There’s a lot we shouldn’t thank Gillingham for, such as Mark McCammon and (of course) anything Steve Evans did whilst there being the main two.
However, the mouthy one and his puppet have gone, to be replaced by Neil Harris, a man with a huge amount of respect within the game. For me, that means a softening of my stance towards them, and a look back at a time they did us a fairly big favour. I’m talking about the loan of Josh Gowling.
Now, I know Gowling will split opinion out there, but I always was a big fan, no matter what happened after he left. I still am, so today, we’re going to celebrate all things Josh Gowling.
A strong and commanding centre back, Gowling had served his apprenticeship with West Brom before a move to the Danish Super League with Herfølge Boldklub. He returned to the UK, apparently disillusioned with life in Scandinavia, and plied his trade a league higher than us with AFC Bournemouth. After three seasons at Dean Court, the last one of which resulted in relegation, he joined Carlisle, only to be farmed out to Hereford (both League One sides). At the end of the season, he joined Gillingham, enjoying a year-and-a-half on their books before signing on loan for City. Gillingham had been relegated from League One with Gowling dismissed twice, but in League Two he was virtually ever present for them. Then they lost 7-4 to Accrington, he was substituted after the sixth as he’d played their scorer onside, and that seemed to be that. Interestingly, he was replaced by another former (or rather future then, former now) Imp, Tony Sinclair.
His ‘punishment’ for the defeat was a loan spell at Lincoln City. Yup, seems fair. He signed for Steve Tilson as we were looking up the table, rather than down, and immediately began to calm a leaky defence. His quality was clear and despite being on the field the night we lost 5-0 at home to Bury it was widely believed that he was someone who could have helped keep us up. He only played six games, two in the FA Cup (bizarre that he then returned to Gillingham), and didn’t keep a clean sheet, but he did look to be a good prospect. I was gutted when he left.
As fate would have it, instead of helping us stay up, he helped send us down, scoring in Gillingham’s 4-0 win at Sincil Bank. I remember the goal, he barely celebrated out of respect for a fanbase that had treated him well. That’s the Josh Gowling I remember.
He opted to re-join Lincoln in the summer despite our relegation and was immediately made club captain by Steve Tilson. Gowling took a risk dropping out of league football, a risk that I think many fans will have forgotten given what he has done since. Gowling is another of those players who was simply with us at the wrong time. Once again fate dealt a cruel blow for him as Tilson floundered and was eventually dismissed after a 4-0 defeat at Tamworth.
Gowling remained at Lincoln to help us avoid relegation, but never seemed to fit David Holdsworth’s plans, or perhaps budget, and he left in August 2012 to sign for Kidderminster, who he helped to the play-offs the following season, and the FA Cup Fourth Round a season later. After a solid season for them in 2014/15 he joined Grimsby and was part of the team defeated in the play-offs in 2015, although he didn’t appear in the final. The following season he was excellent for the Cods, aside from getting sent off against Lincoln, and helped them to promotion via the play-offs and a spot in the Team of the Year.
His final stint in the Football League didn’t start well; he was sent off on his return to League Two with Grimsby, and as they floundered under Marcus Bignot, he became a bit-part player, joining Torquay in 2017/18. That didn’t work out well either; he was threatened with a fine for wishing to attend a funeral, and later wound up with Alfreton and Hereford, where he is currently the manager.
He didn’t endear himself to Imps fans when he gave evidence for Gary Charles in the court case that followed David Holdsworth bringing the former Villa man into the club.
Still, he proved at Grimsby he had the ability to be a success at National League level, but the upheaval of a manager change really unsettled the team in our first season out of the Football League Had we had a more balanced side I firmly believe he could have had a much longer and relatively successful career at Lincoln, especially as he is now regularly playing League football again.
Sadly, he had to move to our bitter rivals to achieve it.