Adam Bird

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Tuesday, 7 August 2007

And Now Your Gonna Believe Us!

They say a week is a long time in football, but 94 days (at time of writing) since Gillinghams last league game has felt like an eternity.

Every other year we have England's hype and failure to tide us over, but this year has been dull, absolutely nothing to keep us football fans remotely occupied. OK there was the Copa America, but the competition is so badly organised and matches repeated it hardly becomes watchable.

In those 94 days we have seen some wholesale changes at the Gills, with Danny Spiller, Matty Jarvis, Michael Flynn, Frannie Collin, Brent Sancho, Danny Jackman, Leon Johnson, Luke Howell, Clint Easton and Ben Chorley all leaving the club.

With so many player departures, including arguably our two best players (Jarvis and Flynn), I was slightly concerned that we would be struggling to field a starting XI this season, let alone a competitive one!

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally came out and said that failure this season would not be an option and that the club would be signing 15 new players, each game next season will be treated like a cup final!

So far, Mr Scally has been true to his word with the club signing 9 new players, with hints, rumours and speculation that a few more are still to join. Starting at the back, which was clear to everyone last season that major surgery was needed saw Simon Royce and Derek Stillie both join the club,. Stillie being remembered as the opposition goal keeper on the day Gillingham beat Wigan at Wembley to reach the Championship for the very first time.

In defence, Craig Armstrong rejoins the club from Cheltenham after his successful loan spell earlier on in his career, along with Simon King from Barnet, who Gillingham actually paid a fee for - the first time I can remember a fee being paid for a transfer for some time! Finally, Efe Sodje, the flamboyant, bandanna wearing centre-half joined us on a free transfer from Southend United.

In midfield, we are joined by Barry Cogan, who came on as a substitute for Milwall against Manchester United in the FA Cup final a couple of years ago and Aaron Brown, whom I am glad to say doesn't look anything like Steph's sister's former boyfriend who goes by the same name! However, the real star signing of the pre-season so far is that of Northern Ireland international Steve Lomas, whom has played Premiership football for Manchester City and West Ham, and in the Championship for QPR last year. He is a real solid professional, whom looked the part last week in a friendly match against Colchester United. I have real hopes for him next season, and I think he is the player we have been looking for in terms of bridging the gap in between midfield and defence, which was so clearly missing last season.

Last but not least, a new striker making up the magic nine, with Delroy Facey signing on the dotted line, a player it seems who can score goals at this level, indeed scored 12 goals last season in a relegated side (Rotherham United), and counts Bolton Wanderers as one of his former clubs.

With such upheaval on the pitch, changes have also been made to the coaching team, with all time legend and Mark and Nicola's best friend Iffy Onuora becoming 1st team coach teaming up with Ronnie Jepson, to make up which is arguably Gillingham's most qualified management team, with both men having the highest Uefa qualification at their disposal. Also joining the back room team is Scott Fitzgerald who joins as Youth Team boss, and Jim Stannard, another Gills legend becoming part time goalkeeper coach.

The clean sweep approach has been needed for some time and so far I am very happy with how it has come about and the players Ronnie has signed. A few more players will be the cherry on top, particularly cover in midfield and upfront and my optimism level will shoot off the radar! David Graham is rumoured to be signing (ed: 08/08/07 has now signed!), and if we can rehabilitate Adebayo Akinfenwa and get him to repay the favour by signing a contract we will have two great acquisitions to the forward line, on par with any in our league.

All football fans are gripped with pre-season optimism and I am no different. I am keeping those thoughts to myself for now, and am trying to put my best pundit hat on here, hence my following prediction.

With the signings that we have made we should be a lot better equipped this time around for a sustained challenge, but I can see us missing out - just, but having a lot better (and successful) go next year.

Patience throughout August and early September is crucial, as the team is brand new, and needs to time to gel. Having said that, back in 1995 when Paul Scally appeared seemingly from a puff of smoke, appointed Tony Pulis who signed a whole new team, only weeks before the season started won each of the first four games, and only the fifth was a lucky 1-0 defeat to Colchester United on our patch (Which I blame my mum for because inexplicably she came to the game and we lost... so rule #1, never take your Gills hating mother to football).

Whatever happens, thousands of people will end up delirious come May, and thousands will end up in tears, but most will just be thinking if only.... but will the Gills be singing? Here's hoping!

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