Rainham North councillors begin fight against new Gillingham Football Club stadium

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Rainham North’s Conservative councillors appear to have begun their fight against a new football stadium being built in their ward.

Gillingham Football Club Chairman Paul Scally called on fans to write in support of the Mill Hill site being pencilled in as the location of a future 25,000-seat stadium during Medway Council’s Local Plan consultation.

The consultation document itself is relatively mute on the subject of a new stadium, referring to the club only three times over its 132 pages:

The regeneration area would extend beyond Gillingham to include a modern football stadium for Gillingham Football Club at Mill Hill, supported by a mixed development of apartments, shops and wider leisure facilities. An iconic building would establish the new character of this area and mark the extent of the regeneration zone. – p23

Gillingham Football Club was established in 1893 and is based at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham with a capacity of around 11,000. The stadium is within 0.5 miles of Gillingham Railway Station and is located in a predominantly residential area. The club has aspirations to upgrade its stadium and has actively been contemplating moving from its Priestfield site, developing this site for housing. The club has made representations to the council as part of the Local Plan process, promoting its interest to develop a new site at Mill Hill, Gillingham, that would involve a major new stadium supported by wider leisure, retail and residential development. – p86

Gillingham Football Club
The Council will work alongside Gillingham FC to develop an appropriate strategy to secure the club’s future development in Medway. – p89

Following Mr Scally’s decision to ask fans to write in support of the club, two local councillors, whose ward includes the Mill Hill site and surrounding area, have written to local residents, on Council-headed paper, urging them to make their own representations to the Council before the 18 April deadline.

GFC Councillor Letter

Vaughan Hewett, then a UKIP councillor for the area, presented a 400-strong petition of local residents against a stadium in 2015 and promised to continue to oppose any such plans in that year’s local elections, which he lost.

Now it appears Councillors David Carr and Martin Potter, whilst striking a conciliatory tone in their letter, are ready to take up the mantle of a fight against both the ground and its enabling development.

The councillors’ letter comes as Mr Scally has written to selected households in Gillingham with free tickets for the Gillingham v Fleetwood match on 22 April, in what appears to be the start of a PR campaign in support of his future plans for the club, their new ground and the site of Priestfield Stadium, the club’s home since it’s formation in 1893.

Anyone who wishes to respond to the Local Plan consultation, whether on the stadium or any other matter, can do so either by email to futuremedway@medway.gov.uk or by post to Planning Policy team, the Planning Service, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR. The consultation closes at 5pm on Tuesday, 18 April.

Thanks for the memories, Justin

Justin Edinburgh
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As birthday presents go, it was perhaps one of the most bittersweet, but when I woke up to the news this morning that Justin Endinburgh had been relieved of his duties at Gillingham, I couldn’t help but raise a smile.

When Justin was appointed Gills manager in February 2015, the style and approach he brought to the team provided entertainment and promise. Becoming one of the dominant forces at the top of the league by the end of that year gave us fans hope that we could find ourselves back in the Championship, for only the second time in our history.

Then, when I returned from Barcelona that Christmas, everything started going downhill. It’s impossible to say with certainty what triggered our collapse from top to an ultimate ninth-placed finish, but an injury to our star-player Bradley Dack, a confidence-collapsing loss at Wigan Athletic and a seeming inability for Edinburgh to change his tactics after teams had worked out how to beat us all played a part.

Nobody with a heart would act with malicious glee at somebody losing their job, but when this season started in the same way as the last had ended, it was clear Edinburgh was on borrowed time. I became a convert to the “JED out” cause in October, but was less vocal than others, believing the most important thing is always to support my team.

Edinburgh’s time was perhaps extended by virtue of our Chairman’s major heart operation, an assumption all the more feasible by the fact that today is Mr Scally’s first day back at work. He did not hold back in his assessment of our performance:

I don’t believe that the players weren’t trying, I just don’t think they felt comfortable with the way we were trying to play, or how we were trying to play. I am not sure they even understood exactly how we were supposed to be trying to play.

Yesterday, I was sat in the block next to the Directors and immediately glanced at Mr Scally at full time. I had a hunch, just by the expression on his face, that Edinburgh had managed his last game, something I mentioned on one of the Gills forums on Facebook.

