Gillingham’s rock bottom is nowhere near under Paul Scally

Nathan Spafford

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally appears to care little about the club these days. Could they be another Bury?


If it’s true that you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain, Gillingham chairman Paul Scally is living that narrative to a tee. His tenure has now become so poisonous that a happy ending is looking increasingly unlikely in this corner of Kent.

Gillingham’s weekend 7-2 defeat at home to Oxford United was both sublime and ridiculous to the point of near farce. That sums up the last few years under Scally’s tenure quite accurately too. Now on a near-club record 14 games without a win, a season in League Two is looking increasingly likely for the managerless Gills.

But relegation to the fourth tier is the least of all worries for a fanbase who are anxious about the direction their club is taking under Scally who, hard as it is to believe now, was once a revered figure in these parts.

In 1995, Scally bought the club for £1. He took the Gills out of administration and rescued them before they were due to go into liquidation. If that wasn’t enough, the next decade would see Gillingham embark on the greatest seasons and moments in their history, earning two promotions, two play-off finals and plenty of cup scalps along the way. A highest ever league finish of 11th in the second tier came in 2002/03 and this seemed like a club on the up.

Those good times firmly belong in the past now though. Oxford United’s record-breaking penalty performance – Cameron Brannigan scored four spot-kicks for the U’s on Saturday – means Gillingham fans are paying the penalty for their chairman’s lack of interest in the club’s current state.

A controversial figure for some time now, Scally has never been shy in saying what he thinks and what he thinks has not always sat well with the fanbase of the club he runs. There has been talk of moving the club away from the town of Gillingham, while there have been arguments aplenty with key figures and fans of the club as the club declined on the pitch following the collapse of TV Digital in 2004.

This season is seeing some of the darkest days yet, and while Scally is not making headlines like he used to, it is that silence and absence which is most worrying. Multiple managers have reportedly turned down the manager’s job since Steve Evans departed in early January with no tangible improvement to the club’s playing fortunes. That Andy Woodman has declined to swap the National League for League One speaks volumes as to the direction Gillingham are headed – and everyone paying even the slightest bit of attention can now see it.

Steve Evans before getting the Gillingham sack

Too many clubs at this level have been treated with contempt by those in charge of running them and who should have their best interests at heart, and we have seen far too often how these stories can end up; see Bury and Macclesfield.

None of the current squad are currently contracted to next season. While that could prove to be a blessing, it doesn’t scream as the actions of a club with a clear plan and identity. In fact, the only trait of this current squad has been their status as perennial losers; they are separated from bottom place on goal difference alone and are 10 points off safety having played a game more than AFC Wimbledon on the other side of that dreaded dotted line.

League Two is a near-certainty, but with Scally now much more invested in concerns away from the football club and showing less and less attention to the playing side of things in Kent, the fourth tier of English football is far from Gillingham’s basement. Rock bottom could be a while off yet.

If the advice in tough times is to look for silver linings in the sky, dark clouds are gathering at a frightening pace over Priestfield. Gillingham fans are almost completely united in their worry over how the club is being run and will continue to be. There is no suggestion from Scally that he will hand over the reins, and equally little indication that he will right the wrongs that have led Gillingham to be so uncompetitive in League One this season.

There is talk of many regular season ticket holders making this their last season, and the situation reeks of what happened to near-neighbours Southend United, now struggling in the National League having been a Championship club a decade and a half ago. Sound familiar? It is anything but sweet music to the ears of everyone connected to and who wants the best for Gillingham. That should be everyone of a football persuasion.