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Goalkeeper Stuart Nelson reflects on his five and a half years at Gillingham

By Luke Cawdell

Goalkeeper Stuart Nelson is heading into the unknown, after terminating his contract at Gillingham.

It’s a decision he’s hoping pays off, just like the one he made in the summer of 2012, dropping down to play for the Gills in League 2.

He wasn’t sure he would ever replicate the memories he had during a memorable two years with Notts County.

Stuart Nelson savours League 1 survival with the Gills fans at Northampton Picture: Ady Kerry
Stuart Nelson savours League 1 survival with the Gills fans at Northampton Picture: Ady Kerry

He said: “I knew I wasn’t going to make any money out of the game so I wanted to do something else. What else could I do?”

When new Gills boss Martin Allen came calling – his former manager at Notts County – he went for it.

“I wanted to go and win something,” he said.

“I wanted to be known for being at a certain club, rather than being just a one or two year journeyman going to different clubs all the time. I wanted to do something really well and be remembered for it.

“So I dropped down a league to league 2. It was the first time I had dropped lower than League 1 since I had turned pro.

Stuart Nelson. Picture: Andy Jones
Stuart Nelson. Picture: Andy Jones

“I went down a level to go and win and become something.”

The move fulfilled everything he wanted, winning the League 2 title with the Gills in his first season and becoming a firm fans’ favourite.

He was named in the PFA team-of-the-year following the 2012/13 title-winning season and the year after was named player-of-the-year. He continued to be Gills’ regular no.1 keeper.

This season he’s been restricted to the bench, however, but his two Checkatrade Trophy appearances took his tally to 223, putting him third on the all-time list of goalkeeper appearances for the club, behind only Ron Hillyard and John Simpson.

“It’s up to the fans to say what status I am but I think I have done something at the club,” said the 36-year-old.

Beating his time at Notts County had taken some doing.

Nelson said: “I couldn’t have done much more but I was let go and everybody was shocked. I did do well there and I got on with the fans.

“We beat Sunderland (in the FA Cup) away. They were Premier League at the time. We drew with Man City at home and played them away at the Etihad Stadium.

“They were a fantastic experiences and I was part of the team that went to Juventus to open their new stadium. When would you normally ever get that chance in League 1?

“I thought that would have been the best time I had at any one club but Gills totally blew that out of the water.

“Gillingham felt right. Of course I made mistakes, but who doesn’t? Over my time I don’t think I made that many mistakes and after playing 223 games and I am pretty happy.”

Some of Nelson’s happiest memories came off the back of negatives.

His appearance against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, in the League Cup, came after a tough start to the season for him personally.

“Whenever I got dropped I seemed to come back stronger,” he said.

“I came back against Tottenham and my brother videoed me running out there from the away end, with the fans. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end watching it.

“I got dropped back out of the team and then the next game I came back in was against Charlton and I saved a penalty. There were so many highs and they were high as off the back of negatives.”

Read the full interview in this week's Medway Messenger newspaper.

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