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Saturday 24th July 2021 ko 15:00

Pre-season Friendly

GILLINGHAM TOWN 3 (Paterson 4 Samuel 40 43)

CHARD TOWN 1 (Parris 15)

Att c46 at Harding’s Lane

Free Entry

On one level this was the most straightforward a reason for attending a game as you could imagine. Gillingham Town moved from their old ground at Harding’s Lane at the end of last season to a purpose built ground around 200 yards away at Woodwater Lane. In fact so close are the two grounds that you pass by the old to get to the new. That proved to be of some benefit….

For the uninitiated this is the Gillingham in Dorset, not in Kent. The name is pronounced with a hard “G” as in what fish breathe through rather than the woman’s name, and significantly will be returning to the Western League for this season. That will put the place well and truly on just about every groundhopper’s radar so if anyone from the club is reading this prepare for an influx, and print a few extra programmes! The name though is confusing, and just to draw attention to this quirk of the English language; there was a time when Gillingham Town used to kick off early when Gillingham FC played a south-western team such as Exeter City so as to attract their travelling fans!

So you could look at this visit as partly the chance to beat the crowds, but seeing Chard Town was also a draw for me too. It was a honour to be involved in bringing the Western League Hop to Zembard Lane but the grounds famous slope did cost the club their place in pyramid football. They now ply their trade in the Somerset County League, and chatting to a club official they do have planning permission for a new ground but actually moving there could be a 5 year process. All the very best to them; they deserve so much more than what the FA dealt out to them.

But as the car picked its way passed the old ground, I saw a steady stream of players heading from the new ground to the old. At first I wondered whether they were playing a reserve game on the old ground so rolled down a window to ask a player. I quickly discovered this game was being played there, having been switched late that morning.

The issue was the new pitch, the grass hasn’t completely taken root as yet, perhaps the recent dry weather was the cause? Certainly the there were narrow longitudinal lines along the pitch, and a club official did comment that they were worried about players turning their ankles. The sad irony was that within 10 minutes of our game kicking off that is precisely what happened! There was enough time to have a quick look round the new ground before following the players over to Harding’s Lane. What’s the new ground is, is exactly what Gillingham Town need it to be. It’s smart, if rather functional, and once the chip for the floodlight controller arrives will be an improvement on the facilities they’ve left behind.

Now it really was no chore to watch a game back at Harding’s Lane, and I did find myself ruminating on the kind of hopper that faced with what happened here would have simply turned tail and headed for home. I do think one or two seem to forget that the hobby does fundamentally involve watching football matches, and that football matches don’t take place solely for our benefit!

The ground really is an icon of non league, hewn as it is from a farmer’s field, with the stand a relic of an agricultural show of long ago, the pitch is aligned to suit the stand’s position rather than the usual other way round. The pitch had probably been cut and marked in a hurry, the pasture was beginning to reclaim the perimeter pathway, and the “Dundee United” seats had long since gone but the ground still had charm by the bucketload. It all made its imminent loss all the more regrettable. I fully expect to see little more than a field here next time I visit, but I do hope the club finds a place for the “Gillingham Town” sign on the old stand.  

But this was an afternoon to celebrate a quite lovely place to watch a game. It was the case that just about everything there was to watch happened in the first half but when it was all over, and the goalkeeper blasted past me, making sure he got first use of the shower, there was the added bonus of the new ground is still there for me to tick off! So was this visit a disappointment? No, it was anything but!