Ricky Holmes never kicked a ball while on loan with Gillingham but he could be facing them later this season.
The midfielder arrived at Priestfield in January 2019, on loan from Sheffield United, with many fans looking forward to seeing the playmaker in a Gills shirt after impressing against them in previous seasons. But his loan spell turned out to be a non-starter.
Holmes turned up to Gills at the end of the transfer window with an injury, the club hoping to rehabilitate him quickly, so that he could assist with the end of season run-in.
His originally target of an early March return came and went and he eventually returned to the Blades without ever making a single appearance for the club. His back injury had also seen a previous loan spell at Oxford cut short.
In May this year it was reported that, at the age of 32, he planned to retire. The back injury that had plagued him was said to have been caused many years before when he worked on a building site.
“Retirement in the summer looks imminent really. I think it’s inevitable, just for my health,” he told the Portsmouth News, having made 62 appearances for Pompey earlier in his career.
But despite the injury problems, and thoughts of retirement, he has now signed an appearance-related contract with Northampton Town. They are due to host the Gills on December 29.
He has been training with the Cobblers recently and has managed to prove his fitness, saying: “Most people had written me off but (the fitness coach) Pablo Garcia has put very long hours in with me, he knows me better than anyone and how my body works and all that hard work has paid off. He has got me fit and ready.
"I am raring to go, it has been too long. It is just great to be fit to play and to help the team and show what I can do. We have a lot of games coming up, so let's go!”
He’s one of several non-contract players who have found new clubs in League 1 since the closing of the transfer window.
Experienced defender Alan Sheehan also recently joined Northampton Town, on a similar pay-as-you-play deal to Holmes, having left Lincoln City. Former Bournemouth defender Charlie Daniels - who played a handful of games for the Gills earlier in his career - raised eyebrows when he joined Shrewsbury Town following his release from Bournemouth.
Portsmouth picked up Jordy Hiwula on a short-term deal after spending the last two years at Coventry. Bristol Rovers signed former Burnley defender Ali Koiki and Sunderland snapped up defender Callum McFadzean.
The Gills were looking at the free agent market themselves, after a run of injuries, but those are now easing. Among those still looking for a club are defender Rhys Bennett, who played under Steve Evans at both Peterborough and Mansfield Town, but the Gills already have several options at the back.