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Posts Tagged ‘Gillingham F.C.’


I haven’t always been obsessed with San Francisco.

There was a time when I was obsessed with Italy.

My affection has never diminished for the land of olives, arias and elections. It’s just that since we first – belatedly – discovered the United States, and San Francisco in particular, the siren call from across the Atlantic has invariably proved too hard to resist.

But for a decade in the eighties and nineties, it was Italy that held us in its thrall.

Our first date, however, did not go well.

Midway through a twelve day cheese and wine driving tour of France, we made a short detour into Italy via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. That excursion might have lasted a little longer had it not been for the fact that, having realised we had the taken a wrong turn on the outskirts of Courmayeur, we reversed onto the newly laid tarmac driveway of the startled, and more worryingly, burly owner.

Fortunately, our hire car had sufficient power to outpace him, his even sturdier wife, three small children and fearsome German shepherd dog as they gesticulated in a manner that seems to be every Italian’s birthright.

Having lain low from Interpol for a couple of years,  diplomatic relations were restored when we snuck back on a ten day coach tour that included Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice and Assisi (our earliest encounter with San Francisco?).

Over the next few years we took short breaks to Florence, Venice and Milan. Longer holidays followed to Sorrento (twice), Lakes Garda and Como and, loveliest of all, Taormina in Sicily. We even abandoned France one year to base ourselves in the Aosta Valley resort of La Thuile, from whence we could ski over the border to La Rosiere.

No matter that public life was mired in scandal and corruption, and that television was a boorish blend of babes, boobs and Berlusconi baloney. We were now besotted with the breathtaking natural beauty, history, sense of style and the ravenous appetite for life of the people. We enjoyed la dolce vita, worshipped la bella figura, and did our best to blend seamlessly into la passeggiata every evening. Puccini, Giotto and Michelangelo became my cultural icons. The whole country was one large show and we loved it.

Climbing up from Piazzetta Michelangelo to San Miniato al Monte in Florence, coming upon the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa for the first time, getting lost among the remoter calle in Venice, gazing on Santa Lucia in Naples, walking the Circus Maximus……the list goes on.

In 1992 I began to learn the language (that, acording to Lord Byron, ” sounds as if it should be written on satin”) in earnest, and attained a Royal Society of Arts Level 1 diploma with distinction.

And then there was the calcio.

Serie A was at that time the most glamorous football (soccer) league in Europe. Real Madrid and Barcelona may still have attracted many of the bigger names, but La Liga was not televised on British television as it is now, or if it was, only to a miniscule satellite audience. And the Premier League in England was only in its infancy.

But Sunday afternoon on Channel 4 was one of the highlights of my week, when a top Italian league game was televised live. The Saturday morning magazine show, Gazzetta Football Italia, presented by the witty and well informed James Richardson (did he ever drink that cappuccino or eat that gelato that shimmered on the table in front of him?), showed highlights of all the previous week’s games and featured interviews with the top players, including Paul Gascoigne and Paul Ince, who took the rare route of moving from England to Europe.

It was bliss to an Italophile like me.

Roberto Baggio with his languid style, pony tail and hip Buddhist beliefs, and Franco Baresi, the epitome of the Italian hard man defender, became my footballing heroes. We even named our pet rabbits, Baggio and Schilacci after their namesakes’ exploits in Italia ’90. The spectacle and drama of that World Cup tournament only endeared me to the country more. I could not even get downhearted when the host country beat England 1-0 in the third place play-off.

And then, five years later, I realised an ambition and attended the San Siro where, in front of 83,000 fans, AC Milan “welcomed” eventual Scudetto winners, Juventus. I’d always thought that English football supporters were passionate, but the fervour and fanaticism in that stadium that evening was astonishing. One elderly gentleman next to me spent the entire game clutching his prayer beads and yelling at Milan’s mercurial Yugoslav playmaker, Dejan Savicevic, to produce a moment of magic for the hosts, but to no avail.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I kept my allegiance to La Vecchia Signora (Juventus) firmly under wraps as they strolled to a 2-0 victory with goals from Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli, both later to star in the Premier League. The contrast with the last match I had been to, between Gillingham and Bury four nights previously in front of little over 3,000, could not have been more striking.

