I’ll never know how or why I ever ended up living in Kent. Even now the idea seems ludicrous, as I worked in West London at the time, and commuted everyday from Dartford in Kent. If that was a nightmare Monday – Friday, it made my weekends more relaxed, if distanced from the normal madness of a match day in London. I only spent a year working in London (exactly a year as chance would have it – the option to extend my contract for a few months at the end passed me by for the desire to travel) so I tried to grab as much opportunity to enjoy London and Kent while I could.
For my nearest football league ground, you’d have to look to three main stadiums:
1. Gillingham’s Priestfield (on the same train line east from Dartford)
2. Millwall’s The New Den (involves one change on the train line from Dartford, the one heading to Charing Cross or Waterloo East in Central London which passes Bermondsey or London Bridge)
3. Charlton’s The Valley (again on the same line as Dartford, heading into London)
I visited all three stadiums during my time in London/Kent. At Charlton it was just to have a beer and see the ground (on my birthday pub crawl of ALL football stadiums in London). I have been to Millwall’s The New Den a host of times. Three times with my own club AFC Bournemouth, once with my Dad and a host of times with Millwall Neil, a self confessed Lions Addict. And then there was Gillingham FC. A team who play in Priestfield Stadium, the only current league team playing in Kent (Margate, Dover and Maidstone have all had a go in the past, I believe). The Cherries were due to play Gillingham the Saturday after my work Christmas do (at Embankment) and with nothing on that day, I decide to go. I invited a few friends but alas none were available or none wanted to come all the way to Kent. It would be freezing, we would probably lose and the train tickets didn’t come cheap.
For me it was an easy trip. I boarded the train at Dartford Station at 1.20 pm, was in Gillingham well before kick off but travelling alone didn’t have a pre match pint, went straight into the away end.
The away end was uncovered and I recall getting drenched second half. I was also surprised by the set-up at Gillingham. It was a decent stadium, they were a good side and friendly fans. Some describe the area as “full of chavs” and it may well be, but I enjoyed it.
Gillingham FC, for a number of years had punched well above their weight, gaining promotion out of the third division and into The Championship, where they even almost made the play-offs one year, before finally succumbing back to the third tier in the season 2006-2007.
This was my first of two trips to Gillingham while living in Dartford (the second trip would be in May 2007 to watch Northern Ireland ladies lose 4-0 to England ladies in a World Cup qualifier). On the pitch we more than matched them, and we had yet to register an away win that season, so when Sam Vokes put us 1-0 up just before half time, the points looked to be ours! However Gillingham pressed us right to the death, and it was absolutely gutting to concede a 93rd minute equaliser from Andrew Crofts. It felt hard to take, but then I had remembered back to September 2005 at Dean Court when we had scored TWICE in stoppage time to beat Gillingham 2-1. We had stolen 3 points that night, and today they nicked a lucky last minute draw.
The Southern Bell pub post match was good banter as I mingled with Cherries and Gills fans alike, none of whom I knew. I met a scout in there called Mike, from Newcastle United. At the time he had been looking at Gills midfielder Matt Jarvis (now at Wolves) but was also impressed with James Hayter. Mike and I chatted away about football. He was a man of more than 60, with an abundance of knowledge, experience and football stories to tell. I think he had almost done all 92 league grounds.
With the advantage of hindsight, this was my last Cherries away match of the season as after Christmas we had no close by matches and work was just so busy, I tended to just go down the pub or relax at weekends. It was also my last ever Cherries match on my own, with a new group of friends coming along from the new season. Probably aided by my return to the seaside town of Bournemouth following my round the world trip.
So I’ve been to Gillingham twice. Once to support Bournemouth. Once to support Northern Ireland. One draw, one defeat. Both were good days out. However I enjoyed what I saw of the town, its people and the pubs. I headed back on a dark train to Dartford before meeting up with buddy James down the Bear and Ragged Staff (my local once upon a time…)
lIn closing those four match photos that are mine are the only photographic reminders of my trip to Gillingham. I do however have my train ticket stub, match ticket and programme somewhere, but not with me now in Hong Kong where I now live. The other photos and videos I took that day were lost when my hard drive broke a few months later sadly.
Transport Used – South Eastern Trains
From – Dartford
To – Gillingham
Nationalities Met – English Match – Gillingham 1-1 Bournemouth Stadium – Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham, Kent, ENGLAND Pubs Visited – The Southern Bell, The Bear and Ragged Staff