How a terrible tackle stoked a dormant 42-year football league rivalry



Over a hundred miles separate Gillingham and Swindon, but a ghastly tackle and refereeing performance in the 1970s stoked a bitter row.

How far are these clubs?
Geographically, a one-way trip from Gillingham to Swindon and vice versa would take the best part of two and a half hours on a 126.4 mile route, largely on the M25 and M4. A ride would take you through central London and along the A1430 on a 76-hour round trip, while you could save more than two days by getting your bike out.

Located in east London, Gillingham are the only Kent-based EFL club, Dover Athletic and Maidstone United to offer local links in the National League and the Southern National League respectively. Swindon Town is the only Wiltshire-based team in the Football League.

In terms of football, these two clubs are a little closer, both having practiced their profession in leagues 1 and 2 in recent years. After relegation from Tier 3 last season, Swindon is back at the bottom of the EFL ladder as the Gills are on their ninth consecutive League One campaign.

How and when did the rivalry start?
1979. The year Pink Floyd released ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and the foundations for this fierce county rivalry were laid. With both sides vying for promotion from the former Third Division, tensions were expected when the two met at the end of March. But what started out like any other game with such high stakes quickly turned into something much more serious.

Having taken a two-goal lead early on, Gillingham was furious when goalscorer Danny Westwood was the target of a bloody and dirty challenge – even by old-fashioned standards – but found himself sent off for a foul. reacted as the tackler was let go. The referee was then attacked by a Gills fan, who, if he was then angry, must have been furious by the time Swindon reduced the game to 2-2 and the actions were ruined.

As Swindon-era midfielder Chris Kamara would say, “incredible, NathJeff ‘.

Two months later, in the second leg at Swindon County Ground, the hosts lost 3-1 with another Gillingham player getting his marching orders and fans and teammates seeing red all around. A brawl in the tunnel after the final whistle saw two Gills players appear in court, but they were later acquitted.

Despite the Robins’ victory, neither Gillingham nor Swindon got promoted as they finished side by side, one and three points off third place, respectively. With a higher goal difference, just one better result from those two matches would have seen Kent’s side promoted. Instead, they would spend the next decade at the same level before relegation to the Fourth Division in the late 1980s when Swindon was in the Second Division, just three years after his promotion to the Premier League.

What is the most memorable moment in this rivalry?
Despite all the ugly scenes between the clubs since the early days of the rivalry and the bitterness that ensued in the 21st century – more on that to come – the inaugural Football League playoff season in 1986/87 saw Swindon and Gillingham rekindles their rivalry in a titanic struggle to reach the second level of English football. In Gillingham’s case, this would be their very first time at this level of play.

At the time of the round-trip finals and replays if necessary, the enemies went all the way. The Gills won 1-0 at home in the opener, only for Swindon to lead the round with a 2-1 win at County Ground despite conceding the opening goal. Yes, the Robins survived 2-0 once again, but this time in total.

With 180 minutes unable to split the sides, a replay was requested on the more neutral pitch at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. It would be Gillingham’s 63rd game of the season, due to league and Cup commitments – a record in English football at the time. But again, there wouldn’t be a happy ending for the Gill’s. The double of Steve White ensuring successive promotions under the direction of Lou Macari for Swindon. Gillingham was left to heal their wounds and would have to wait until the Millennium to reach the second level.

Are they playing against each other this season?
Nope. Not even in the group stages of the Papa John Trophy, shot at the locality, just in case you have any doubts that 38 hours of walking is a straightforward task. The roles have turned somewhat with Swindon in League Two and Gillingham still in League One, although they have played both Championship and League Two since.

They last faced each other behind closed doors in 2020/21, with Gillingham scoring the brace. Almost two decades passed between the final of the play-offs of 1987 and the meeting of the two teams. Gillingham has lost just five of 18 matches in the 21st century.

However, despite a rather ridiculously poor summer off the pitch and behind the scenes at Wiltshire, Swindon have assembled an exciting side that sit fourth in League 2 after five games; they seem able to play even better. Gillingham, meanwhile, also suffers from off-field issues that will likely reduce his chances of promotion and in a tight League One, could even see them relegated to the EFL basement.

Either way, it looks like there is a decent possibility that these parties will soon reignite their rivalry. Is the * hum * Steve Evans’ unique managerial presence will still be in charge at this point, expect more fireworks.

What future for this rivalry?
It’s a well-established view that this rivalry, while not one-sided, is certainly more perpetuated by Gillingham, which is understandable given the prejudice suffered by the Robins. With Gillingham having had a smoother run of operations in recent seasons and currently playing in a top division, tensions appear to have eased somewhat.

However, not so long ago a needle resurfaced between the clubs as Swindon again sought promotion in a game involving Gillingham, but this time not at their expense.

Controversial Gills chairman Paul Scally was unwilling to pay the extra police fees required for this game in 2012, especially with Swindon expected to draw huge audiences with a victory securing promotion to League One. The additional policing costs charged to the home club are nothing new and are a regular practice, but Scally has drawn criticism from both Swindon and Gillingham fans for his stubbornness in footing the bill and his desire for the match to end. plays behind closed doors. After numerous protests, Scally relented and paid around an additional £ 3,000 and crowds were allowed as Swindon’s promotion party was temporarily put on hold by a 3-1 upset.

Since then, the two have faced each other pretty much every two seasons without too much trouble coming back to the surface, but we’re just a leg-breaking challenge and an inept refereeing performance to see him revive.


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