It was later in that year that we made our first fateful trip to the American West. We didn’t abandon Italy immediately as we visited Lake Como two years later. But it was another decade before we renewed acquaintance with La Serenissima as part of my wife’s fiftieth birthday celebrations.

And now, another seven years later, we are finally returning for a third time to Sorrento. We may only be there for a week, but that will be enough to enable us to go back to Capri, Pompeii, Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Positano, Amalfi and Ravello).

Torna a Surriento!

 

 

 

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I couldn’t resist the temptation.  The incessant drizzle and the seductive charms of Arsenal v. Ipswich on live TV could not compete with fifty years of sweet pain, not to mention that I was not prepared to squander the £20 on the ticket I had purchased for the original fixture.

And what was my sacrifice in comparison to the hundred doughty Derbyshire souls who had made the 300 mile round trip on a wet January night?  That said, the joyously performed conga in the rain by four young, bare-chested fans shortly after Chesterfield’s first goal was going a little too far.  The more sensible of their congregation huddled under large umbrellas, only showing signs of life when Chesterfield scored the two goals by which they won the game.

The atmosphere was curiously flat, given the elevated league position of both teams.  Whilst moaning was rife and one home player was inevitably made the scapegoat for everyone’s mistakes, I only heard the occasional swear word, and the boos that greeted defeat were pleasingly muted.  After all, the team played very well, particularly in the first half, inducing the Chesterfield manager to acknowledge that Gillingham was the best side they had played all season.

I enjoyed the game but did not always feel fully engaged with it, something to do with that lack of atmosphere.  Perhaps some of the gloss has really gone. 

So will I go again some time soon?  I don’t think I will be rushing to buy another ticket, though I will remain as anxious to know how the team is doing, and crave the best for them, for a long time yet.

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Tonight at 7.45pm at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham play Chesterfield in an npower League Two association football game.  “So what?”, you may ask.  “Who cares? Big deal!” 

Well, it is an important game for me, though I may not actually attend.  Which is the rub. 

My father took me to the ground when I was still ankle high to a grasshopper in the late fifties and the club has stayed in my heart ever since.  As a small boy I was lifted to the front of the crowd, and as a  teenager I stood in the covered, “Kop” (aka Rainham), End singing local variations of then chart hits such as “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “Yellow Submarine”.  As a young adult I spent a number of years away from home, but still traipsed around the north of England supporting “The Gills” at such exotic outposts as Bury, Mansfield, Rotherham and Bradford.  And finally, as a man in his middle years, I have enjoyed the comfort of a modern stand with good catering facilities and toilets that work (usually).

I have experienced feast and famine over that half century, though hunger has generally prevailed over sufficiency.  That said, for a decade from the mid nineties Gillingham Football Club enjoyed an unprecedented and wholly unexpected period of success, playing in Wembley Play-Off finals in successive years and reaching the second tier of the English football pyramid, maintaining their place there for five years, achievements most long suffering fans would barely have dreamt of. 

The past half dozen years, with one notable exception, have witnessed decline and dispiritedness.  The club has returned to the bottom rung of the Football League ladder, where they were when that little boy was first bounced over the heads of dour men in hats to get a close-up of his heroes.  But, after a pitiful start to the campaign, the team has soared to the brink of the promotion pack with an impressive run of results, especially away from home where, for a year and a half, they had, until recently, failed to win a single game.

Tonight they have the opportunity not only to to rise to fourth in the table but in the process to keep the league leaders in their sights by beating them.  The game has been rearranged following postponement due to a frozen pitch on the Saturday before Christmas.  So the tickets are already paid for – so what’s the problem (if you’re still with me, that is)?

In 2007  I fell out of love with going to football.  Now, I have had a love-hate relationship with football at the highest level in this country – overpaid, remote players, too much money concentrated in the hands of a small handful of clubs, blood-sucking agents, cheating – I could go on.  But the spectacle of the games, many of which are shown live on TV, is compelling.

But why should I suddenly find it a chore to go and see my beloved Gillingham team, especially when I lived just ten minutes’ walk from the ground?

