With just a couple of weeks until the opening game of the season away at Southend United, manager Justin Edinburgh has brought in plenty of new faces to bolster the squad ahead of the 2016/17 campaign and I am sure most Gillingham supporters are ecstatic for domestic football to come back.
Edinburgh released four players at the end of last season. Goalkeeper Glenn Morris, wide-man Brennan Dickenson, midfielder and captain Doug Loft, and pacey winger Jermaine McGlashan. Not one of those names deserved to be exiting Priestfield but I suppose that’s part of the beautiful game and the boss obviously wanted to put his own stamp on the team. Thankfully all four on the retained list have found new clubs, something which has pleased me, as Morris is now at Crawley Town, Dickenson and Loft have both found themselves at relegated Colchester United – whilst McGlashan has joined fellow League 1 side Southend.
With four names out, the backroom staff at Gillingham have been particularly busy this summer with a number of new signings and changes. Firstly, Steve Lovell has left the Gills, reasons unknown why, but is assistant manager at National League side Bromley now. New deals were offered to trio Aaron Morris, Josh Wright and Stuart Nelson. Aaron was the first to sign fresh terms at Priestfield, putting pen-to-paper on a two-year deal. Nelson, the longest-serving player at the club, signed a new contract as well just days later. The only concern for Gills fans was the ongoing saga surrounding fan favourite Josh Wright. The 26 year-old was interesting a number of clubs from League One and the Championship, including Walsall, however the former loanee eventually signed a deal which would keep him here until 2018.
The first of the new arrivals was midfielder Mark Byrne in mid-June from Newport County in the division below. Justin Edinburgh has always wanted the Irishman in a Gills shirt since arriving in February 2015. Just a day after and a second signing was announced, this time it was Billy Knott – who was released by Bradford City at the back-end of the 2015/16 season. On the 6th July, the first ‘double signing’ was announced as former Millwall and Ipswich Town midfielder Lee Martin signed a two-year deal and familiar face Adedeji Oshilaja rejoined for the third time on a season-long loan from Cardiff City. The squad was beginning to take shape but signings were still needed. Perhaps our most-proven arrival was attacking midfielder Scott Wagstaff the day after the ‘double signing’. Having proved himself at Championship level and was key in Bristol City’s promotion to the second-tier in 2015. Later that evening, and a much-needed striker signed on-loan in the name of Joe Quigley from Premier League side AFC Bournemouth. The 19 year-old spent last season with loan spells at Wrexham and Woking. As of writing this, midfielder Bradley Dack is still a Gillingham player having been our star performer in the last campaign but some supporters seem to think he’ll stay after an indifferent period of form after his hamstring recovery.
Professional deals were offered to several youth players at the club. Attacking midfielder Darren Oldaker, 17, featured numerous times on the bench last year and looks like he’ll be part of the first-team plans. Defender Mitch Dickenson looks to be another one in and around the squad this year. With Glenn Morris departing, Tom Hadler has signed a deal to be involved amongst the first-team along with Elliot List who is no stranger of course – featuring a couple of times as a substitute in the 2015/16 campaign.
Gillingham returned to training in early July, before going on a week-long camp in Le Touquet (France) in mid-July, with the whole squad making the trip across the Channel. The week ended with a behind closed doors friendly against AS Etaples, ending 2-0 to the Gills with both goals coming from new signings Mark Byrne and Lee Martin. The pre-season schedule includes games against Concord Rangers, Billericay Town, Barnet, Dartford and Leyton Orient.
We kick-off our campaign with an away tie at Southend United, the previous meeting ending a 1-1 draw at Roots Hall back in March. Just days later we return for the EFL Cup, previously named the Capital One Cup. Most Gills supporters will be hoping to start the new season with a bang after a disappointing end to last season, and if we are going by performances from last year then August looks a not too stressful month – the other games coming up against Bury, Swindon Town, Scunthorpe United and Shrewsbury Town. But you never know what to expect from Gillingham.
September starts off quite nicely as on Sunday 4th the Gills will be live on Sky Sports against Sheffield United at Priestfield. A home tie the following weekend against Bradford City is followed by a journey to Port Vale in Staffordshire. The Gills play Coventry City after that before we finish the month at Chesterfield.
October is a fairly busy period for Gillingham, we kick it off with an away game against recently-promoted AFC Wimbledon. A return to Priestfield the following week to welcome Oldham Athletic and then a trip to the West Country to play Bristol Rovers, another team who gained promotion to this division. Just three days later on the 18th we play last season’s promotion-rivals Walsall at home, before welcoming Charlton Athletic to Medway days later. The Gills end October with a dreaded journey to Fleetwood Town, with last season’s tie ending 2-1 to the home side on a cold, unwanted Tuesday night.
The following month, November, is a little less chaotic with five fixtures including the yet-to-be-drawn FA Cup First Round. Somewhat of a local 30 days as we firstly play host to League Two Champions Northampton Town, under the new guidance of former Port Vale boss Rob Page after Chris Wilder went to Sheffield United. That game is played before two away ties against Walsall and Oxford United before finishing November at Priestfield against Rochdale.
December begins with the second round of the FA Cup, and after that we play Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium. Gillingham have just the one home league game with as we welcome MK Dons to Kent. Boxing Day is known for having a relatively local game, but Gills fans will be forced to travel north to Peterborough United. The one meeting I am very much looking forward to is the away trip to Millwall just up the road. I visited The Den for the first time last season when we beat The Lions three goals to nil on their home turf and probably my favourite away day supporting Gillingham.
The day after New Years’ Day in January and we host Oxford United at Priestfield. Assuming we won’t make the FA Cup Third Round the Gills have another home tie, against AFC Wimbledon. Those two matches are followed by consecutive long journeys to ‘the north’ as firstly we travel to Greater Manchester to play Oldham Athletic on the 14th and the week later going up to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United, who once again will be favourites to go up despite disappointing every year. A game in front of the home crowd ends January as Gillingham welcome Shrewsbury Town.
February, just like October, includes six games in all. Firstly, the Gills go back to Yorkshire to play Bradford City at Valley Parade (or the Coral Windows Stadium). On the 11th we welcome Port Vale and three days later do to Chesterfield. That is followed by Coventry City, and thankfully I didn’t visit the fixture last season but I do feel for all those who did as we got thrashed 4-1. Seven days later on the 24th February and Southend United are the visitors to Gillingham, under the guidance of Phil Brown. There is not a much better way to end the month than a Tuesday night away day at Swindon Town.
Justin Edinburgh and his side have just two away games in March, starting with a trip to Bury in Manchester. The following Saturday on the 11th and we play Scunthorpe United, who were linked with Josh Wright in the summer, at home. In my seven years of supporting the boys in blue, we have never played Bolton Wanderers and they are the next visitors at Priestfield as the former Premier League side attempt to rebuild their club. That is before we travel to Manchester again to play Rochdale at Spotland. Gillingham end their March with a home game against Peterborough United.
Into the final month of the year and I cross my fingers again that we will be at the right end of the table, still battling for something. On the 1st April we travel to the soulless Stadium:MK before hosting Millwall the week later. The following weekend is Easter, and our match against Bristol Rovers has been brought forward 24 hours and is being played on Good Friday. On Easter Monday and we are visitors to The Valley, something I am looking forward to. Saturday 22nd is a very lacklustre game when fans look on the fixtures list as Fleetwood Town are the last team Gillingham will host at Priestfield in the 2016/17 season. The Gills end what will hopefully be an exciting campaign with a journey to Northampton Town, being backed by a strong number of supporters and something still to play for.
Of course there is the EFL Trophy, formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, and the Gills will be taking part in that but with the new set-up and myself not supporting the competition I thought it wasn’t really worth a mention.
To my knowledge Justin Edinburgh will have just three players out-of-contract, with striker Rory Donnelly, midfielder Emmanuel Osadebe and full-back Ryan Jackson running on the last year of their deals at Priestfield.
A huge thank you to anyone who made it this far. It would be nice to hear your thoughts and opinions ahead of the new season!