Now that Edinburgh has gone, I would like to thank him for his hard work at Gillingham, and for some special memories, but hope that a new manager can turn our form around permanently and help us start pushing towards the top of the table again.

Next manager

Mr Scally has said that he started working on the new management team last night, and does not want to have a drawn-out interview process (like the five weeks it took to appoint Edinburgh). With no game this weekend, he has some time to find the right man before the next match at Oldham.

The Sky Bet odds on the next manager, as at 12:30 today, are:

Ady Pennock 1/3
Dennis Wise 10/1
Kenny Jackett 10/1
Nigel Adkins 11/1
Steven Pressley 12/1
Steve Cotterill 12/1

Rehman Chishti MP calls for inquiry over The Sun’s Gillingham FC hospitality claims

ScallyChishtiGills
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The Sun is reporting today that Gillingham & Rainham MP Rehman Chishti could be in trouble for failing to declare his visits to Gillingham FC on time.

Mr Chishti, who also represents Rainham Central Ward on Medway Council, declared seven free tickets to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium between February and December 2015, donated by Gillingham Football Club and worth a total of £900.

The Sun claim that failing to log all of these visits until 1 March 2016 was a breach of the Parliamentary Rules.

Although he did not comment to The Sun, Mr Chishti did tell KentOnline that:

I am a proud and passionate supporter of my local team and try to attend home matches when I can to cheer on the team.

I had declared all information to the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests in relation to my attendance at matches and hospitality received by the club in the last year.

The Sun newspaper has raised a point with regards to the timing in making these declarations on the Register of Interests.

I have asked the Parliamentary Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests to look into this and clarify this as an urgent matter.

On 1 March, Mr Chishti declared that he had received hospitality for the following matches:

Gillingham v Sheffield United
7 February 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Notts County
3 May 2015 – though logged in the Register as 2 May 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Wigan Athletic
22 August 2015
Two director’s box tickets with hospitality, total value £200

Gillingham v Doncaster Rovers
5 September 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Blackpool
12 September 2015
Two director’s box tickets with hospitality, total value £200

Gillingham v Bury
14 November 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Burton Albion
12 December 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

It is well known that I have not always seen eye-to-eye with Mr Chishti and on matters of policy, but I must point out that he has done nothing wrong in accepting this hospitality, and I fully commend the club for making the local Member of Parliament welcome at the stadium.

However, the question mark arises over the timing of the declaration. The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members states that:

The House requires new Members, within one month of their election, to register all their current financial interests, and any registrable benefits (other than earnings) received in the 12 months before their election. After that, Members are required to register within 28 days any change in those registrable interests. Such a change includes both the acquisition of a new interest and the ceasing of any registered interest, for example because an employment has ceased or because a holding has reduced in value or been sold.

Chapter 1 Paragraph 2

In terms of hospitality:

Members must register, subject to the paragraphs below, any gifts, benefits or hospitality with a value of over £300 which they receive from a UK source. They must also register multiple benefits from the same source if these have a value of more than £300 in a calendar year.

Chapter 1 Paragraph 22

On a literal interpretation of the rules, it appears as though Mr Chishti has fallen foul of the requirement to declare the hospitality when the value exceeded £300 (such deadline appearing to be 18 September 2015 for the initial declaration, with 8 January 2016 appearing to be the deadline for the final update).

Having now laid out the facts, though, my question is just how much time do the journalists at The Sun have to trawl through the Register to uncover what is (essentially) a minor discrepancy? And, in the long run, does it really matter to anyone in the constituency if this declaration was a little late?

The strict anti-corruption rules are established to stop a (hypothetical) Member of Parliament from receiving a (hypothetical) sum of, say, £5,000.00 from a (hypothetical) green energy company and then voting to block a (hypothetical) coal-powered generator being built. They are not, to my knowledge, in force to prevent a Member of Parliament watching his local football club play on a Saturday afternoon, even if such a ticket is provided free-of-charge by that club.

