Undrafted – The Network

AFC Gillingham?

Following my beloved club Gillingham Fc has become rather embarrassing and a rather upsetting situation as of late. Our chairman Paul Scally, who has been at the helm of the club since 1995 (I was 4 at the time) has caused division amongst fans.

Since taking on the club in 1995 the club has enjoyed some ups and downs. Flirting mainly between the 3rd and 4th tier but also enjoying 5 glorious seasons in the 2nd tier. Overall the journey for the main has been one of stability, pride and hope. Things change…but first let us look back on some of the better times.

Credit: Kentonline

The Good

We have enjoyed FA cup runs including trips to Chelsea, Arsenal and hosting Aston Villa at Priestfield. Promotions via the playoffs as well as League Two champions, we have also suffered relegations and rebuilds and also had the pleasure of some top quality talent in the blue shirt.

Players such as Matt Jarvis, Bradley Dack, Andrew Croft’s and Danny Spiller were all grown and developed via our academy! In addition we have been lucky to have the likes of Carl Asaba, Bob Taylor, Andy Hessenthaler, Vince Bartram, Simon King, Nicky Southall, Simeon Jackson, John Egan and many more, so we can’t say that we have been short ot talented players.

A personal highlight for me was the Martin Allen Champion season (2012-2013) the team felt like a team, I genuinely looked forward to every single match. Of course being a team which are winning and performing well is always something that will attract crowds to the stadium but it felt like more than just that it felt like the club had a plan and that we were building something. It helped that Martin Allen was fantastic at bringing everyone along with him, the players, the fans and even Scally, the whole thing just felt special and I don’t think that feeling has ever returned since.

On top of being crowned Champions of League two we of course enjoyed spending 5 seasons in Div 1 (Championship), during which time we survived beyond our means and for the first 3 seasons finished mid-table comfortably. As you can see however, all of these good times are from many years ago, not weeks or months, why is that?

The Bad

Let us start with the never ending talks surronding a new stadium. This has rumbled on for YEARS and all the while a ‘temporary’ away stand has become the butt of many jokes amongst EFL fans for being quite honestly one of, if not the worst in the entire Football league. Of course a new stadium would allow the club to grow, you only have to look at Brighton as the blueprint for that, it is not a miracle cure though. Brighton were in a position to make the leap and unfortunately we are currently not.

Attendances as you can see below have been on the decline since 2015/2016:

13/14 Season – 6203
14/15 Season – 5694
15/16 Season – 6383
16/17 Season – 6129
17/18 Season – 5305
18/19 Season – 5242
19/20 Season – 5233
20/21 Season – COVID
21/22 Season – 4376

Now some of that can be down to the decline in quality and lack of threat to the top of the table, as we all know success breeds interest. However the lack of connect between the club and the fans in recent years, in my opinion, has contributed just as much if not more to the dwindling numbers in fans attendance. You look at what Maidstone United are doing, although they are competing in the National League South, they have their new stadium, attractive ticket offers, a real connection to the fans and tickets which are sensibly priced.

(Gillingham) Adult Rainham End – £375.00 (cheapest)
(Maidstone) Adult Ground Ticket – £250.00 (cheapest)

(Gillingham) Adult Matchday Ticket – £26
(Maidstone) Adult Ground Ticket – £15

Yes many will point out that we are 3 divisions above Maidstone but the point is that football should be affordable and right now it is not at Gillingham. £26 is alot of money for what is at the moment, poor football and an even poorer matchday experience. Especially so when you compare those prices to these:

Credit: The Mirror

The Ugly

In recent years and especially months the air has turned black and the aura surronding the club is not a good one. Paul Scally is taking passion, frustration and criticism as personal attacks and rather than address them directly and look at the reasons for these feelings he is attacking the remaining loyal fans that the club still have. As shown above the attendance figures are in decline and were even worse at the recent match against Accrington Stanley was a measly 3609 shockingly low.

Calls for Scally to leave the club have grown from a select few to a much greater number, I have never been Scally out and have always defended him based on the fact that without him stepping in back in 1995. However there are two things in recent times have again in my opinion are indefensible.

– The season ticket refund options presented to loyal fans was quite frankly disgusting and the fact it was insinuated that you were not a real fan for asking for a refund on something you never actually received is shocking. In addition to that is the fact refunds were offered over a 2 year period!

– Chairman Chats – these in principle are a great idea. Allowing the fan base inside the club as well as a direct update from the chairman himself. However….these chats have been nothing but a chance for Scally to promote how busy he has been or to call out fans for disagreeing with something he has said.

– Don’t ask for fan interaction/questions and then do nothing with them. It just comes across that the fans are not important and goes a long way in ensuring those fans dont bother next time something is asked of them.

– GET THE KIT IN THE SHOP ON TIME FOR ONCE, we are the only team that I know of who struggles to get their new kits in the shops every single year.

The Future

Now what lies ahead for Gillingham as a club in the future. For the first time I am genuinely worried for the future of the club I love. Our squad is small and a few injuries away from being severely overwhelmed at any point.

We are struggling for goals and points in the league as much as we are for fans in the stadium and I do genuinely fear that should we suffer relegation this year. A result which is very much a possibility this season, we could well plummet through the leagues and be playing Maidstone in a league match before we know it or worse than that and be out of businesses as a club.

AFC Gillingham? I hope not, but for the first time ever I am worried.

Enjoy this? Why not check out our recent article “Kyle Dempsey – Under the Radar”  here.

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