Who Are These Jobbers?
One of my favourite pastimes is browsing the ‘notable people’ section on the Wikipedia pages of provinical towns across the UK. It is a thoroughly enjoyable deep dive into the annals of the internet to discover that Trevor Sinclair used to live in Bury or that every darts player worth their salt was born in Stoke-on-Trent.
Naturally, a cursory glance at Gillingham’s entry throws up the usual collection of footballers, light entertainers and broadcasters but there is one name that stands out among the notable Gillinghamingers - Rik Waller.
For those of you unaware of the legend that is Rik Waller, he shot to fame in the early-2000s when we were all completely enamoured with reality singing contests. We first met Rik’s angelic tones in Pop Idol where he had judges Nikki Chapman, Neil (Dr) Fox, railway enthusiast Pete Waterman and half-man, half-unbuttoned linen shirt Simon Cowell floored with a devastatingly beautiful version of ‘I Will Always Love You’.
*choking back tears* Rik took on eventual winner Will Young but was forced to drop out in the final ten after contracting laryngitis allowing human meme (before memes were a thing) Darius Danesh to sneak back in. However, this did not stop the big man as he went on to score a top ten hit with that cover of Whitney Houston’s musical opus.
While Rik (or Richard as he now goes by) will forever be an inspiration to all of us dreamers who one day think we’ll have a shot of the big time, it is frankly a disgrace that the town of Gillingham has not honoured their favourite son in any way. Medway Council has a lot to answer for and should hang their heads in shame.
Shine on Rik, you crazy diamond.
Where were we? Oh yeah, Gillingham FC. They are probably most recognised for being the absolute bottlers that handed Manchester City a route to recovery during the 1999 Second Division play-off final. They are also responsible for giving Tony Pulis a proper start in club management, a feat we can all agree was a terrible, terrible idea.
We have both shared the unique talents of Nyron Nosworthy and they famously relegated us at Roker Park in front of 15,000 Newcastle supporters. They always seemed to be managed by Andy Hessenthaler, their chairman once banned the head of the supporters’ club over a domain name and their ground has had a temporary away stand for seemingly forever.
What’s The Ground Like?
Oh, League One how you spoil us. Where Luton Town gave us the sense of wandering through someone’s back garden to reach the away end, Gillingham are placing us in the shoes of a weird golf fan watching Rory McIlroy sink a putt on the 18th hole. A temporary stand for as long as many people care to remember, the uncovered Brian Moore Stand will be our home for an undoubtedly rainy August evening.
“What is the rest of Priestfield like?”, I hear you cry like a lost puppy. Well back in 2004 when all we seemed to do was deem things to be not very good, Observer Sport compiled a “simply the worst” list of football grounds in England. After an extensive search, wouldn’t you know it, Priestfield topped the list.
Described as “a 1970s garage forecourt”, not much has changed in this part of Kent and Priestfield is still considered to be “a dump”. But hey, this is what we got into League One for. If we wanted glamour, we would’ve sensibly invested in the playing squad, nurtured a winning mentality, not appointed David Moyes and won some football matches.
Since we failed to do any of that, here we are, a Wednesday night in Gillingham.
How Do I Get There?
There are a couple of things about Gillingham which I feel need to be addressed at this stage. First of all, I had absolutely no idea where it was. I knew it was down south somewhere but was completely unaware, until now, that it was in Kent and I was entirely convinced I could not point Kent out on a map. Secondly, it is absolutely miles away. With a conservative estimate of five hours from the Stadium of Light to Priestfield, this is a trip that really does separate the wheat from the chaff.
Take the A1 (M) all the way down to junction 14 for the A14 heading for Cambridge. Continue on as it becomes the M11 and exit at junction 6 for the M25 and subsequently take the A282 as you pass over the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (feel that sweet, sweet Olympic legacy). Exit for the A2 at junction 2 and then the A289 signposted for Gillingham.
Coast along Pier Road to reach a roundabout and take a right onto Church Street and follows the signs for Priestfield and try to find a spot of street where you can park your ride.
As always, if you manage to get lost simply punch ME7 4DD.
If you have decided to take on the absolute voyage that is Sunderland to Gillingham by train there are regular services from London leaving from St Pancras International, Canon Street and Victoria throughout the day. Gillingham railway station is about a 15-minute walk from the ground.
Where Can I Get The Sesh Started?
Embarking on a six-hour car journey can leave a weary traveller feeling rather parched (I’m discounting all of you Massive Lads Fans who got the train, as you should take advantage of Network Rail’s liberal stand on alcohol consumption while in motion on rails). Fear not, as Gillingham has the necessary facilities to quench your thirsty lips.
Whet the appetite with a stop in the designated away supporters’ pub Fleur De Lis on Gillingham Road which I have been reliably informed is “shite”. Venture a little from the train station and you’ll find The Will Adams on Saxton Road which will keep all you ale snobs quiet for a bit.
Speaking of ale snobs, if you’re one of these people that drone on and on about independent breweries then get yourself to Past and Present on Skinner Street which proclaims to be “Medway’s First Micro Pub”. It also, quite aggressively, states “WE DO NOT have music, any fruit machines or a TV”. Alright, chill out.
While at Cans & Megabus we tend to not warn patrons off particular venues but both Southern Bell on High Street and The Cricketers on Sturdee Avenue are best avoided.
I’m Staying Owa, Is There Owt To Do?
You’ve really not thought this through, have you? You saw that cheap deal on a Travelodge in Chatham and thought an evening in Gillingham would be such an excellent idea. It wasn’t but since you’re here, you may as well make the most of it.
I’m not even going to bother humouring you about the nightlife in Gillingham so let’s just skip to Thursday morning and you’re at a loose end before getting the train back. Well, if you like museums dedicated to the military, you are going to bloody love it here.
You can visit the Royal Engineers Museum or take the short hop to Chatham and see the HMS Cavalier. Apart from that your best bet is to practice your hundred yard stares into the River Medway, or just go home, I don’t know, it’s your call.