Headley: The Priestfield Clique - and why it should go

Last updated : 09 August 2005 By Simon Head

As most Gillingham supporters are aware, there is a Masonic lodge situated not 100 yards from Gillingham Football Club. However, it seems there may be another secret society operating from within the walls of Priestfield Stadium itself. ‘The Clique’ seems to be a very real entity – and it is threatening the very future of Gillingham Football Club.

In the Clique, ability (or lack of it) is no barrier to entry. Age, however, is. You have to be at least 30 years of age to qualify for entry – if you are below the age of 25, you will stand a very good chance of being excluded completely. The Clique’s motto appears to be, ‘Our ball, our rules.’ They seemingly occupy every position of power within the football club, with the senior players, the captain, the manager and, at times, even the chairman all seemingly singing from the same hymn sheet.

So, what benefits are provided for members of the Clique? Firstly, they appear to be guaranteed consistent first-team selection, regardless of form or ability to do the job. It doesn’t even matter if someone else better is available, they’ll just be left out, or moved to another position to accommodate Clique members.

Members of the Clique are considered above any serious criticism – and their position in the team is unquestioned. Any outside criticism of the Clique is simply ignored.

Despite overwhelming evidence showing that the Clique are failing to produce the required results, the chairman has loyally backed the manager. Rather than sacking his beleaguered manager, he has chosen instead to praise him to the heavens for his commitment to the cause, whatever the results of his management.

All the while, Clique members are left out of the side only through injury – and sometimes even that hasn’t stopped them from being selected ahead of more able and more ably-bodied players in the past. Last season, there were numerous examples of Clique members being played whilst injured, despite the availability of younger, fit players.

The aim seems to be to maintain the playing careers of all Clique members, regardless of the results of their performances. In doing so, other, younger, fitter, better players are seemingly deliberately denied their chance of progression, perhaps through fear that a meritocracy may find the Clique on the sidelines.

At time of writing, the true position of the chairman is yet to be discovered. A clearly ambitious man - and one with a clear passion for the club, one would expect that club success would be the biggest benefit for the chairman. But up until recently, it seemed the chairman was happy with the direction the Clique have been taking the club, based on the lack of suitable action to change the situation the club found itself in.

Certainly, the fans' patience has been tested to new limits, with season ticket prices way in excess of the product being delivered on the pitch by the club. An ever-growing number of fans are now hoping that the day may soon arrive when a new manager takes charge at Priestfield Stadium and leads the team forward as a united force, rather than being led by a Clique who are desperately hanging onto the straggly coat-tails of their careers.

Whether the chairman has the intestinal fortitude to break up the Clique is perhaps the biggest question involving the football club at the moment. With the Clique taking such a prominent part in team affairs, relegation looks more a certainty than a probability. There are rumblings that the chairman may consider disbanding the Clique, but it is likely to come at a hefty cost. He has appointed a new man, who will work with the players – and may well act as the chairman’s eyes and ears within the squad. In months to come, the role of the new man may develop into a true successor to the current manager.

The Clique’s aims certainly seem to have a detrimental effect on the football club – and the results bear this out. Gillingham FC are now in their worst run of results in seven years and the results of the last 12 months make extremely depressing reading. This is not an overnight problem – it’s been happening for well over a season now. How long it takes the chairman to recognise this may determine the club’s fate. In short, the Clique must be removed from the club, or the Gillingham FC could find itself dropping through the divisions like a stone.

This writer sincerely hopes that moves are already afoot to prevent such a situation arising.