Generally speaking we don’t tend to write about our teams on this fanzine, we try and keep reasonably neutral (apart from the odd sniping comment!) but last night summed up for me just why I love lower league football.
Sitting in a pretty empty stand on a reasonably mild night in Kent before kick-off wondering just what on earth was to happen over the next 90+ minutes. The Gills had been on a pretty poor run a few weeks back following a great start to the season, losing 6 on the bounce before getting back in the points with a draw and a win in the last 2 games.
Conceding goals has been a major problem for us, numerous times this season losing 4-3, so after watching Hereford take a 0-2 lead after just 7 minutes, including a penalty and a fine shot from up close, you had to wonder exactly how things will change.
Following a largely scrappy first half, and a lot of fans on backs of the players and the team in general, the Gills grabbed a goal back just before half time and the Hereford keeper found himself in the book for time wasting by putting the ball on the top of the net to slow the push before the end of the half.
Being a connoisseur of fine cuisineaverage cuisine football stadium fast food I was mulling over what we had witnessed in the first half with my mate, munching down on a very impressive uninspiring burger, completely unaware of the impending 45 minutes which can only be described as “what the fuck”.
33 seconds into the 2nd half and it was 2-2, a fine header by leading Gills scorer Danny Kedwell seemed to restore the faith in the crowd who were getting on the boo-ing bandwagon (just so you know, I am not a boo boy, I never have been and never will be, it doesn’t help anyone, sure, I do sulk though)
One of the joys about supporting a lower league team is that you generally hear a lot of what goes on from the players, and the fans from around the ground. One of the Hereford lads (I have no idea who it was) went down injured following a spell of Gills pressure, only thing is he landed outside of the field of play as the ball went out for a corner, clearly in some distress he looked pleased to be out of the picture, well, that is until the keeper decided to drag him back on the pitch so that the corner couldn’t be taken and the physio had to come on. I have never seen anything quite like it before, the Gills fans in the Rainham End came flooding down to the pitch side to tell the keeper in no uncertain terms that he was an “uninspiring fellow who was not being a sporting chap”. Well, words to that effect anyway.
From where we were sitting you could tell that the injured player did not want to be dragged back on the pitch, but unfortunately he got a lot of unjust stick as well from the raging fans.
The keeper didn’t get booked for this time-wasting / unsporting gesture, probably because he had been booked in the first half for time wasting, and it is very rare to see a keeper sent off, let alone for 2 time wasting incidents.
With the crowd booing the Hereford keeper’s every touch the atmosphere was much greater than a crowd of less than 4000 normally gives of. It was to be short lived however when Hereford yet again slotted one in, the 19 year old Gills keeper, Argentine Paulo Gazzaniga could only parry the ball out from a rasping long range drive, the movement in the air wrong footed the keeper, but yet again, no defenders were back quick enough and the rebound was tucked in. The mood dropped and some fans headed for the exit on 70 minutes.
Just 9 minutes later the mood in the ground dropped even lower as the defence were caught napping allowing Hereford to nod home a cross at the back post, the booing started again and a few more fans got up and walked out. I bet they wished they hadn’t now.
Straight from kick off, Gills sub Charlie Lee just walked through the whole Hereford team, past the 45 away fans, around the dugouts, up the stairs and then slotted the ball into the bottom corner off the post after grabbing a burger from the dodgy food outlets, ok so that might be an exaggeration, he only went from the half way line to the goal but that is besides the point, no-one was getting near him to make a proper tackle and less than 50 seconds from Hereford putting the ball in the Gills net, they were picking it out of their own
3-4 – again.
Well, that was until Charlie Lee showed the boss why he will be starting next week, making it 4-4 with 87 minutes on the blue clock which no-one can read in the ground. A precious point that 7 minutes into the game looked very unlikely, but wait, Gazzaniga rushes out of his goal and brings down the Hereford striker Tom Barkhuizen (who by the way, is some player) with 89 minutes on the clock. Penalty. Again.
Looking around the pitch, the Gills forward players were in shock, down on their knees and with an expression of “really? again?” on their faces. Gazzaniga saved the penalty which was spanked towards the goal with some venom and then punched the resulting corner clear, the relief on his face was clear to see and somehow the ball ended up on the edge of the Hereford area after some neat passing, and then in an almost unbelievable moment the ball bobbled around, through a number of attempted tackles and the shot was blocked, it fell for Gavin Tomlin for the Gills who somehow managed to hook volley it into the corner of the net, 5-4, 93 minutes. Tomlin went mental, as did the fans, he rushed into the corner, throwing his shirt down on the floor to milk the applause.
And so it finished, a 5-4 win and the scenes after the game were like we had just won a cup final, Gazzaniga was lifting all the players up and running around leading the celebrations, he knew his save was key in getting 3 points tonight, smacking his chest in front of the fans and showing clear passion, this kid will be a superstar one day, mark my words.
One of the most dramatic games I have seen in a long time, coupled with the fact that you can hear everything (not always a good thing) and relate to the players so much more is exactly why I love lower league football, and more importantly, my local team.