23 July ~ Which is the last club you would want to see your star player transferred to? In the case of Dover Athletic fans, “anyone but Gillingham” covers all bases. So when Whites favourite Adam Birchall made that move last week for a “significant undisclosed fee”, the racket usually generated by the world’s busiest shipping lane was briefly drowned out by collective tutting. It’s easy to see why Birchall might see the move as ideal, as he lives just down the road in Maidstone and is due to become a father for the first time later this year.

It was, of course, Gills boss Andy Hessenthaler who resurrected Birchall’s career in the semi-pro game at Dover after it had run out of steam at both Mansfield and Barnet. The player has also joined old Dover team-mates Matt Fish and Ross Flitney at Priestfield, a ground at which all three excelled in a 2-0 FA Cup win last October which many in our little corner of the country suggest was ordained by a higher power. 

Of course, Dover fans – or fans of any other Kent club for that matter – do not kid themselves that their team enjoys a serious rivalry with the Gills. Only once, briefly, did we even come close to competing in the same division. Gillingham have always been by far the biggest and best supported club in the county. However, in Kent this is akin to calling yourself the best dressed man at an Iron Maiden concert, a fact that has given the boys from the Medway a somewhat delusional view of their own adequacy. Further, under Dubai-based chairman Paul Scally they seem to have written a code of conduct that is all their own.

Until recently, our problem hadn’t so much been with Gillingham as a local media that rams them down our throat at every given opportunity. However, when Hessenthaler left Dover to return to his old job, perspectives changed radically. In fairness, Hess always told us he’d love to manage in the full-time game again and we all knew he’d return to his spiritual home one day. Had he done so without treating us all as idiots, nobody would have minded a jot. Evidently, Hessenthaler and Scally hadn’t even spoken 12 hours prior to his appointment.

What happened was that Hess, with seemingly no indication that his application would be successful, chucked in his job at Dover and threw in his hat with 40 other “top quality applicants” at Priestfield. Well I believed him, but I also once went off on an errand to collect a tin of tartan paint. Hessenthaler left us saying he would do everything in his power to help the Dover in future. So when his first act as Gills boss was to appoint Ian Hendon as his assistant – a couple of weeks after Hendon agreed to become Dover’s new manager – we wondered if his help might reasonably be something we could do without in future.

After a quiet summer, the offers came thick and fast for Birchall who scored 46 league and cup goals in 2010-11. Although Newport County was first out of the blocks with an offer that nobody seemed to take too seriously, Birchall put in a transfer request almost immediately. As expected, Gills soon expressed an interest and came up with a bid that fell a little way short of derisory. Indeed, Dover chairman Jim Parmenter claimed that the proposed transfer fee would “barely have covered the cost of a cab fare to go to Gillingham and talk about it”.

Luckily, both Swindon and AFC Wimbledon were looking to sign a player rather than simply sod about and made realistic offers, meaning that Gills would need to be serious if Parmenter were to tear up a contract, signed in the winter with this eventuality in mind, which still had two years to run.

When, a couple of days later, Birchall moved to Gillingham many of us said things we probably didn’t mean about a smashing lad who has simply accepted a good offer to return to the full-time game. But can we wish Birchall the best and Gills the worst simultaneously? It seems too much to hope for that he’ll score 40-plus in a side that gets relegated, but stranger things have happened. Mark Winter

Comments (5)
Comment by Alderman Barnes 2011-07-23 11:39:10

Well stop the presses - club gets taken advantage of by another one slightly further up the food chain.

Many Gills fans felt rather bad about the the way we plundered your management last year, and we don't all approve of Scally's way of going about things, but the Birchall deal was completely above board and Dover have long lost any sympathy from us because of their constant whining.

Gillingham could never with a straight face claim to be a big club, and the same sort of thing has happened to us many times. It's annoying when it happens, but it's a fact of football.

And we're not exactly delighted at the moment either - Birchall played all of twenty minutes for us in a friendly before tearing his cruciate.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-07-24 08:13:38

Much as I hate to side with Gillingham (any side who employs Andy Hessenthaler obviously hates football!) I seem to remember your chairman Parmenter mouthing off that he'd only consider bids from league clubs for Birchall. Why he should think a striker who was playing at Conference South level was too good to play in the Conference is beyond me, especially considering his mediocre strike rate at Barnet when he last played in League 2 (19 goals in 104 games).

Comment by A Doctor Speaks 2011-07-24 16:49:23

The opening comment from the Alderman says it all.

This is a Complete Non-story.

Comment by Mark Winter 2011-07-26 08:58:56

Before we all fall out with one another, let's examine a fact. The Gills, in terms of league football at least, have a vast catchment area all to themselves; pretty much from the Medway to all along the south coast and the Sussex borders. So why did Gills average barely 5,000 in a season in which they had a decent crack at promotion? I'll leave that with you, but I suspect it's not because everyone goes along with BBC Radio Kent's oft heard mantra that the Gills are the county's club. If it doens't concern you that most of the young kids in my area are developing a soft spot for Charlton, maybe it should?

And doesn't the fact that Swindon, AFC Wimbledon and Gills all came in for Birchall rather prove Jim Parmenter's point? I'm only sorry that Adam won't be putting his boots on for a while to illustrate it. And is a strike rate of nearly 1 in 5 really that dreadful in a terminally moderate (no offence) League 2 side?

Comment by Alderman Barnes 2011-07-26 21:12:17

Yes, let's keep it civil. It was the headline that annoyed me, that's all. And wishing relegation on us, but I'll let that pass.

To answer your question, I'd say 5,000 wasn't that bad an average, given that for a very long time it looked more like a relegation season than a promotion campaign. As well as that, tickets are expensive and awkward to get, and Scally isn't exactly innovative when it comes to pricing and initiatives to get more fans in, preferring instead to moan about Charlton running buses up to the Valley from Kent.

People have always talked about Gillingham having all of Kent as their catchment area, but I've never believed that.

For a start, it's not one of those counties with one big city and nothing much else. It's got a few biggish towns and people are more likely to go to London than to any of the others. And that's reflected in the football scene. You've always had Gillingham knocking about the lower reaches of the league, and then teams like Dover, Dartford, Tonbridge and Gravesend playing at a decent level only a couple of tiers lower. Why would people from these places go all the way to Gillingham to see football that's not vastly better?

I really can't understand your complaints about Radio Kent. Gillingham are the county's only League team and have been for a long time, so we naturally get more coverage because of that. But you can't say that the non-league clubs are hard done by - the Saturday sport show covers all the main teams very well. Kent's non-league teams get infinitely more coverage than they would do if they happened to be somewhere like Lancashire, Yorkshire or London where there really are lots of big clubs to contend with.

It's the implication of Gillingham throwing their weight around that annoyed me most. First, we haven't got any weight to throw around, and secondly, managers are always buggering off to other clubs, taking their staff with them and then signing players who they know. It's got nothing to do with bullying by a bigger club, as your article (or at least the headline) implied.

Like most Gills fans, I like to see all Kent's clubs do well, including Dover (I've been to the Crabble and cheered you on) - but I expect that probably only makes it worse.

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