Adam Bird

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Monday, 26 March 2007

Wembley

Just under 7 years since Dietmar Hamman buried the last goal at the old Wembley Stadium past an equally creaking David Seaman the new Wembley re-opened it's doors for the first time on Saturday as it hosted an England under 21 match against Italy.

The redevelopment programme had been beset with problems, delays and increasing cost's. In all honesty I had not been too bothered by all the stories, as ultimately once the stadium was finally built I knew we would have a stadium to be proud of. On Saturday afternoon that fact was confirmed to me.

Getting tickets for the first game was a challenge in itself with the website crashing almost immediately the tickets went on sale! Determined not to be beaten I spent a good half hour hitting F5, (the refresh key) and opening multiple windows of the same page.

Lo and behold I had beaten the cyber goalie and had secured the prize of four tickets to the game!

Once the tickets had arrived a good week before the game itself, I tried to work out roughly were we would be sitting. Judging by the diagram on the back which gave us a clue from the entry number I presumed we were sitting behind the goal, just shy of the big TV screens which sit behind both goals.

Getting Gareth, Stuart and Will to come along was easy as pie, and I could have quite easily got rid of another four or five, but the FA only let you get four tickets with each England Fan Number so we had to make do.

Despite the early start on Saturday morning everyone seemed to be in good spirits, even if it was light hearted banter, mostly at my expense! Will initiating a game of follow my leader from Waterloo Station down the escalator into Southwark tube station and continue to grate me all the way to Green Park.

Gareth then copped his first regulatory sulk on as a group of “muppet” teenagers, being teenagers and wearing man bags seemed to vex him, much to our amusement.

Even Gareth couldn’t keep sulking once we arrived at Wembley Park station, which has also had a facelift since I last went, with the ticketing hall and steps leading down to Olympic way all being remodelled.

As I walked out of Wembley Park station and saw the new stadium in front of me my first thoughts were “Wow!” I, along with most others got the camera out straight away and started snapping manically, all the while being moved onwards by the Police!

It is very deceptive, the walk up Wembley Way, especially now as the stadium footprint is slightly closer than the previous one, but with the shear size of it you definitely get the sense of walking and walking but seemingly not getting any closer!

We entered as directed into block K, and all appeared to be quite nice and shiny and new, but just as we entered the turnstiles chaos reigned. I appeared that a line of stewards had been instructed to search everyone as they walked in, but there did not appear to be any order, people were standing around thinking what next!

We were not instructed, but presumed that as this was where everyone was going that we needed to get on an escalator up to the next level. Just as we were about to get on the escalator stopped! In all fairness the steward in charge here dealt with the situation impeccably and directed those waiting up the corridor to the stairwell further along, whilst those on the escalator were told to carry on upwards.

Gareth then got his second mini-strop of the day as he moaned about the amount of stairs we had to walk up in order to get to our designated seats. He had a point, there were a few of them, and they went around in a spiral, so not only did your legs ache, you felt dizzy too!

One final thing before we got to our seats, a small matter of obtaining a programme and prep-match refreshments. Despite being sent in the wrong direction by a steward when enquiring as to the whereabouts of a programme seller the queue was not overly long and seemed to go down fairly quickly. I cannot really comment on the food queue as that’s where Will and Gareth were, but knowing that the prices were expensive I was still surprised when they said each burger was £5 each! Incidentally it was a really tasty burger, but for £5 you would think so too!!

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the best part about any visit to a new stadium is the walk from the concourse, out into the arena and seeing it for the first time. Especially the new Wembley, which was simply amazing!

Our seats, being slightly misled by the diagram on the ticket were actually very well placed. Above the royal box, on the top tier, situated half way between the half way line and the 18 yard box.

I have argued that sitting higher up is better than sitting close to the pitch at football, and I think after Saturday, I have three more people in agreement with me. Simply put; the seats we had, the view we had were first class.

