Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson reaches milestone of 300 Football League appearances
Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson clocked up his 300th Football League appearance at Brentford last week and has the date of his first match tattooed on his wrist.
His debut on March 2, 2004, was ironically, for Brentford, but it didn’t end well, as he was sent off late on.
Ten years on from his first taste of Football League action, the Gills No.1 admits he began to doubt back then if he would ever get an opportunity.
“My life ambition when I was at school was to play one football league game,” said the 32-year-old. "I got the tattoo because my debut was so important to me. When I left school, I had written to every Football League club, asking for a trial.
“I went to clubs like Nottingham Forest and Derby and in the end, Millwall took me. I went there for a year before dropping out to non-league. I was there until I was 22 and you wonder if you are too old. I never gave up but I did wonder if it would ever happen. It was not down to my ability, just other people’s opinion. You never know if people will take that chance.
“Brentford gave me that opportunity after buying me from Hucknall. I would never have believed I would then go on and make 300 league appearances. One league game had been a distant dream.”
Nelson followed up a spell at Brentford with time at Norwich and Aberdeen, where he played back-up to the regular keeper. But he didn’t waste the opportunity.
He said: “I wouldn’t call that a step back. That was part of the progression that I needed.
“I sat on the bench for a season at Norwich in the Championship and I only played three games for Aberdeen where I sat on the bench in the Scottish Premier League. I matured in those two years. I worked hard in training, I watched and went to big grounds. Those grounds open your eyes to what is the next level and where you want to be."
Nelson, signed from Notts County in July 2012, helped the Gills to the League 2 title last season and after a difficult first few games of this campaign, which resulted in the dismissal of manager Martin Allen, the keeper thinks things are now turning in their favour.
He said: “The main thing we are trying to do, since the gaffer (Peter Taylor) has come in, is to try and play a different way and become more consistent. Although we lost the other night at Brentford, it was an excellent performance and it could have gone either way."
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