Gillingham Football Club History


Introduction

Gillingham is the only First Division Football Club in Kent. The team has a long and rich history, performing well in the 1980s before a poor spell that led to their relegation to the Third Division in the 1990s when the team went into administration. More recently the team has struggled to remain in the First Division and have experienced further financial difficulties. The club is doing everything in its power to generate funds and it is hoped that they will find more consistent form in the future.


Origins of the Club

The predecessor of Gillingham FC was a junior club called Chatham Excelsior Football Club. In May 1893 a group of business men and some of the players held a meeting to discuss how they could push the club forward. It was very much a financially motivated venture and a company was set up called New Brompton FC Company Limited. Playing in senior fixtures meant that the team could own a ground and charge entry for people to watch matches. The land that was to become the team’s current ground, Priestfield Stadium, was purchased. The team lost their first match and went out early in the cup competitions. They did, however, win the Chatham Charity Cup and retained some dignity.


League Career

They finished top of the Second Division of the newly established Southern League in 1894/5 and were promoted. They could not match this in the following years and finished consistently low down the table until the First World War. The Borough of Gillingham grew and the team was renamed Gillingham Football Club in 1912. The war meant that the league was suspended for four years. The Southern League First Division had become the Football League Division Three in 1919/20 and the team again struggled to win matches.

Surprisingly, attendance remained high, and financially speaking, the team performed relatively well. On the pitch, however, things remained fairly grim with them finishing at the bottom of the league until 1938. They were then voted out of the professional league in favour of Ipswich Town FC.


Post Second World War

The team had become big fish in a far smaller pond and won the double Kent title in 1945/46. The following year they were both Southern League Champions and took the Cup. After five years of successes in the Southern Cup it was announced that the Third Division would be expanded and Gillingham were immediately voted in to play in the league once more. Gillingham enjoyed little more success than they had before and when the league system was reorganised in 1958 they were placed in the newly created Fourth Division. Harry Barrett, the manager of the time, helped the club to establish itself as a serious contender for the Third Division. Soon after he made way for Freddy Cox, the team was promoted to Division Three. The team remained in Division Three from 1964 to 1970. By the mid 1980s the team looked as if it may even get promoted to the Second Division but always seemed to fall at the last hurdle. In 1989 the team was once again relegated to the bottom division.


The 1990s

The team was now in financial ruin and went into administration in 1995. Following the receivership, it looked increasingly possible that the team may lose its place in the Football League altogether. The team was bought for a pound and new manager Tony Pulis led the club to a miraculous turnaround. They were promoted from Football League Three to Two and reached the final stages of the promotion matches in 1999. Having narrowly missed out, Gillingham now seemed hungry to make it into the Fist Division for the first time in the club’s history. They played Wigan at Wembley in the 1999/00 season play-offs in the battle for promotion. Having lost the previous year at the same stage to Manchester City, the pressure was enormous. Gillingham won 3-2 and were subsequently promoted. The club went through a further string of managers, but it was player-manager Andy Hessenthaler who led them to their record best finish of eleventh in Division One in 2002/03. Soon after his resignation in 2004 the club were relegated once more.


2005 Onwards

The team battled hard not to go into administration once more, but achieved financial security and a place in League One with a surprise run of 6 wins at the end of the 2005/06 season. In the season that followed, fans were worried that the team would face another fight not to be relegated. This was thankfully not the case, however, and despite conceding a lot of goals, the team managed to keep itself half way up the table for the early part of the season. After Christmas the team failed to perform as well and it was seen as a real missed opportunity. They had gone from approaching the play-off zone to sitting in 19th place, just six points clear of the relegation zone. They finished in a respectable position and went into the 2007/08 season with a fresh optimism. After a disappointing spell under care-taker managers Iffy Onuora and Mick Docherty, Mark Stimpson took the helm in November. It is yet to be seen whether he will be able to work the club out of the early season slump.


Club Information

  • Address: Gillingham Football Club, KRBS Prestfield Stadium, Redfern Avenue, Gillingham, Kent, ME7 4DD
  • Telephone: 01634 300000
  • Fax: 01634 850986
  • Email: media@prestfield.com
  • Website


The Ground

The Prestfield Stadium has been the club’s home since its foundation. The ground was built before the road, Priestfield Road, to which it is adjacent. It is still disputed, however, whether the ground was named after the road or vice versa. The main development took place between the wars and then was almost entirely knocked down and rebuilt in the late nineties. The capacity was greatly reduced from around 40,000 to 11,582. This was due to a downsizing and the movement towards a fully seated ground. There are currently rumours circulating in the press regarding a possible move for the club to another ground.


Achievements

  • Southern Football Division Two Winners 1894/95
  • Kent Senior Cup 1945/46 and 1947/48
  • Southern League Cup 1946/47
  • Kent League Winners 1944/45 and 1945/46
  • Fourth Division Winners 1963/64
  • Second Division Play-off Winners 1999/00