Malcolm Dawson writes…..I reckon I have seen Sunderland play Gillingham on four occasions. I must have seen them at home in 2004 and 2005 as I had a season ticket, but I don’t recall much of those games. The first time I went to the Priestfield was in September 2004, when we coasted to a 4-0 win early in a season when we finished top of what had become known as The Championship. I went down with some of my mates from the Heart of England Branch and we had such a good time in the pub pre-match, chatting with Gills’ fans who were enjoying the dizzy heights of the second tier that we decided to go back another time and in 2006 returned in our Sunderland shirts to see them play Walsall. Pete Sixsmith admits he hasn’t seen that much of them but has seen them at Roker Park and other assorted North Eastern football grounds as well as the Stadium of Light and down in Kent. I’ll let him take up the story.
Kent’s finest, some would say only, Football League team, have not much appeared on the radar at Sixsmith Towers over the years. I have seen them three times at Sunderland, have visited Priestfield twice and have caught them at Feethams and Victoria Park. So, this piece may well be a short one (“Thank goodness” say the readers)
My first sight of them was on the 22nd October 1966 at Darlington. Our home game with Stoke City had been postponed due to the opening games of the Home International Championship being played on that day and we had three players involved.
John Parke and Martin Harvey played for Northern Ireland in their 2-0 defeat to England, the World Cup winners turning out the same XI that had triumphed at Wembley three months earlier. Second half goals from Roger Hunt and Martin Peters saw England defeat the home side in front of a huge Windsor Park crowd of 47,897.
Meanwhile, in South Wales, Jim Baxter was strutting his stuff for Scotland at Ninian Park in a 1-1 draw. Ron Davies’s opener was cancelled out with four minutes remaining, by Dennis Law, and that was the only point dropped by Slim Jim and his mates as they defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 in Glasgow and then went on to win 3-2 at Wembley where Baxter played keepy-uppy and the Tartan Army, with whisky fuelled logic, proclaimed themselves “World Champions.”
So, with my paper round money sewn into my mittens, I caught the No.1 bus from Byerley Road and handed over a bawbee to the gateman at Feethams in order to watch Darlington play Gillingham, a town of whose location I had only a vague idea. A grammar school education in Geography focused on ox bow lakes, the economy of Nigeria and the rivers of Canada, rather than useful things like where on earth were places like Gillingham, Stockport and Cowdenbeath.
Thanks to an excellent website called “Gillingham Scrapbook” I was able to find out what the teams were that day and a report on the game. It was an undistinguished 1-1 draw which confirmed that the Quakers were struggling in Division Three (they were relegated at the end of the season), with the goals coming within 90 seconds of each other and both containing goalkeeping errors.
Darlington stopper Tony Moore failed to come for a cross and Brian Gibbs headed in but 90 seconds later stalwart Gills keeper John Simpson, a native of Appleby who made 571 appearances for them, let slip a fierce shot from Quakers full back John Peverell and the ball slid over the line.
The game had been held up in the first half when Darlington winger George McGeachie suffered a serious injury, the entire crowd heard his knee cartilage snap as it made a sound like a bullet being fired and there was a long wait while he was moved and taken to hospital. McGeachie had played for Dundee when they won the Scottish League in 1962 and ended up at Darlington as he worked as a chemist for ICI on Teesside. He never played again.
There was a crowd of 5,819 and I remember walking around the cricket pitch and back to the bus station, pleased as the proverbial punch that I had managed to exchange a Sunderland badge for a Gillingham one from a travelling Kentish Man (or is it Man of Kent?), replete with Invicta, the rearing white horse.
The last time I saw them was a few months ago at Hartlepool where they were seconds away from being dumped out of the FA Cup by a National League side. Pools had drawn 1-1 at Priestfield and, with seconds left, were 2-1 up in the replay. Goals by Carl Magnay and Paddy McLaughlin in the first half had put Pools in control, but Max Ehmer had pulled one back.
With six minutes left and the visitors desperately looking for salvation, Pools manager took off forward Luke James and sent on defender Conor Newton to shore up the back four. There was a rumbling of discontent amongst the home support as James was perfectly placed to take advantage of the gaps that Gillingham were leaving in their quest for the equaliser and their fears were founded as keeper Scott Loach missed a cross and Carl Magnay handled to stop the ball going in. Impressive striker Tom Eaves rattled home the penalty and the Gills went on to win 4-3 in extra time.
As far as Sunderland goes, I first saw them in a Division Three game at Roker on the 30th January, 1988, just over 31 years ago. I had missed the play off game as I was committed to taking the Aged P’s to East Midlands airport for what turned out to be my mother’s last foreign holiday before she died and I remember picking up scores from it on the Radio 2 news as I sat in the passenger seat of the Mini Metro and my father drove and dropped lighted cigarettes on the floor.
That day in 1988 ended in a 2-1 win for us, with Gary Bennett opening the scoring in the 9th minute and Marco doubling the lead in the 27th before he went off ten minutes later. Mark Cooper, then Gillingham’s record signing, pulled one back in the second half but we saw the game out (would that we could do that now!!!) to remain top of the pile.
The teams who performed that day, in front of 16,195 people were’
Ian Hesford; John Kay, Gary Bennett, John McPhail, Reuben Agboola; Paul Atkinson, Paul Lemon, Steve Doyle, Gordon Armstrong; Eric Gates, Marco Gabbiadini subs; Frank Gray, Keith Bertschin (for Marco 36)
Ron Hillyard (who ended up 8 appearances behind John Simpson); Karl Elsey, Graham Pearce, Gavin Peacock (ex Mag, now a pastor in Calgary), Gary West, Colin Greenall (713 games for various clubs including Blackpool, Bury and Chester) Howard Pritchard, Trevor Quow, Steve Lovell (their current manager), Mark Cooper, David Smith subs; Les Berry, Irvin Gernon.
They have slipped a bit recently and could well be in the relegation places when they pitch up at the Stadium. This is their fourth visit in the league and they have lost two and drawn one. That was in 2003-04 and was a 1-1 draw.
You knew that was coming didn’t you…….