The classic fairy tales, the ones everyone remembers, are those with an idyllic backdrop, a heart-warming story, a villain which must be tamed and an ending which encourages pride in the authors.
The idyllic backdrop to this fairy tale, which will be told for generations to come, was Priestfield Stadium, bursting with 7,423 Gillingham fans hungry for promotion. The villain was a Torquay United team battling to avoid relegation, yet the only team to beat Gillingham away in 21 outings so far this season – the only team putting a stop to an unbeatable club record – occasionally being urged on by their 151 travelling supporters.
The heart-warming story is of a local lad, a life-long Gillingham supporter, finally realising his dream of playing for his home team; a lad, now a grown man, working hard to earn the trust and support of the audience and make them proud.
And so, on 6 April, 2013, Gillingham Football Club knew that, should they win and other results went their way, they would finally lay to rest two seasons of narrowly missing play-off places and secure automatic promotion to League One.
It was tight and nerve-wracking, but doable.
In the end, one goal was all that Gillingham could muster, before their fate was decided by other results. And that one goal, shortly after half time, had to be scored by the local lad, the life-long Gillingham supporter. Only Danny Kedwell could have scored the vital winning goal which tamed Torquay and gave his beloved Gills the vital three points.
And then came the news. As if every deity of every major religion was smiling over Priestfield that day, not only did results go Gillingham’s way, but convincingly so. To secure promotion, no more than two teams should be able to catch their points tally – with some drawing enough to hit the target but with others needing to lose.
The deities had their own plans.
Second-placed Port Vale had battered fifth-placed Burton Albion 7-1 the night before. Third-placed Northampton Town lost 1-0 to Bradford City; fourth-placed Cheltenham Town lost 2-0 to Plymouth Argyle; sixth-placed Rotherham United lost 2-1 to Morecambe; and, for good measure, seventh-placed Exeter City lost 1-0 to Dagenham and Redbridge.
That meant only one thing, and the fans knew long before the announcer came over the tannoy. The jubilation on the staff and players’ faces as they took a slow lap of honour said it all. The joy in the chants from the stands said it all. Only Port Vale could now reach Gillingham’s points total.
Gillingham were promoted from League Two, for the first time on home soil, in their centenary year, thanks to a goal from the local lad. And they loved every minute of celebration that followed…
But this fairy tale is not quite finished. The authors still have a little ink left for their quills. There are still three games left to play in League Two. 270 minutes left of fourth-tier football before they make the jump. And in those 270 minutes, our heroes could write the happily ever after and finish the season as champions.
The Gills currently have 82 points. 87 would seal the championship. That’s one win and two draws. Anything less would hinge on Port Vale’s performances. Anything more would be an added bonus.
The championship can only fall to Gillingham or Port Vale. And this fairy tale seems destined to see its heroes crowned champions on home soil on 20 April, with one game to spare.
Make sure you have your seats ready. And a box of tissues. Because it’s going to be one hell of a party!