I’ll gladly confess that the downturn in their fortunes on the pitch at that time must have played a part.  Failure always bends loyalty and faith, but it should not break them.  My wife and I had put our house on the market and were hoping to move around thirty miles away.  It was a financial decision in part, therefore, representing a saving of around £800 for two season tickets, money that could be spent in meeting higher accommodation and increased travel to work costs. 

But there were other reasons.  I just no longer enjoyed the atmosphere in the ground.  Constant moaning from the first minute, booing the team off the pitch at half and full time if things were not going well, and irrespective of their form going into that match, picking on individual players, foul language, not only in the largely moronic chanting but from respectable looking adults, accompanied, amazingly, by children, many of whom had become so indoctrinated by their parents that they saw nothing wrong in that behaviour –  all of this soiled my enjoyment of the actual game. 

Why should my wife and I pay £50 a game to put ourselves through such an unpleasant experience?  We could have a nice pub lunch somewhere instead with the money. “Ok”, people will tell me “well, that’s what it is like nowadays, it’s just something you have to put up with”.  Well I don’t.

So I plead guilty to the charge of being an over-sensitive wimp.  What I will not accept, however, is any claim, and they have been made – by people who don’t understand the nature of faith or fanaticism – that, by no longer paying my dues and attending the games, irrespective of the damage I might do by my behaviour during it, I am no longer a true fan.   

Well, if by listening to away games live on the radio or, if I’m not able to, ringing my father several times during the game to find out the latest score, is not being a true fan, then I don’t know what is.

If by following home games on live text on the BBC Football website, Sky Sports News and Twitter, and listening out for the roar of the crowd, is not being a true fan, then I don’t know what is. 

My dedication only falls short in respect of no longer handing over my money to the club, something I, and others in my family, including my father, have done in spades over the last six decades.  And, up to a point, I do feel guilty about that.  But, occasional away games aside, which my wife and I still enjoy –  now that’s what sets out the true fan – attendance at home games holds no appeal.  

The gentlemen “doth protest too much, methinks” I hear you cry.  Well, perhaps – but I alone know what place the club has still in my heart.

Which brings me back to tonight.  Rain is forecast, another demotivator.  And both Arsenal and Manchester Unites have key games that are live on TV.  Shall I stay or shall I go?

Well, it’s three hours to kick off and I am still undecided.  The rain might be the clincher, though it has not arrived yet.  I think I shall just have to let you know tomorrow whether I succumbed to the temptation or not.

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I had a Latin teacher at school called Mr Beattie, though the poor, unfortunate man was more affectionately known as “Bogroll Beattie” by the ungrateful rabble that passed for his pupils.

Now, at this point, I feel I may have to explain to my American readers why the word “bogroll” should be considered at all amusing and clever by successive classes of pre-pubescent boys.  Well, simply, “bog” is a slang term for “toilet” which, in turn, is called “washroom” in the U.S.  And “bogroll” is a roll of toilet paper.  Which, before we move on, leads me to ask why that is not, therefore, called “washroom paper”?  

Anyway, I digress.  And I’m afraid that I don’t have any juicy toilet – or washroom – based stories to recount that would justify his nickname.  We were 12 years old and it was the early sixties after all, and in that much more innocent age our scatalogical dictionary was a much slimmer volume than that available to our counterparts today. 

It is clear testament, however, to how much my brain has matured since then that my first thought when encountering, for the first time, the word “blogroll”  on this site is of that brave man who strove to inflict a language “as dead as dead can be” on me at a time when the Beatles, Eagle and Hornet magazines and Gillingham Football Club alone inhabited my cultural landscape. 

When I started this post it was not meant to be an analysis of that common language by which we are separated from our American friends, but rather about the “blogroll” which lurks down the right hand column of this site.  And all I wanted to do was to draw your attention to it, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the blogging world, and advise that you can link into a number of my favourite websites from there, for example the San Francisco Chronicle, Heavenly Ski Resort or the Kent (England) tourism site.  You can even book a highly recommended apartment in San Francisco, indeed the one my wife and I will be staying at in the Spring.

So if you are interested in any of those subjects, be aware that you can access them from this blog with just one click.  I will probably add to them over time, though I will keep them to a manageable minimum for fear of over-cluttering the screen and rendering navigation exhausting.

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