The best way for me to explain the stadium is to show the photos. That way you will be able to see how impressive the stadium really is, which in time is going to go down as the greatest stadium in the world.

There were only 55,000 fans in the stadium on Saturday, so gave the impression of being fairly empty, so the atmosphere was rather non existent. I think a lot of saddo’s like me went to see the stadium as opposed to the football, which was a great game! 3-3 it finished, with the Italian striker not only getting a hatrick but scoring his first after 28 seconds!

The England team played well, and it was an open game by two teams who will be playing against each other during this summer’s under 21 European championships.

As the stadium has so many spare seats available we decided to change places at half time, and so we went and sat at the back row, the highest seats in the stadium. The view from here was simply spectacular, with a near birds eye view of the proceedings it did give a slightly detached feel to the game but as you will see from the photos we could see everything.

The old Wembley stadium was infamous for poor views, poor legroom, dated facilities, poor access and a list of other grievances against its name. However the new stadium addresses each and everyone of those and does it impressively. Each one of the 90,00 seats is covered, with a perfect view and with generous legroom. Even Stuart who is 8ft something had plenty of room to stretch his legs without worrying about kneeing the person in front.

Although the surrounding areas of Wembley are still unpleasing to the eye the regeneration of the outlying areas is only starting to take place. We will see hopefully from the FA Cup final in May a stadium that generates an amazing atmosphere with people who are enjoying the experience at the same time.

With Arsenal earlier on in the season I was worried that the future was not quite as good as the past with the Emirates stadium having no soul. Wembley to me is different, the soul is in the people who go there, the dreams that are made and broken as supporters watch their team through success and failure, the national team having a home that they can be proud of, even if their current footballing ability is under scrutiny.

As we filed out at the final whistle and made our staggered processing back down Wembley way I couldn’t help look back and hope that next time I came back it would be with the Gills again. They took over 100 years to make it to the last one, then went twice in two years. I will be long gone if they do wait that long, but the new stadium will still be standing and goodness knows what history will have been written. One thing that I can say is that I was part of the history. I was there at the beginning and nobody can take that from. me.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Gills on You Tube

You Tube as everyone knows has some great, and some not so great videos, but trawling around for some Gills related videos uncovered some great finds.


Unfortunately some of the better ones have since been removed for copyright purposes, but these appear to still be working.


Bob Taylor's salmonesque last minute winner against Fulham


This match would eventually be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but for last minute goals against your at the time biggest rivals, you can't get any better than this!



Carl Asaba against Colchester


A new one for me, as I had never seen this one before. Another player, whom never quite hit the highs elsewhere as he did with us. Will be remembered quite possibly for his manner of departure as opposed to goals like this one.



Dean Macdonald


He may only be slightly taller than Oliver, but he has scored some great goals for the Gills this season! This video shows four of them, including the amazing last minute goal against Chesterfield (you had to be there!)



I am not a fan of the You Tube curent search system, I think it needs a lot or refining, but if I find anymore worthwhile clips I will post them as a part two!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Making History

On March 24th, after seemingly a million years in the making, Wembley National Stadium will host it's first game after being completely rebuilt.

The England under 21 team, being managed on the day by Nigel Pearson will take on Italy under 21's in front of a crowd of 60,000.

This match has been organised as a ramp up event in order for the FA to test the stadium before it gets its final safety certificate to host the FA Cup Final on May 19th.

What makes this match even extra special is that I am going!

I joined up yesterday in a virtual queue amongst the many others who tirelessly hit F5 in the hope that the refreshed page would bring entry into the FA's ticketing website instead of one of the three error pages that I seemed to get for near on an hour.

Whether or not the match will remain historically as the "first game", or will be overshadowed by the FA Cup final remains to be seen. But in my eyes I will be one of the first people at the new stadium and something to tell Oliver when he is growing up!

