Kent Sport

Gillingham 2-2 AFC Wimbledon: Gills And Mad Dog Have Their Day In The Sun

Gillingham Priestfield (5)

Gillingham secured the point they needed to clinch the League Two title on Saturday, the club’s second ever championship and first since winning Division Four in 1963-64.

A capacity crowd of 11,172 attended the 2-2 draw with AFC Wimbledon, the most since September 2003 when West Ham were the visitors and just shy of the 11,605 that saw Gillingham take on Maidstone United in the first ever league Kent derby in 1989.

The Priestfield Stadium was bathed in sunshine and the game took place in an atmosphere unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at the ground, comparable only to the two Wembley play-off finals in 2000 and 2009.

It was a fitting end to a brilliant season for The Gills, who return to the third tier of English football for the first time in three years, although they were made to work for their draw by AFC Wimbledon, who are fighting for their league survival.

Soak up the sun

Gillingham dominated the first half in terms of possession and chances, with striker Deon Burton putting them ahead after 12 minutes. The lead was doubled less than ten minutes later when Chris Whelpdale found space on the left flank to find Danny Kedwell, who headed the ball home against his former club, and Gillingham looked as though they were cruising towards an historic achievement.

The home side started the second half the brighter of the two teams, but around the hour mark, Wimbledon began to make their presence felt. Dons striker Jack Midson scored after 65 minutes, beginning a period of dominance for the visitors.

Gillingham had looked so assured and composed, but Wimbledon were forcing them into mistakes and frantic last ditch defending. An inevitable equaliser was scored by Jonathan Meades and Gills fans were left wondering if there was going to be a repeat of last season, when they squandered a 3-1 lead to lose 3-4.

Gillingham Wimbledon 2

Great achivement

Port Vale’s inability to beat Northampton meant that even defeat would clinch the championship, but that was not an option for the Gills, who held strong to secure the point, prompting wild celebrations and the now customary pitch invasion.

Once the PA announcer’s desperate calls for the fans to return their seats were obeyed, the players and manager began to reflect on what has been an astonishing season for the club.

“Amazing, 10 months of hard work. They’ve just kept going, getting points, breaking records, the first title Gillingham have won for 50 years and to be the manager on this special day is a magnificent feeling,” an emotional Martin Allen told BBC Radio Kent. “This is the best highlight of my career. I’m the worst Allen in the Allen family. The others are multi-talented, and for me, to be nicknamed Mad Dog just because I tackled people and make a living from football, and to be known as a manager who keeps clubs up, to be champions is unbelievable.

“It’s a lottery win, Christmas Day, money can’t buy that. Priceless moment.”

The club were last promoted from League Two in 2009 through the play-offs under Mark Stimson, only to be relegated the following season. However that was a different team, who could have avoided the drop had they won just one away game all season. It’s difficult to remember the last time Gillingham played as well as they are doing now and if they can continue this momentum, their next spell in League One could last longer than a solitary campaign.

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MyFootballClub And Ebbsfleet United – A Failed Experiment?

It’s been almost five years since MyFootballClub (MYFC) acquired Football Conference outfit Ebbsfleet United, completing the first ever crowdsourced takeover of a football club. The project was first announced in 2007 and offered wannabe owners to have their say on how a football club was run, from the boardroom to the pitch.

By pledging £35 a year, subscribers would be eligible to vote on all major decisions, including budgets, sponsorship deals, significant transfers and team selection. The level of direct democracy that MYFC was prepared to offer its members was unprecedented and ensured that it generated enough media attention to achieve the required funds to purchase the North Kent club.

The takeover was completed in February 2008 and success soon followed, with the club winning the FA Trophy at Wembley. However this was followed by relegation in 2010 and financial instability. Ebbsfleet won promotion back to the Conference at the first attempt, but subscribers have deserted in their droves and it now appears as though the relationship between MYFC and the supporters has deteriorated beyond repair.

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Non League Day: Maidstone United 5-0 Dulwich Hamlet

Maidstone United Dulwich Hamlet 1

My response to the question “Who do you support?” is often met with accusations of gloryhunting and betraying my local team. When I ask my inquisitors to name my local team, they are more often than not unable to give me an answer.

