place in the championship, a league Gillingham had never played in!

If dreams are figments of an overactive imagination, nobody could have predicated that on 90 minutes Gillingham would be winning two nil and me like a cursed muppet was whispering to myself a list of "huge" clubs Gillingham would be facing in three months time. With the referee indicating five minutes of injury time a rejuvenated Manchester City pulled a goal back and the rest as they say is history. Paul Dickov scored in the last minute to equalise, putting the ball past his best man Vince Bartram, who was eventually defeated along with the Gills 3-1 on penalties.

Heartbroken at the time, and on a real low for twelve months after, retrospectively looking back, it was actually the best game I have ever been to. The vision of thousands of Gillingham flags flying as the teams walked out to fireworks on the hallowed Wembley turf will never leave me. Nor will the 40, 000 Man City fans that day singing Blue Moon at such volume it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and take notice.

If the post match depression lasted 12 months, what way to exorcise the demons than a return back to the scene of the crime and facing it head to head?

If walking up Wembley Way as a Gillingham supporter for the first time was full of joy and happiness, the second, for me was full of fear and pain. I was convinced that it would end in tears all over again, questioned my sanity and asked why the hell was I putting myself through the pain all over again, just to get my hopes built up, ready for the team I love to let me down all over again?

As history shows, Gillingham Football club and everyone who pulled on the yellow (away) jersey that day became 'legends' - a term that is thrown willy nilly to anyone far less deserving than those players who fought back from losing so cruelly 12 months earlier, to losing their best player, ironically to Manchester City, to coming back in extra time from 2-1 down to finally win 3-2.

When Andy Thomson dived for the ball, sending time into that unique state of slow motioness, where even before the ball had hit the back of the net, the 55,000 Gills fans were rising to their feet prior to what is technically known as "going apeshit", that feeling of joy, which cannot be recreated or explained in words alone, justifying my decision not to wait outside feeling morose.

It's what football as a lower league supporter is about. Riding out the rough times and cherishing those moments when they come as they are all the more sweeter.

This Sunday, Gillingham Football Club face Shrewsbury Town in the League Two playoff final, we have ridden the roller coaster and found ourselves back at the starting station with a chance to ride it all over again.

Life in those intervening 10 years has been kind, Wembley stadium has undergone an amazing transformation turning from a decrepit relic of past glories into a spectacular shiny concrete colosseum. On a personal note, the Gills may no longer be my be all and end all, luckily fatherhood has readjusted my priorities accordingly. However, the nerves remain, and the anxiety. More so, the dreams of glory are still strong, as would the pain of defeat be hard to take - three months of pre-season depression isn't something anyone wants to go through.

Mrs Margaret McDonald from Bootle may have immortalised a saying on behalf of thousands of Liverpool fans, but really, for the most of us, it's not the gathering that's important, it's the dreaming.
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