Headley: Forget marketing and opinions - it's all about the team now

Last updated : 09 August 2005 By Simon Head

All's fair in love, war and football. Charlton saw the Thames Gateway - and the county of Kent - as a usable resource to promote their community scheme, which has won universal acclaim in recent years. They are simply doing what any well-run football club would do, maximising its coverage by running initiatives that provide the club with good press.

This has angered Gills chairman Paul Scally, whose main beef seems to be that they are on 'our patch'. Unfortunately, his comments will only show the club in a bad light, as most other clubs have to fight off competition from other clubs. Look at Stockport County and Oldham Athletic, as examples. They operate in a hotbed of football, with the big Manchester clubs on their doorstep.

It's difficult for these clubs to attract a decent fan base with higher-quality football available just up the road. This situation is no different for the Gills. The club's status as the only League club in Kent may be true, but the majority of football fans in Kent do not support the Gills. That is the major problem facing Scally - and the only way of improving that situation is by providing a product to rival the likes of Charlton, who are our nearest neighbours.

The major problem Gillingham has is simply one of marketability. The opportunities are huge for a football club with such a large catchment area. Gillingham FC is the only league club in Kent, yet we have seemingly struggled to take advantage of it. Charlton's initiatives are just an example of why they are successful and we are not. They are a community club, who has steadily built itself up, has a successful side on the pitch and is marketing itself effectively.

Gillingham fall into a similar category, if lower down the football pecking order, but the state of the team on the pitch is the major reason for the problems at the club at the moment. It's a lot easier to market a successful product. Sadly Gillingham, as a football club (not as a conferencing and banqueting facility), isn't a successful product any more.

It's always going to be tough trying to attract fans to watch a team that is playing poor football and losing the majority of its matches. The fan base will grow, IF the team is vastly improved. The best form of good marketing will be good results and exciting football. The team will receive good media coverage now, thanks to their new deal with the KM Group - and Gillingham FC would see more fans through the turnstiles for home games.

There's a fair argument that achieving this might be easier in League One than in the Championship, as wages and player ability are lower. However, the reality of the situation is our team with its current personnel would still struggle to achieve a top half finish in the hugely-competitive League One. Then, of course, there's the 'feel-bad factor'. Fans disappointed with the way the club was managed this season may opt not to renew their season tickets, meaning reducecd income for the club at the start of the season. Regardless of the division we're playing in next season, the team needs rebuilding - almost from scratch.

One of the major problems the club has faced in recent months is the difficulty in getting players to come to Priestfield, even on loan. It seems players would move anywhere other than come to Gillingham. The club clearly has an image problem within the game. Whether it's down to manager Andy Hessenthaler's spiky nature on the pitch, or Paul Scally himself, is unclear. However, the bad press we so often receive as a direct of Scally's ill-judged comments to the press cannot be ignored. The chairman wants what's best for the club and if he feels he, or the club, have been mistreated, then he'll say so. However, I sometimes feel the club needs to look at it's public relations as when our club is cast before a national audience, the press is more often bad than good.

I've made my views clear regarding the management of the team in recent weeks - and I've decided to try and put that to one side for now. There’s a growing opinion that the management aren’t up to the job, but right now those feelings have to be put aside. We need to back the players, because we need their performances to keep us in this division, regardless of who’s picked or what tactics we play. They were justly criticised in past weeks for a lack of passion. However, the spirit seems to be returning to the team - and the fans now have a vital role in Gillingham's season. Survival looks a very long way away at the moment, but with hard work and some good results, who knows?

We need to back the players on the pitch as much as we can. If the players show the effort and commitment we expect at Gillingham (and no, that's not what I'd call 'high expectations' - that's a minimum in my view) then the fans will recognise that and give the team the backing it needs.

It's a two-way street - and because the team has let the fans down since the start of the season, the ball is firmly in their court to start off with a bang in matches and get the crowd behind them early on. With two home games coming up, now is the perfect time to start the season again. The first game sees us take on Wolves, which will be a tough proposition, but they haven't had the best of times this season themselves, so if we can get on top of things early on, their confidence will drop and the three points will be there for the taking. However, it's going to take a monumental effort from Hessenthaler's young side (most of the older players are out injured).

Most fans would like to see youth given its chance now - and that's exactly what will happen this weekend. The likes of Danny Spiller, Andrew Crofts, Matty Jarvis and Richard Rose aren't just the future of the club any more. They're the present - and they need our backing. Let's give it to them. One thing's for sure, it would be great to hear the Priestfield crowd singing Tom Hark a few times this weekend.

Roll on Saturday...and come on you blue boys!