It’s been a season of highs and lows for Gillingham FC, our reporter Louis Walker takes a look back at the struggles of last season and hopes for a brighter future.
The 2021/22 season was one to forget for the Gills as they were relegated from League One for first time since 2013 but a fresh start in a new division could bring success if they could turn it around.
However, old issues would need to be conquered to have any success, including the hardest thing to do in football – score goals. It had been a poor season with only 35 goals in League One, the fewest by any team in the division.
Media and club liaison officer for the Gillingham Independent Supporters Club, David Garth, remembers how worrying the early part of the season was for supporters.
“I can remember saying to a few people that we could end up being known as Gillingham-nil and that turned out to be absolutely right,” he said.
“For several months we just didn’t have the nous to put the ball in the back of the net, we were heading for a record of the lowest number of goals ever in the Football League.”
It did turn out to be a rough start in League 2 with the a perceived hope of performing well in a lower standard of football never materialising.
“We were sliding toward oblivion,” – David Garth
The Gills picked up just 14 points and managed only two wins in the first half of the season, finding themselves in the bottom two at Christmas.
A poor start bought a lot of harsh realities to the fore for Gillingham as they continued their slide down the football pyramid; the question on a lot of fans minds was where would it end?
Mr Garth commented on the fact that in his 50 years as a supporter the situation had never been this bad.
“We were sliding towards oblivion really and out of the league,” he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of clubs slide out of the league and never come back. That was a real concern that we were going that way and nothing seemed to be being done to halt that slide.”
As Kent’s only Football League side there always appears to be an additional pressure on the Gills to perform.
Many fans have also felt that with the right planning and investment the club could become a force in the higher divisions. They see no reason why the club could not follow in the footsteps of teams like Reading, who are similarly close to London and did manage a spell in the Premier League.
At last someone can see what we’ve all known, that the club can finally get somewhere,” – David Garth
Yet eyes were taken off future ambitions as the club wandered perilously close to dropping into non-league football.
Thankfully for fans a saviour was found in the form of Brad Galinson who took over the Gills at the turn of the year, ending the 27 years of ownership by Paul Scally.
Mr Garth remembers the ‘jubilation’ at the takeover announcement.
“Complete jubilation, a dream come true, Christmas come early, it was just fantastic,” he said.
“You are thinking at last someone can see what we’ve all known, that the club can finally get somewhere, I was absolutely ecstatic to be honest.”
Focus had to shift quickly back to the events on the pitch and how the Gills were going to dig themselves out of the hole they had found themselves in.
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The takeover couldn’t have happened at a better time with the January transfer window right around the corner. It was the perfect opportunity to bring in fresh legs and kick on in the second half of the season.
However, it can be a tough line to walk, splashing the cash but not panic buying just any player that comes along. New signings don’t always translate to results on the pitch, something desperately needed for a club in crisis.
Mr Garth praised the approach taken in the window which saw 10 players join the club.
“I think number one it was necessary because without that we would definitely be relegated,” he said. “It seemed to be a measured transfer window there wasn’t any panic, they weren’t paying silly money.
“The whole vibe is that the Galinson family don’t want to bankroll the club, they don’t want to do a Wrexham.
“The signings were right, they were measured and everything was looking very promising.”
🎵 For We Are Top of the League, For We Are Top of the League 🎵 – What a beautiful sight, considering our 3 main relegation rivals are 22nd, 23rd and 24th #Gills #UpTheGills #GillsFC #EFL #LeagueTwo pic.twitter.com/rKULnXc0T5
— James Tingley (@jamesrtingley) February 26, 2023
The impact in the second half of the season couldn’t be clearer as the Gills gained 41 points, the sort of form that if replicated for the whole season would have seen them well into the play-off places.
After the doom and gloom at the start of the season it would have been unthinkable for fans that their club would secure their place in the division.
An eventful game that included a power-cut against league leaders Leyton Orient saw the Gills safe with three games to go.
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Despite safety being secure they were still fighting for every point, even handing a loss to promotion hopefuls Salford City and getting revenge for a defeat earlier in the season in the process.
With such an impressive end to the season, it’s got many fans looking ahead with hope in their hearts.
Our 2022/23 campaign may have just come to a close, but we already cannot wait for 2023/24!🙌
Our home form since January 14 has been phenomenal, and we want Priestfield packed on a regular basis starting in August. 😍💙
Season tickets on sale via 👇👇https://t.co/MHtYuYUwZd
— Gillingham FC (@TheGillsFC) May 10, 2023
Mr Garth has high expectations and hopes that the fortunes will improve for his beloved Gills.
“We all know Wrexham are bound to be up there and there’s a lot of good sides, I do think anything less than play-offs would be a disappointment, personally I’m hoping for top three,” he said.
“It feels like we’ve got our Gillingham back, football fans are a bit crazy we stick to the same side, and in the last two or three seasons I have wondered about that, but right now it’s just fantastic and long may that continue.”
Featured image credit: Steve Daniels