For many years I was unsure myself. Maidstone United had already begun their 20 year exile from the county town of Kent by the time I was born and until July of this year, had been footballing nomads. Forgive me then, for choosing the team of my father.

It wasn’t even until I was 11 or so that I even became aware of the club’s existence. I read about their meteoric rise through the non-league pyramid and their equally dramatic fall, as the sale of their London Road ground (now an MFI superstore) precipitated their bankruptcy and reformation.

It has always been a dream of mine to see The Stones play a match in my hometown and after a long, agonising wait, I fulfilled that ambition as Maidstone United thrashed Dulwich Hamlet 5-0 last Saturday.

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London 2012: Maidstone Welcomes The Olympic Torch

A parade of sponsored buses advertising Samsung and Coca Cola and blasting out Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe probably isn’t what the Ancient Greeks and later Baron Pierre de Coubertin had in mind when they outlined their respective Olympic visions.

But over the last nine weeks, the Olympic Torch Relay has given people outside of London the chance to enjoy a taste of the atmosphere that will descend on the capital in just seven days’ time.

On the face of it, watching someone you’ve most likely never heard of run through your village or town centre carrying a large ornamental torch shouldn’t be that extraordinary, but it has attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators.

This morning was no different as 40,000 people lined the streets of Maidstone at 6:30am to greet the torch’s arrival in the county town, providing the perfect antidote to the endless stream of negative media coverage.

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Super League: London Broncos 12 – 14 Hull FC

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It was the day that Super League came to Kent, with nearly 4,000 fans coming to see the sport make its top-flight debut in the Garden of England. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to inspire the beleaguered London Broncos to end their dreadful run of form in a close, but scrappy defeat against Hull FC.

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Gillingham 3-4 AFC Wimbledon: Late Comeback Stuns Gills

Gillingham were hoping that the addition of Gavin Tomlin and the return of Jo Kuffour would give the team a much needed boast ahead of the first ever league visit of AFC Wimbledon. The Gills’ two newest recruits paid immediate dividends by scoring three goals and two assists between them, but while the frontline has evidently been strengthened, the Kent club’s late capitulation at Priestfield on Saturday exposed their defensive frailties.

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Maidstone United return home 14 July against Charlton Athletic

Twenty-twelve is set to be a massive year for British sport as the Olympic Games finally arrive in London after seven years of waiting, and Maidstone will get a taste of the world’s biggest sporting festival when the Olympic torch pays a visit on 19 July.

However the most significant sporting event to happen the county town of Kent for 25 years will happen just five days prior when Maidstone United end their 24 year exile with a pre-season game against Charlton Athletic.

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Gillingham cure travel sickness

PIC: Steve McCaskill
What a difference a few months have made for Gillingham. Back in November, the Priestfield crowd was baying for blood, calling for the resignation of Manager Andy Hessenthaler and Chairman Paul Scally, but after a turnaround in form, the Gills are firmly back in the promotion picture.
A defeat to Kent rivals Dover in the first round of the FA Cup combined with a home defeat to Crewe left the Gills hovering above the relegation zone. The club’s promotion hopes were looking bleak, while Hessenthaler’s second spell in charge of the club was seemed doomed.
Gillingham’s misery was compounded by the fact that they hadn’t won away from home since May 2009, a record that now stretched to 34 games across all competitions. The likes of Leeds and Southampton had been defeated at Priestfield the season before in League One, but the failure to register a single away victory eventually sealed the Gills’ relegation to the fourth tier of English football. This poor away form had been tolerated to a degree because of the results achieved at home, but now that source of precious points was running dry, such tolerance was decreasing rapidly.
It was with this unwanted away record that Gillingham traveled to the Kassam Stadium to face Oxford United, urgently requiring a win to relieve the pressure. The travelling support could be forgiven for possessing little optimism, but somehow, Gillingham recorded a 1-0 victory, their first on the road since beating Rochdale 1-0 in the 2008/09 season. The monkey had finally been removed from Gillingham’s collective backs.
The joy of finally lifting the away curse acted as a catalyst for a remarkable run of form that has seen Gillingham win eight of their last eleven matches, a sequence of results which has catapulted the club into the play-off places. After the doom and gloom of the autumn, the winter has given reason to believe that promotion could be achieved in the spring.
One of the causes of this change in fortune has been thegoalscoring form of Cody McDonald. The striker, who is on loan from Norwich City, has now scored 14 goals this season, including a hat-trick in the 5-1 demolition of Stockport. His contribution has gone some way to offsetting the inevitable loss of firepower from the Gillingham frontline when Simeon Jackson moved to Norwich in the summer.
Gillingham have also benefited from the return of several players from their extensive injury list and now only long-term absentee Simon King remains unavailable. The form of youngsters Jack Payne and more recentlyLuke Rooney has also lifted the mood around the club.
After a troubled return to League Two, Gillingham have finally turned the corner and will hope for a top three finish or a return to Wembley, a venue which has been the scene of two celebrations in the last decade. While the glory days of the Championship may now be a distant memory, there is now genuine belief that the club will return to where they feel they belong in League One.