For interest, I trawled through Hansard from 7 February 2015 to date, and could only find two references to Gillingham Football Club amongst Mr Chishti’s many contributions, being:

Will the Minister welcome the initiative that has been set up in my constituency with support from DWP and the local Gillingham football club, along with Medway Watersports, to provide young people with skills and positive experiences to assist them in securing employment or further training?

9 March 2015

And:

Will the Minister welcome the new apprentice teaching sports assistants coach programme put on by Gillingham football club in my constituency, which is working with primary schools to get more sports coaches into primary schools?

15 June 2015

All very complementary, but not really a material benefit to my beloved Gillingham FC – and certainly not worth £900 of free tickets (says I tongue-in-cheek and certainly not suggesting that Mr Chishti in any way accepted free tickets for any corrupt or otherwise inappropriate reason).

In summary, Mr Chishti does appear to have fallen foul of the rules (as I read them) – although it is worth reiterating that he has written to the Registrar for urgent clarification – and may, indeed, deserve a slight slap on the wrist for doing so.

However, once the matter has been clarified, and any such slap-on-the-wrist has been administered, Mr Chishti must be left to enjoy his (correctly-declared) football at the greatest team in Kent in peace, while commentators can go back to focusing on more important matters, such as discovering where he stands in the EU Referendum debate or supporting his Bills to improve services for people with a mental illness.

Well that was embarrassing, wasn’t it?

Justin Edinburgh
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Before today’s top-of-the-table clash, Gillingham were in the number one spot by the skin of their teeth.

Level on points with second-placed Coventry City – superior on goal difference by just one goal – and two points ahead of Walsall – who still have a game in hand – today’s visit to the Ricoh was bound to be crucial.

P GD Pts
1 Gillingham 17 15 34
2 Coventry 17 14 34
3 Walsall 16 14 32

After half an hour, the top two were still level, while Walsall were also goalless against Sheffield United. But then all hell broke loose. With the Gills having held firm against pressure from the Sky Blues, suddenly the floodgates opened and, in the space of ten minutes, the league leaders had conceded four goals: the hosts’ Jacob Murphy netted a hat trick with Ben Turner completing the rout.

Going into the break Gillingham were 4-0 down and had given a very poor account of themselves.

The second half proved to be quieter. The Gills had tightened up and Coventry took their foot off the gas a little. Just after the hour mark, Bradley Dack – our top scorer – gave the visitors a little bit of hope but it was, alas, to no avail. When the final whistle blew, the scoreboard read:

Coventry City 4
Gillingham 1

and the top two teams had reversed their roles:

P GD Pts
1 Coventry 18 17 37
2 Gillingham 18 12 34
3 Walsall 17 14 33

All things considered, a disappointing result for Gillingham – and a long journey home for the 857 visiting fans who made the journey. The discussion on social media was not a happy one for some: Continue reading

Bring back Tommy!

Gillingham FC
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A fellow exiled Gills fan has started a petition calling for the return of Tommy Trueblue to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.

Tommy Trueblue

Tommy Trueblue

A petition to bring back the much-loved Gillingham Football Club mascot Tommy Trueblue has so far attracted over 150 signatures on the Change.org campaign website.

Directed towards Chairman Paul Scally, the petition reads:

The Return of Tommy Trueblue – Gillingham Football Club mascot

Please make the funds available for Tommy Trueblue to have a head transplant and return to Gillingham Football Club. The presence of Tommy at Priestfield was fun and enhanced the experience of watching the Gills.

It is time for him to return.

COYG!!!

The horse has not been seen since 2014 and, after a short period of speculation as to his whereabouts, an official announcement was made (to quash rumours that he had been sold to Findus) saying that his head had become rotten and needed replacing.

Colin Hamer, who started the petition, has called “on Mr Paul Scally, Chairman of Gillingham Football Club and Tommy’s owner, to immediately make the funds available for the surgery Tommy desperately needs”, adding:

His treatment should be at the very best veterinary hospital in Dubai so that once again Tommy can trot along the touch line at Priestfield Stadium. The affect of this would be a boost to the morale of team and supporters so that we can gallop across the line to the Championship.

I fully and wholeheartedly agree that it is time Tommy Trueblue returned to Priestfield and, if you do too, please sign the petition here and let Mr Scally know just how much our loved horse is missed.