Go Away: Gillingham

Gillingham street sign on a red background

If Kent truly is the garden of England, this particular strip along the estuaries of the Thames and Medway can be considered the bit behind the shed. Think less roses and orchards and more compost heap, rusting barbecues and long-lost frisbees.

Gillingham is said to have been named after a warlord, Gyllingas – from the old English ‘gyllan’, meaning ‘to shout’, which makes it easier to see why their football club was so drawn to Steve Evans’ management. At the time of the Norman Conquest Gillingham was a small hamlet, but from this tiny cigar eventually grew a whole town, as it slowly encompassed other nearby settlements.

One of the last invasions of the British Isles happened in Gillingham in 1667, when a Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Tellingly, the Dutch took one look at the place and left – to be fair, the only notable local tourist attraction, Rochester Castle, was lobbing cannonballs at them. That they’d rather spend their lives below sea-level and forever risk being submerged to death than persist with a planned invasion doesn’t speak volumes for Gillingham’s broader appeal, mind.

And if that knocked the town’s confidence, the fact that it’s most famous son, the navigator Will Adams, also chose to get as far away from the place as possible won’t have helped. Adams was the first Englishman to reach Japan by boat, and rather than return stayed in the country, becoming one of the first Western Samurai. 

In 2010 Gillingham staged the World Cup for the Modern Pentathlon, in which competitors compete in five challenging modern-day disciplines; swimming, shooting, running, TikTok dancing and completing a complex coffee order.

Gillingham FC were initially formed as New Brompton in 1893, taking their current name in 1912. The club have had a steady if unspectacular existence since, a Football League side since 1950 (and between 1920 and 1938) they have spent all but five of those seasons in the bottom two divisions. They do boast one of the most unlikely transfer fees paid though, having purchased Tony Cascarino from non-league Crockenhill in 1982 for a set of tracksuits. A fee some of the current Rovers squad should aspire to one day attracting.

What’s it famous for?

Aside from its dockyards, and the well-travelled Adams, Gillingham is also the hometown of television presenter David Frost and celebrity chef Gary Rhodes. The latter certainly explains the popularity of the glamorous sounding local cuisine of ‘poison et frites et pois de mush’.

How to blend in

Hello, good evening and welcome to a town you should make it clear you’re trying to leave at the earliest opportunity. But whilst you are here, get into long-winded arguments over a pint of Spitfire about the distinction between a Man of Kent and a Kentish Man, like any of it truly matters.

What’s the stadium like?

Gillingham have played at Priestfield since the Victorian era, and at one point it held up to 30,000 fans, or so they’ve been told. The ground has moved on a lot since the start of the 1900s though, these days it’s in colour. 

Away fans are housed in the optimistically named Brian Moore Stand. The sports broadcaster Brian Moore was a lifelong fan of the club, and no doubt he’d be delighted to see his legacy honoured in the form of football fans getting piss wet through as they stand on a pile of metal scaffold lifted from the 16th hole at Sandwich. Stretching out the meaning of the word ‘temporary’ to unprecedented levels, this make-do structure has now been behind the western goal at Priestfield so long it’s old enough to drink… in the USA.

2 thoughts on “Go Away: Gillingham

  1. ‘poison et frites et pois de mush’.!!!!

    Absolutely belting Glenn!! Made me choke on me char :)


  2. Last time I went to Gillingham I felt distinctly under-tattooed and lacking in a dangerous dog. It’s the living proof that there are worse places than Scunthorpe and Rotherham.

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