We visit Gillingham FC in England’s third tier and discover an old fashioned, traditional ground with a friendly atmosphere.
The county of Kent in southeast England is the alleged birthplace of cricket, but when it comes to football its contribution is small with just one league club – Gillingham FC – to its name. It wasn’t always this way. Woolwich Arsenal decamped up to North London in 1913 and ditched its geographical prefix and gradually Charlton Athletic became absorbed into the London suburbs.
The allure of London’s glamour clubs is irresistible for Kentish football fans, but Gillingham FC, nestled in the built-up Medway estuary, manages to attract an average gate of around 5,700. It’s also a 45-minute drive north from my house so I spontaneously decided to buy a ticket online in the morning and pop up for the home match with Doncaster Rovers.
The ground, unsurprisingly, is surrounded by residents-only parking so I had to find myself a place in a residential street about 10 minutes walk away. It was quite easy to navigate thanks to the PA system making its way across the rooftops.
I found £24 for a lower tier seat a bit steep for a League One encounter, but I did get to sit beside the team bench to hear every instruction of former Premier League players-turned-managers Justin Edinburgh (Gillingham) and Paul Dickov (Doncaster Rovers).
Priestfield Stadium, build in 1893, is a tidy little ground with a capacity of 11,582. Roofed on three sides, an open seated terrace still exists on the Brian Moore Stand, occupied by both home and visiting fans. [Continues]
There has been talk of a move away from Priestfield but the Gills are still here.
The atmosphere at the match I attended was quite friendly, but not very vocal. It’s tough to create an atmosphere in a half-full ground with a small away support, but the quality was surprisingly good. Gillingham won with a single and controversial goal, when Jake Hessenthaler’s shot was judged to have crossed Rovers’ line.
Dickov lost his job shortly after for Doncaster’s poor start to the season.
Things to do in Gillingham
Nearby Rochester – with its cathedral and Norman castle – and the historic dockyard at Chatham provide interesting pre-match diversions.
How to get to Gillingham FC
Priestfield is not too far from Gillingham station, as the map shows: