Gillingham 1 Yeovil Town 1 (Yeovil Town win 5 - 4 on penalties)
Johnstone's Paint Trophy
This was ground number 86 of 92 for me and it was one of the longest trips I have faced with a round trip of 392 miles. I set off in good time at 12:45pm but I still only arrived outside the Priestfield Stadium at 5:30pm looking for somewhere to park. That was no easy task. Priestfield Stadium is set in amongst rows and rows of houses and there were cars parked nose to tail everywhere I looked. Eventually I found a space that was about an inch longer than the car at the junction of Chicago Avenue and Woodlands Road - that note in case I ever have to travel back here with Leeds!
The stadium itself is unremarkable from the outside; particularly from the Rainham End where I approached it. It is basically just a high wall with the turnstile entrances and a decent sized club shop incorporating a surprisingly large ticket office area. They advertise themselves as "Gillingham Football Club: The home of football in Kent". I haven't been to Ashford Town so don't know what they think of that.
Inside, the concourse of the Rainham End Stand is impressive. A whole row of food and drink outlets where you can get everything you could possibly want for pre-match refreshments. I limited my intake to a pint of Fosters for £3.50 and a Snickers bar at £1. Whilst supping my pint, I had folk Tweeting me asking if the away end was still the rickety uncovered seating that used to be there. I peered through the gloom from my spot in the concourse and I could see that the far end was indeed just open seating and with the rain pouring down I was glad I'd chosen the home end tonight! That far end is actually only temporary seating that has been built over an existing terrace and it has been temporary" since 2003. It's named the Brian Moore Stand after the legendary TV Sports commentator who was a lifelong Gillingham fan.
Despite the weather, some hardy cheerleaders went through their dance routine on the pitch and then they lined up in the far right hand corner from where the players arrived on the pitch. I was sat in my "usual" spot, with the back of the nearest goal to my left and about 5 rows back from the front. It is pretty much where I sit at Elland Road in the Kop.
Yeovil's fans seemed to have been spared the open end and most of them were housed in the Gordon Road Stand to my left. The whole stadium has been completely redeveloped over the last 20 years or so.
The Rainham End, where I sat, was pretty well filled with the home fans and there were a good number in the huge Medway Stand to my right; the other two stands were almost empty though and the attendance would later be given as just 1,832 - well short of its capacity of 11,582.
Gillingham rode their luck in the early stages as Yeovil put them to the sword and the Somerset outfit could easily have been 3 goals up in the first ten minutes. As it was, a fine right foot shot from the inside left channel that sneaked in under the bar was all that separated the sides as half time approached.. Then, with a minute or so to go, Gillingham came to life and a quick break down the left was finished by a fine shot into the far corner to make it 1 - 1 at half time.
Neither side seemed too interested in the second half and both looked happy to let the game go to penalties - there is no extra time in the JPT in these early stages. It was a sign of how ridiculous the modern game has got that the penalty shoot out was played out in front of the empty Brian Moore Stand rather than in front of the majority of the fans who were with me in the Rainham End Stand. I guessed that Yeovil won the toss and wanted to avoid the heckling from the home fans, but is this a spectator sport or what? Ridiculous. I can't fault the Yeovil penalty taking though; 5 out of 5 they got while the Gills missed just one to go out of the competition.
I made my way back home ensuring I arrived at the Dartford Crossing just after 10pm to avoid the toll charge! On the way down I had my coins ready, only to find that it is now an online system that requires you to pay your £2.50 within 24 hours of your crossing. Last time I went this way they still had a basket to throw money in!
Despite the long journey I enjoyed my trip and I will be back down this way before the end of the month as I do ground number 87, Colchester United. For that one I am hitching a ride on the Crewe Alex supporters coach!