FA Cup – Gillingham 0-2 Dover: Dover Take Revenge On Hess

The Sun sets on the 2,300 Dover fans, and on Gillingham’s FA Cup run
There have been many low points in the recent history ofGillingham Football Club but few have been as humiliating as what occurred atPriestfield on Saturday. Gillingham were outplayed by their Kent rivals to theextent that a casual observer would be unable to determine which team played inthe Football League and the other the Conference South. The result heapsfurther pressure on under- pressure manager Andy Hessenthaler who quit Dover to rejoin Gillingham inthe summer. Many Dover fans understood that the lure of a return to the clubwhere he was a legend as both a manager and player was too strong to turn downbut the departure became acrimonious following Hessenthaler’s recruitment ofhis former coaching staff. Ian Hendon had been appointed the new manager at theclub, but their former manager returned to recruit Hendon as his assistant andNicky Southall as player-coach. These actions angered the Dover faithful andbelieved that it tarnished Hessenthaler’s legacy at the Kent coast club where he had secured two promotions in three years and narrowly missed out on a third.
There was a sense of inevitability that surrounded the FACup 1st Round Draw and even the Dover chairman himself believed thathis side would face Gillingham. Admittedly, he predicted a home draw butDover’s 2,300 travelling fans comprised a third of the total attendance andcreated a genuine cup atmosphere at Priestfield. As Hessenthaler came onto thepitch he was greeted by jeers from the Dover end and applause from theGillingham fans while Nicky Southall was subjected to cries of ‘Judas’ from thevisitors.
A minute’s applause in the memory of Gillingham and Kentfootball legend Buster Collins was held before the game and was respected byevery member of the 7,457 in attendance, the largest at Gillingham this season.Collins joined the club in 1949 as a player and remained at the club for 60years in various roles such as chief scout, reserve team manager and youth teamcoach before sadly passing away earlier this week.
Following the tribute to a club legend, the game gotunderway and Dover started the brighter of the two. The Whites went ahead thanksto Adam Birchall’s sensational long range effort.  Birchall had been in good form for Dover andhis stunning strike proved why Andy Hessenthaler had thought about bringing him to the club in the summer.

