GillsConnect News Desk

Dateline: THURSDAY 18 MAY 2017


Television coverage was almost non-existent, apart from the odd local news clip tucked away in the sports bulletin. The written press paid scant attention to the arrival of this new-fangled competition, with newspapers reports perfunctory at best.

When the two-legged Finals kicked off at the end of May there was a marginal increase in media interest, but this only stretched to a few paragraphs in the national press rather than a few sentences. There were no live broadcasts in those days and it was expected that the F.L. Play-offs would only last for a few years. They were introduced purely as a mechanism to phase in the reduction of the old First Division from 22 clubs down to 20.

Now Sky Sports show all 15 Play-off games live and there will be well in excess of 52 hours of airtime dedicated to a competition. By the time the Championship Play-offs Final has been decided on 29 May, there will have been a total of 477 Play-off matches since that tentative start in 1987.

Gills have been successful in Play-off matches:  Division Two Play-off winners in 1999/2000 and League Two Play-off winners in 2008/09 but for the more sensitive of Gills fans, look away now!

The inaugural Second Division Play-off Final went to a replay after Swindon Town drew 2-2 with Gills on aggregate. Swindon then went on to win the replay 2-0 at Selhurst Park but Lou Macari, their victorious manager, was not getting carried away on a wave of euphoria. “I never want to go through a night like that again. The Play-offs are unjust and should be scrapped.” Fortunately, for the majority who relish these end-of-season matches, Macari’s damning words fell on deaf ears.

May 1999 Manchester City met Gills at Wembley and the Second Division Play-off Final had nearly 77,000 people watching agog as the match was won by two late goals with the added spice of some friendly rivalry. When Gills goalkeeper Vince Bartram agreed to be Manchester City’s Paul Dickov’s best man he probably did not envisage what the groom would do to him a few months later.

After scoring two late goals – in the 81st and 86th minutes – to take a seemingly unassailable 2-0 lead through Carl Asaba (left top) and Super Bob Taylor, manager Tony Pulis Gills team could almost see second-tier football for the first time in their history. Kevin Horlock’s 89th-minute goal had the whiff of consolation and did not stem the flow of City fans leaving Wembley for a disconsolate trek back North.

However nobody, including his close friend Bartram, had factored in Dickov’s capacity to engineer a miraculous rescue with his 96th minute equaliser and City went on to win the match on penalties, with Gills managing only scoring one of their four spot kicks.

Richard Foster’s superb updated book on the Play-offs, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ is now in all good bookshops.

Gills boss Keith Peacock managed the first relegation/promotion Play-offs that saw Sunderland relegated for the first time in their history after losing to Gills 5-4 in the promotion-relegation Play-offs. Gills were then subsequently defeated 2-0 in a Play-off Final replay against Swindon Town