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Kent on Sunday article 20/5/07

Last week in Kent on Sunday, Gillingham fan Dave Mairs took a shot at the county’s media for “excessive coverage” of Charlton Athletic. As a lifelong Addick now managing the club’s Valley Express coach service, I think he missed the target.
Since the demise of the old Maidstone United, Gillingham have indeed been the only professional football club within the county’s recognised modern boundaries.
But Charlton was once in Kent too. And the London boroughs of Bexley and Bromley, from which the Addicks draw strong support, remained in the county until 1965.
These suburban areas still have Kent postal addresses – a situation that’s not much different from Gillingham, now it comes under the unitary Medway Council.
Meanwhile, Kent County Cricket Club have returned to play in Beckenham - technically in Greater London. They clearly did so to develop local support. So why should being in the capital preclude Charlton building up their fanbase on the other side of the border?
The Addicks’ reserve matches are already played at Gravesend.
I do believe that football loyalty ought to be about place. However, the idea that only Gillingham can make a geographical claim to Kentish media attention is misplaced. Take the indisputably Kentish towns of Dartford, Sevenoaks and Swanley. All are closer to The Valley than to Priestfield.
In fact, I can confirm that many more people from the combined Kent County and Medway Council areas go to Charlton than watch Gillingham.
We know this because Priestfield’s 2006/07 average crowd, including casual and away supporters, was 6,282.
This is lower than the number drawn from that tight definition of Kent among the 17,000 season-ticket holders Charlton have already signed up for next season.
That’s despite the Addicks being relegated, by the way. So much for the suggestion that the thousands of existing fans were just “along for the Premiership ride”.
It’s also a safe assumption that Charlton have more active supporters in the county than Millwall – average crowd 9,234 - or any of the bigger London clubs.
Around 30 per cent of Valley match-ticket sales are to Kent-based fans with Canterbury, Medway and Tonbridge postcodes, with a similar number going to Dartford postcodes.
And when Charlton took 6,000 supporters to Blackburn last month there were 25 free coaches filled from the KCC and Medway areas, with 22 others from Bexley and Bromley. Hundreds more Kentish fans flew from Gatwick aboard three chartered planes at £65 a head. Would “manufactured” support really make a journey like that?
But there are also more complex issues of identity at work than where people live. The Addicks have long commanded a following right across Kent, due to population drift. The county is home to thousands of families who started out in SE London.
Many still regard Charlton as their team and that’s why we can fill our matchday coaches at £5 return. But, yes, we are looking to develop new support in Kent, just as we are in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley.
If we are to compete with the biggest clubs, we can’t afford to do otherwise.
Valley Express stacks up because subsidising coaches generates extra match-ticket revenue. If there was sufficient interest in watching Gillingham then the idea would work for them too. But despite promises to the contrary and an average 4,000 empty seats, they still haven’t taken such an initiative.
Dave referred with incredulity to the Valley Express coach from Hampshire. But that service is provided in response to demand from existing fans now living there. They organised and lobbied their club. Why don’t exiled Gills fans do the same?
We believe in putting something back into the communities from which we draw support. That’s why across Kent there has been a major expansion of our nationally acclaimed community programme, working in conjunction with KCC.
The trust which delivers this activity is very good at it, but despite eight years in the Premiership we have never forgotten what it is like to be a small club.
Ironically, the Charlton “marketing machine” Dave mentions is substantially drawn from the very same people he recalls fighting to save The Valley in the 1980s and 90s.
Perhaps after all it’s Gillingham, not the media, who need to take a look at themselves?


  • excellent piece, thanks for posting it up. Strangely enough, i picked up a copy of the paper today for the first time in about a year.
  • Kent has always been Charlton diaspora land. Nevermind the stats or claiming whether they are real fans or not, look at where these fans lived before emigrating to Kent, many are first or second generation Kent dwellers, who would have been born in one of the south east London boroughs, or if not them, then their father's etc would have been.

    Also you have to look at Gillingham's marketing and their attempts to get these fans in, what was and is stopping them from organising subsidised travel, or cheap priced tickets? Nothing. Similarly why aren't they complaining about the Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and West Ham etc fans who travel from Medway? Why are there so many football fans in this area for whom Gillingham is a second club? Isn't it because Gillingham play in a low league and exhibit little or no ambition to improve themselves and drag themselves up the divisions? More fans would go to the Priestfield if they would see a successful side, if they do go they are seeing a team that is happy with its station and has no plans to get themselves promoted and really tap into the potential on their doorstep, yet will complain that those fans prefer to watch a side that does demonstrate ambition, the two things are very cl;osely connected. Complaining about Charlton poaching their fans (as if they "owned" them in the first place) misses the point, when they aren't offering those fans a decent product. Time they looked at what they are offering their "fans" and when they do they'll realise that there is no comparison between the service they offer and the standard of football on offer.

    Criticising Charlton for their astute marketing really misses the point.
  • The Jills are far happier moaning about us than getting off their sorry arses and doing something pro-active. But then maybe they know that no one wants to go to their pit or a ground to line Scally's wallet and see crap football.

    A sad excuse of a football club, always have been, always will be.
  • Its just pure bitterness on the Jills part as we have gone out and made things happen, and they haven't.

    At similar times, we both took huge numbers to Wembley. We used it as a stepping stone, they didn't. They also don't seem to realise that before getting benefits you have to put in a huge amount of community groundwork not short-term, but continuous over years.

    They don't seem to have the desire to do it. Its not about resources, because the majority of the work is funded.
  • I don't think it's a new phenomenon that Charlton draw fans from Kent at all. I grew up in Dartford and my dad always bought us to Charlton to watch a game even though he wasn't a die-hard fan. We also watched maidstone quite regularly when they were in the old 4th division playing at dartford's ground.
  • It pains me when they have a dig at us. Quite a few of the Kent based supporters clubs rallied round and raised quite a lot of cash for them when they went to the wall back in the mid 90's - before Penfold took over.

    They seem to forget that conveniently!
  • edited May 2007
    This is a constant issue that winds me up. Charlton is in the historical county of Kent. It was administratively detached from Kent and put in the County of London in the Local Government Act 1888 along with Lewisham, Lee, Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Eltham and Kidbrooke.

    Bromley, Beckenham, and Orpington were detached from Kent in 1964 at the formation of the GLC. Certain parts of these areas including where I lived were allowed to keep their Kent postal address.

    Kent, for many years played cricket just up the road at Blackheath

    That is why there is such a connection with the Kent.

    To say that we are not a Kentish Club would be the same as saying that Manchester Utd is not a Lancashire Club, dispute the fact that it is no longer in Lancashire, or that Surrey and Middlesex Cricket Clubs should change their names to South London and North London.

    It seems to me that certain ill informed Gills fans should stop listening to Scally who doesn't know what he's talking about. We are by far and a way the biggest and best supported club in the historical county of Kent.
  • Very good article but as we are talking about "poaching" and "encroaching" is it any co-incidence that just as one regular lifers newspaper column closes down for the summer another newspaper column, from a very occasional lifer, "suddenly" appears here.

    Will KOS articles be bussed in on subsidised e-mail servers, "stealing" readers from their "real" paper the Kentish Times? :-)
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