Top five challenges facing Gills’ new manager

It’s the start of a new era at Gillingham Football Club with the arrival of Paul Fisher as co-chairman and chief executive while Paul Scally, who has been at the helm for 27 years, takes a break from the day-to-day running of the club. .

But what challenges does the new man at the helm face? Here are some of the topics that will be in the bin as Gillingham seek to recapture former glories on and off the pitch after tough times in recent years.

Gillingham players celebrate after Scott Kashket scored what turned out to be the winner against Rochdale on Saturday. Photo: Barry Goodwin

Strengthening the workforce

Popular manager Neil Harris, who joined the club at the end of January this year, built a new squad ahead of the Ligue 2 campaign which now has two games. The Gills picked up their first win of the season on Saturday, 1-0 against Rochdale at Priestfield thanks to one of the new signings, Scott Kashket. He is one of 13 new faces to arrive at Gillingham this summer, and with three more weeks until the transfer window closes, the prospect of new arrivals will be on the minds of most Gills fans.

Every manager will always want that extra player, the one star who could give his team the X-factor or the extra strength in depth needed as injuries or suspensions start to bite in the fall. An extra player or two could still mean the difference between automatic promotion or the play-offs and mid-table mediocrity, but finances have never been there at Priestfield so it may be asking too much for any quick budget changes this month.

There was an exceptional crowd to support Gills boss Neil Harris and his team against Fleetwood in April – thanks to a discounted ticket offer at Priestfield.  Image: KPIs
There was an exceptional crowd to support Gills boss Neil Harris and his team against Fleetwood in April – thanks to a discounted ticket offer at Priestfield. Image: KPIs

Bring the fans back

A key element is obviously winning matches on the pitch. Success is synonymous with fans, what casual supporter doesn’t commit more if their team are top of the table every week rather than showing up knowing you’ll be satisfied with a goalless draw?

There was a marked uptick in attendance when Gillingham won the League Two title under Martin Allen in 2012/13, with average gates topping 6,600. Another upturn followed when Justin Edinburgh guided Gills to a challenge of play-off in 2015/16, which eventually saw the club finish ninth, but there was a feel-good factor around the pitch.

In recent years attendance numbers have plummeted, but the potential was there to be seen when Gillingham met Fleetwood on Easter Monday. Adult tickets have been slashed from around £24 to £15 in a bid to boost attendance at Priestfield – and it has worked with over 8,000 local fans backing their team. Although they failed to achieve the expected result – a goalless draw – it again underlined the potential of the county’s only Football League team.

More deals are planned for the new season, so Mr. Fisher will have to get it right in order to maximize the undoubted potential. Without Mr Scally in the stands this season, perhaps the ‘toxic atmosphere’ inside Priestfield, which some supporters say dissuaded them from attending, will be a thing of the past, along with planes sporting Scally Out banners above the ground.

Gills has long wanted to move away from Priestfield Stadium.  Photo: Keith Gillard
Gills has long wanted to move away from Priestfield Stadium. Photo: Keith Gillard

new stadium

When Ebbsfleet revealed plans to build a new 8,000-capacity stadium on its Stonebridge Road ground footprint last month, there must have been more than a few raised eyebrows inside Priestfield. Mr Scally has never made a secret of his desire to find Gillingham a new home in a modern stadium.

Although he transformed Priestfield under his watch, there is still the temporary stand at the ground’s Brian Moore End while Gillingham’s narrow streets mean there is no room for expansion on the Gordon Road Stand. There are hospitality offers in the main stand, but a shiny new pitch with additional facilities that can be used throughout the week to generate revenue, which in turn could go towards the team budget game, must remain a priority in the meeting room.

What has held Gillingham back from moving so far is the money to do so. Someone needs to fund a move and over many years of trying nothing has materialized. Mr Scally’s most recent vision that was made public involved driving down the road to a 40-acre area known as Mill Hill. Artists’ impressions have been written of the appearance of a new 15-18,000 seat stadium just off Yokusuka Way. These plans were drawn up 10 years ago.

Previous plans for Chatham Docks and before that at Temple Marsh in Cuxton never took off either. There was even a suggestion that the club could leave Medway altogether and move to Gravesham. How frustrating to have seen once troubled Brighton at Priestfield before taking off to the Premier League following the completion of their own dream venue, while the Gills continue to pursue that elusive move.

Kent rivals Maidstone United celebrate promotion last season - they now play their football one division below the Gills.  Photo: Helen Cooper
Kent rivals Maidstone United celebrate promotion last season – they now play their football one division below the Gills. Photo: Helen Cooper

lead the county

There is now only one division between Gillingham and Maidstone United. At the start of last season the gap was three levels, but relegation to Priestfield was equalized by the Stones’ winning promotion to the National League. The teams were last in the same division before Maidstone’s demise, when they faced off in the old Division 4 in the 1991/92 campaign. There’s nothing like a bit of rivalry in Kent to spice up the season, but there are undoubtedly plenty of Gills fans who are quite happy not to have other teams in the county trying. to take their crown from Kent’s first side.

It’s not just Maidstone catching up with the Gills, Ebbsfleet United and Dartford have made no secret of their ambition to win promotion to the National League, when a good season could see either land at the coveted place of the EFL. So, ensuring the Gills succeed on the pitch will be a big selling point for the club. And what better way to start your CV at Priestfield than adding promotion to League One on the first try?

Paul Scally regularly sought new investment at Gillingham Football Club.  Photo: Peter Still
Paul Scally regularly sought new investment at Gillingham Football Club. Photo: Peter Still

Outside investment

Mr Scally has already mentioned this in his statement, but it is no secret that Gillingham needs investment to take the ‘next step’. So many clubs are chasing the dream and while some, like Bournemouth, are achieving their goal, there are others – Derby being the obvious example – who are heading down a dark path and putting their future in jeopardy. To his credit, Mr Scally said Gills hadn’t found such dark avenues to face, but supporters would be rich now if they got a penny for every time they heard the phrase ‘looking for new investments”.

No doubt a long list of potential investors over the years have held meetings with Mr. Scally, but he has found none who can tick all of his boxes. Perhaps Mr. Fisher can open new doors, attract new investors, or guide Gillingham to a healthy future. A well-run football club can still thrive, of course, but life can be so much better in football circles with a few extra millions in the back pocket.

It should be remembered, however, that while Mr Scally handed over day-to-day management of the club, there was no change in ownership. The keys to Priestfield remain in the hands of Mr. Scally. It remains to be seen how free Mr. Fisher will be regarding outside investment, and indeed any major changes. It’s not a clean break and after 27 years at the helm of Mr Scally, he will surely be keen to get involved in anything substantial that happens at the club.

Top five challenges facing Gills’ new manager

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.