Heavy traffic, lost cars, pitch inspections – Carl Marston’s Travels with Town reaches Priestfield
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds over the last 30 years, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he puts the spotlight on Priestfield Stadium, Town’s destination this weekend
Ask me about Priestfield, the home of Gillingham FC, and you will get a mixed response.
On the plus side, it is only a short drive from Portman Road, a mere 86 miles from Suffolk's county town to the Medway.
Another positive is that Priestfield is one of Town's happiest hunting grounds. Nine visits and no defeats, although six of the nine have ended in draws.
Other pointers in the 'For' column include a well-positioned press box, at the back of the main stand, and a warm press lounge.
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But now we come to the negatives, of which there are also many.
Firstly, although it is only a distance of 86 miles between Portman Road and Priestfield, the River Thames and hence the Thurrock-to-Dartford Crossing lies in wait.
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Now especially on a midweek night, or on a busy Saturday in August, this can create problems. The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, and the approach on the M25, can resemble a car park in the late afternoon/early evening.
I have had first-hand experience of such traffic mayhem, ducking onto the A13 and finding alternative routes through Blackwell Tunnel, or else sitting it out in the queue and sweating over the time.
I have never missed kick-off, but I did once have to hastily park the car down an alleyway and make a mad dash for the stadium, legging it over a level crossing before the barriers came down to make sure I was in my seat before 7.45pm.
Which brings me to secondly (I know, it was a very long 'firstly'), and car parking limitations. I realise that this is not exactly related to matters-on-the-pitch, but it can be tricky to park the Porsche (OK, the Vauxhall Meriva) within a country mile of Priestfield Stadium.
It didn't help that on one occasion I forgot the name of the road where I had abandoned my vehicle, not the sort of thing you want after tracking down managers for post-match quotes, to then go on a wild car hunt.
Thirdly, and this is Colchester United related, not Ipswich Town related, but I feel I have to mention two fruitless trips to Kent that I made during the 1994-95 season.
The original Gills v U's fixture, on a Saturday afternoon, was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch, after heavy rain.
At least I managed to witness the pitch inspection, and so flesh out a story, unlike the rearranged midweek match, which was also called off due to a waterlogged pitch. The away coach was just drawing out of Priestfield when I arrived at the ground.
That fixture was finally played, in April of 1995. It was third time lucky, Colchester winning 3-1 with an opening goal from Simon Betts, who had begun his career at Ipswich before moving to the U's - I know, too much information!
- Ground: Priestfield (since 1893)
- Club: Gillingham (founded in 1893, as New Brompton)
- Town's first visit: 1-0 away win on September 30, 1950
- Town's last visit: 0-0 draw on March 19, 2005
- Town's overall record at Priestfield: P9 W3 D6 L0
No column featuring Gillingham and Ipswich can overlook the fact that the former's place in the Football League was once taken over by the latter.
The Gills joined the Football League in 1920, but were later voted out of it before the start of the 1937-38 season, in favour of Ipswich.
Most readers of this column, with a Town persuasion, would declare this as 'a wise decision.'
Perhaps with this history in mind, there might be extra spice attached to every clash between the Gills and Town? But that's been long forgotten, especially as the Kent club were welcomed back into the Football League, 12 years later, when the League expanded from 88 to 92 clubs.
Incidently, the other three clubs to join the League that season were Shrewsbury Town, Scunthorpe & Lindsey United and ... Colchester United.
Town have never lost at Gillingham, but they did trail to a 28th minute opener from Paul Smith during their visit of March 29, 2003.
However Pablo Counago, for so long the darling of Portman Road, silenced the Priestfield faithful with a brace of goals, on 32 and 73 minutes, substitute Marcus Bent wrapping up the points late on.
Town missed out on the play-offs by one place and four points; the Gills finished mid-table.