Forum | The Warky Report: Gillingham (A) by Warkystache
With Paula running his store and Tel eventually moving, much against his will, to Braintree for the year ‘chrismuss’n’noo wiv Tone’n’Sandy’ which he grimly tried to justify in the pub on Friday night as “the miss Chrissmuss proppah innit? “, I was a little lost. These things, fortunately, can be planned, as they print the list of meetings in June of the previous year. It was the tie I couldn’t do on Boxing Day.
I called Wayne to apologize. Do you remember Wayne? My old college mate, one of the few I had kept in touch with in the 26 years since we both graduated with 2: 1, much to our surprise. Then, in the mid-90s, life seemed cleaner. Wayne dove into private equity firms and did pretty well. He got married in second, but his wife was more accommodating than mine and they are still married, in their late forties, one son, Charlie, who turns 17 next month and came to play with us with the promise of a beer or two in the pub before the game.
Anyway, I had a ticket for the postponed match and couldn’t make it (asking my fiancee to marry me and that) so I called him around the same time that it was canceled anyway because Gillingham had Covid. He said he would keep my ticket just in case. I had visions of a midweek nightmare, driving on a Tuesday to Kent’s deepest coast from Birmingham, not having time to meet in the pre-match pub. Then it was rearranged for FA Cup third round day and I was aware of a strange feeling of pleasure that we had played Barrow-in-Furness so poorly that we were already gone.
Wayne’s house in the leafiest outskirts of Chatham was devoid of Christmas decorations and lights, unlike some of the less sanitary houses we passed through on our way to The Ship & Trades restaurant on Chatham Marina , the view of the damp, gray quays and the faint outline of Upnor Castle, barely visible. Arriving at noon in the restaurant’s new build, we all ordered their signature gourmet burgers with fries. A pint of Spitfire for the two old men. A clandestine bottle of Budweiser for the youngster, ordered with begging not to tell his mom. I only had that one. I was driving, you know. I then took a big Diet Coke. The irony was not lost.
We left at 1:30 p.m. Charlie grimaced as he emptied his second bottle of Bud. Hopefully the next time I come back he’ll consume legally and drink pints of great ale. But I don’t know when that will happen, based on Gillingham’s performance yesterday. They had the stench of a team going to play Colchester instead. Wayne took stock as we drove towards Gills. I said I would meet him for the trip to Colchester next season. We’re usually not home when they are, and it seems unlikely that they’ll be joining us anytime soon.
Yet I digress. Wayne and Charlie are now irregular supporters of Gillingham. Wayne is a Chelsea fan, primarily, and goes to an odd game at Stamford Bridge when he gets free tickets for work patrons. He was the last one there for the Liverpool game at Christmas. “Private Box work, I asked my wife to come and pick me up in Croydon”. Charlie, in typical 16-year-old slang, doesn’t really like football. It’s all computer games and scripts and studying for A levels and social meeja for him. “He created his own Instagram page for Xbox gamers, giving tips and advice on new games,” Wayne said, with a hint of parental pride. I peeked in the rearview mirror of the car at the freckled 16 year old with a hint of down on his upper lip and his Super Dry blue puffa and drainpipe jeans and something in me is dead a little. I almost found myself saying “At his age …” but I quit. At his age, I drank and met girls. The computers were there, but no one really knew much except the nerds. We didn’t know much at the time. Apart from which a cheap drink made you deadly faster.
We arrived at the run down Priestfield. I parked about a half mile down a street, one of Wayne’s favorite places. We got slightly wet on entering. I saw and heard a good city following us as we reached the ground. “They’re going to get wet,” Charlie chuckled as the screams of “Blue Army” tore the air. We had seats in the sparsely populated main stand. We had to wear our masks to walk to them. And provide our Covid passports on our phones. Fortunately, only Charlie had not yet had his booster.
We sat for 40 minutes, reading the program, watching the other people take their seats and warming up on the field. The adults discussed work and family life, confinement, and things the elderly tend to discuss. Wayne and I used to enjoy a small range of illicit drugs in Uni, so the combined and old memory was a bit rusty, but he remembered some mutual acquaintances and told me about a few- ones he kept in touch with via social meeja I had long since abandoned those most distant memory banks that deal mainly with school adventures and glimpses of Hatfield Peverel in the early 80s. They let me down, frequently.
The teams came out to applause around me. Wayne explained that Gills fans stay away; a combination of concern from Covid and Paul Scally, the club’s undisputed owner, who parted with the money let alone our late ‘benefactor’ Marcus. The crowd at home was scattered. The gallery to our left was perhaps half full. I was happy to see that the part outside was more crowded.
I won’t rate the game. You all know what happened. Basically we’ve been awesome. 1-0, a sublime pass ending in a blur in the penalty area and Norwood fled in celebration. “F ** kin ‘rubbish Eeeemer” shouted a youngster two rows in front. 2-0, a Wes Burns ball that we all thought we had hit a defender and caught the keeper on the wrong foot. I watched the replay later and was disillusioned with that belief. 3-0, a Penney ran to the left, scratching his right-back, before a small side pass to Macca who almost fell to his own feet with an eagerness to get home, no defenseman within ten yards. “Boo” Charlie said in response to three guys behind us who berated the hapless guy from Eeemer and started their own boos of protest. The happy lines to leave for a pint after 40 minutes were larger than the people watching the game.
We missed the fourth. It was the stair rods again so we left in 80 minutes, my two companions anxious to step away and return to the warmth of the family home. The car filled with condensation vapor as we drove away from the lighted surroundings. Charlie said he wouldn’t be in a hurry to come back and Wayne agreed with him, a bitter look at the mention of a comeback. “The club is dying,” Wayne said as we left the Gillingham Welcomes You sign and returned to Chatham Road. “We’re definitely going to fall, aren’t we daddy?” Charlie said, his voice a post-pubescent disillusionment recently. Most kids these days hate being associated with failure, especially when they don’t really care about football anyway. Maybe the two were related in some way?
I knew how they felt because I have felt the same about my plight for centuries. But it was something new. The green shoots suddenly bloomed. The players looked somehow better than before, more energetic, better organized, almost arrogant in their command of an admittedly piss-poor home team that played and looked like despondency from the first goal. They bonded well, they ran well in the spaces off the ball, they passed sublimely, they looked like a real championship team again. If this is the McKenna revolution, then I think we’ll all be happy with our progress for the remaining four months of a frustrating, sometimes turgid season so far.
I returned home happier, laughing at outraged Newcastle fans on Talk Sport, resisting and avoiding the Burger King drive-thru that I passed on the road. Home at half past seven. Paula ordered a Chinese takeout and picked it up. I told her we weren’t moving to the Kent coast anytime soon and she gave me a surprised look. I had to explain it to him. She never laid eyes on Gillingham. Hopefully, she’ll never have to.