While they were impotent going forward, Gillingham were alsocalamitous at the back with Dover outmuscling the opposition defenders and forcingerrors. The Whites capitalised on poor defending from John Nutter as Luke I’Ansonmade it 2-0 with a tap in. Gillingham had reverted to long ball tactics in thehope that first half substitute Adebayo Akinfenwa would be able to producesomething from often aimless passes. Boos echoed around Priestfield at the endof the first half as Gillingham went to the dressing room to face the wrath oftheir manager.
Gillingham improved markedly in the second half as theyforced a series of saves from Dover goalkeeper Ross Flitney. Danny Spiller andStefan Payne were both denied by Flitney who protected his team’s lead. Doverwithstood the pressure and their victory was all but assured when John Nutterwas sent off with twenty minutes to go. Baker found himself clear of theGillingham defence but was tackled by Nutter, who was the last man.
The crowd was noticeably deflated after the red card andtheir attentions turned to Hessenthaler and Chairman Paul Scally who haddefended his record at the club earlier this week after the stadium had been vandalised. Scallybought the club in the mid 1990s, saving it from bankruptcy and redevelopingthe stadium. Despite this The Rainham End of the ground made their feelings known,chanting “We Want Scally Out”, to which the Dover fans humorously responded “WeWant Hessy Out”. The Whites were revelling in the disarray that their opponentsfound themselves in and even optimistically sang “Que Sera, Sera”, hoping thatthis would be the start of an unlikely road to Wembley.
At the final whistle, the Dover fans celebrated wildly whileanother chorus of boos rang around the stadium. The Gills players looked dejected;especially Jack Payne and many were wondering whether this was Hessenthaler’slast game in charge. Hessenthaler has said that he will not walk away from the club despite the team’s poor form. Hewill hope to turn things around at a club where he is held in high regard, but yesterday was definitely a new low in an increasingly disappointing season.
In the other ties involving Kent clubs, Dartford were a whisker away from securing a place in the Second Round. The Darts led for much of the game but League Two high-flyers Port Vale equalised in the 84th minute to send the tie into a replay. Ebbsfleet United and AFC Wimbledon played out a goalless draw after both teams were reduced to ten men. The Dons will be fired up for the replay as the winner will face either Stevenage Borough or MK Dons, whose move from London to Milton Keynes resulted in the creation of AFC Wimbledon. Hythe Town were the lowest ranked club in the first round and they were defeated 5-1 by Hereford United.

From Kent to Wembley: FA Cup 1st Round

(PIC: Stephen McCaskill)
The FA Cup starts this weekend and there are five Kent teamsin the first round of this illustrious competition, the largest representationthe county has had in the competition since the 1963/64 season. Once the mostimportant competition in English football, the FA Cup has seen its stockdecrease in recent years as Europe, promotion or survival has been the toppriority for many clubs, but there is no danger of that happening this weekend.
The tie of the round from a Kent perspective is without adoubt the clash between League Two Gillingham and Blue Square South DoverAthletic. This Kent derby would be tasty enough but will be even more intriguingas Gills manager Andy Hessenthaler is facing the club he left in the summeralong with coaching staff Ian Hendon and Nicky Southall. Dover will be bringing2,000 fans to Priestfield who hope that their side can cause an upset and heapfurther pressure on the struggling Gills and their former manager.

Hythe Town are the lowest ranked team remaining in the competitionand the first Kent League side to reach this stage of the competition since the1950s. Gills boss Hessenthaler had offered Hythe as many DVDs as they wanted inorder to prepare for their clash with Hereford as they seek to cause a massiveupset.  With Hereford currently rockbottom of League Two, the Kent club feel that there is a genuine chance of anupset on Saturday.
Dartford also face League Two opposition in the form of PortVale, but the team from Stoke are doing considerably better than Hythe’sopponents. Dartford haven’t been in the first round for twenty years and thiswill be the first time that they compete in the FA Cup at their new PrincesPark.
Ebbsfleet Town won the FA Trophy in 2008 and will be hopingfor similar success in the cup as they take on non-league darlings AFCWimbledon away from home. Wimbledon pulled off one of the greatest upsets inthe competitions illustrious history in 1988, defeating Liverpool 1-0 in thefinal but their main focus this season will be a return to the league. WithEbbsfleet relegated last season from the Blue Square Premier, they will be hopingthat the cup will provide a welcome distraction.
Away from Kent, there are a number of First Round ties that capture the imagination, especiallyFC United v Rochdale. FC United was formed in 2005 by former Manchester United fans disillusioned with club following the Glazer’s takeover. Since then theclub has been rising steadily up the non-league pyramid and qualifying for theFirst Round represents a real milestone in the fledgling club’s history. Thecontest will also be their first appearance on television as ESPN will becovering the game on Friday night. Other plum ties include Southport vSheffield Wednesday, Corby v Luton Town and Cambridge United v HuddersfieldTown.
To have this many clubs at this stage of the competition isgreat for Kent football and a real good news story following the problems thathave affected many clubs in the last few years. For Gillingham, anything but awin would be a disaster but for the other four teams it would exceed allexpectations. Hopefully the weekend will end with four teams in the SecondRound and challenge the statisticians to find out the last time that happened.