Image: Where we will be sitting at Wembley

There wasn't many seats left by the time I got my tickets, and was given the choice of level one or level five. Having been sat at the front at Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium this season I wanted to sit a little higher up, and judging by the picture above, which shows roughly were we will be, I am going to be sitting higher up alright!

I have great memories of the old stadium, the two best games I have ever seen were at Wembley - the two playoff finals with Gillingham. I also saw Michael Owen make his England debut against Chile and saw Oasis in concert, but to see the first game at the new stadium will be something to remember!

From the pictures I have seen the new stadium looks amazing and I am looking forward to the trip next week. I will of course be taking my camera and adding plenty of photos to the website!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Feeling Blue

I tend not to write too much about life as a Gills supporter, purely because I find other people manage to sum things up a lot better than I can.

In particular the boys at Brian Moores Head whom have made the transition to traditional fanzine production to online "blogging" with relative ease. The match reports and "headitorials" more often than not capture the mood of the moment and pretty much sum up the events of a particular game or event in a nutshell.

With the current mood amongst the supporters being of doom and gloom the following articles (here and here) were posted recently and cover a lot of what I have been witnessing at Priestfield over the past season or two. They also prompted a lot of my own thoughts on current life as a Gills supporter.

I sent those two articles to my mate Reaso, who is forever a Gills optimist and he wrote back" don't worry, we will be fine, I can feel it". But I couldn't quite find his level.

I am actually deeply worried about the future, even as far as wondering whether I will ever get the chance to take Oliver to see the Gills! Pessimistic I know, but there is so much negativity around at the moment, and so little official information coming out of the club.

Mr Scally is holding a fans forum, offering supporters to put questions to him about issues that many supporters have been feeling, most of which are detailed in the articles above. I hope to read of a good response from the people who go, but again, I am not holding my breath on anything.

The issue of a new stadium is a long and complicated one. But it does appear that it is the final roll of the dice as far as saving a long term future for the club. Priestfield now is an amazing stadium in comparisons to the Priestfield stadium of ten years ago, and if the money situation was not quite so precarious, all would be needed is a new Brian Moores Stand and the transformation would be complete. We are not a well supported club, which again has contributing factors, but the fact remains that Priestfield, fully developed and the club on a safe financial footing would have quite easily catered for our needs for the not to distant future.

The ultimate aim is Premier League football, at least this is the dream set out by Mr Scally, first when he took over and again more recently in the press in relation to the new stadium. But in all reality is this dream ever going to be fulfilled? I can put my hand on my heart and say that I will never expect to see Gillingham play in the Premier League, not in my lifetime. Even when we were in the championship never did I see Gillingham taking a one step further.

I mention being a pessimist, but is this an ultra pessimistic view? Right now, the club is further away from the Premier League than it has ever been, with the debts and current playing squad in need of major surgery.

Teams like Watford, Ipswich Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers are championship clubs who flirt with the Premier League and yo yo between the two leagues. As a football club comparison Gillingham are nowhere near them, and yet a small section of Gills supporters seem to think that because we played five seasons in the Championship we should be comparable with teams like those!

The club needs to reunite the club with its supporters, which for some people is going to be a near impossible task, but once that relationship has been founded it needs to time to grow and a new trust to be built.

The club needs to be given time to make amends for it's mistakes, I say the club, and not Mr Scally, because I am not a believer in one man being the sole responsibility for a businesses actions. If Virgin overcharged me on my credit card bill do I blame Richard Branson?

Some of the supporters need to have a reality check, and realise that we are not a Watford, not an Ipswich and simply don't have the support, the stadium or the money to be able to be in a certain league by default.

It's going to be a struggle to the end of the current season, and we will be having a few more seasons like this one coming up. But the best thing about being a Gillingham fan is this; the same supporters who watched that Halifax game are the same ones who thought the Gills would never play again after Torquay away in 1995. They are the only things that remain the same from the Pulis promotion team, the two trips to Wembley and our seasons in the championship.

Life as a football supporter is never dull, or at least not for a Gills fan!
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