Published: 08:00, 28 May 2020
| Updated: 10:28, 28 May 2020
Dreams are made and broken at Wembley and for Andy Thomson his came true.
The Scottish striker didn’t even think he would be taking part in the Division 2 play-off final back in 2000, after suffering ankle ligament damage weeks before, but he put the pain behind him to write his name in the Gillingham history books.
Thomson’s header from Ty Gooden’s cross put the Gills ahead against Wigan in the 118th minute of a thrilling contest, a goal which won the game and made dreams come true.
Now 49 and assistant manager of Scotland’s ladies team, he recalls that moment: “I genuinely mean it, it was not just my best goal, it was the best moment. When people talk about dreams coming true, it was for me. It topped everything.
“Going to the World Cup with Scotland was a different thing, that was amazing as well, I have been very lucky, but to go to the place where you have always watched games as a kid and then to score a goal that gets a team promoted to that level for the first time and in those circumstances.
“When you look back you always remember moments and when things go well, like the goal, but the thing you remember most are the memories of the great people you meet.
“I know the chairman gets a rough time at times but I got on brilliantly with him. It was great for me to score the goal that helped him get his dream too.”
Thomson was carrying an injury that day, one that still affects him now. He didn’t know if he was going to even be taking part after suffering ankle ligament damage on a Tuesday night in Bournemouth.
“I got ahead of a defender and he smashed me on my right ankle,” the former striker remembers.
“I got taken off the pitch, the Bournemouth fans were giving me loads of stick, saying I was time wasting. It’s one of the first times I got quite upset and shouted back.
“My ankle was badly damaged and it was still painful coming towards the end of the season.”
He made a late appearance against Wrexham on the final day of the regular campaign but was an unused sub in both legs of the play-off semi-final against Stoke City.
“My ankle was still in a state,” he admitted, as the Gills prepared for another visit to Wembley.
“It was giving me a lot of problems and Peter asked me how I was. I said, ‘aye, Im good.’ I knew I was never going to start the game but I knew I could do 15-20 minutes.”
The Gills had gone behind in extra-time of that final, when Barry Ashby was hardly adjudged to have conceded a penalty, but Steve Butler’s thumping header from a quality Junior Lewis cross levelled it up.
Four minutes later came the moment Thomson - and all of Gillingham’s fans - will forever remember.
He said: “When you get that amount of quality crosses teams will eventually concede a goal, it’s just a matter of time. If you keep believing you will score.
“Their defenders were big, strong and physical and they loved playing against big, strong and physical strikers, they don’t want anybody who will go behind them to get infront of them, they hate that.
“I always felt I had a good record of scoring against Wigan, previously for Southend. I had played against some of those Wigan players before and I always felt confident I could score against them.
“As soon as I got on the pitch I think Guy Butters played a pass and I got behind one of the defenders. I thought straight away there are going to be opportunities here for the team and for me.
“I haven’t watched that match too many times over the years but I watched it recently and still get goosebumps.
“I remember Ty getting a yard outside of the defender. The timing of that run looks easy but it is the hardest thing to get right. As soon as the defender watches the ball you have a split second to get infront of him and it happened. It was a great cross, then I remember running to the sidelines.
“I was never one for over celebrating. I am just a laid back quiet person and never really celebrated, but that was probably one time I did it.
“When you grow up as a young football player in Scotland, at that time, the only games on TV were Scotland vs England and cup finals, I grew up watching the games at Wembley and just to go there was a brilliant experience.
“I vividly remember the ball going in the net and when you look back you see what a brilliant thing it was to be part of. It was great. For me, from a personal point of view, it genuinely was a dream come true.”
Thomson had joined the Gills at the start of that season from Oxford United, signed by manager Peter Taylor for the second time. They had previously been at Southend United together.
He knew he would be a squad player but was happy to have linked up with Taylor again. Back then the former Gills boss said it was the best £25,000 he had ever spent.
“He says that because he had spent £250,000 on me previously!” Thomson said.
“Maybe that was the worst 250 he had ever spent and it was certainly a lot cheaper second time around.
“He signed me at Southend from Queen of the South and when you have a manager who trusts and believes in you, it gives you that extra self belief and confidence. When a manager signs you twice he obviously believes in you.
“I knew I wouldn’t always start games because they had Asaba and Taylor but I knew I would still play a part because he liked what I could bring to the team.”
Taylor tried to sign him twice more after that. There were talks about a move to Brighton that never materialised and he failed a medical at Hull City.
When Taylor had left Gills for Premier League Leicester in the summer of 2000, Thomson asked the question. “He said he would keep signing me unless he went to a Premier League team. When he went to Leicester he said “no chance!”
But on the move to Gillingham, he said: “If Peter hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have signed,” and he revealed that there had been talks about him going there the year before, under Tony Pulis.
He said: “I was leaving Southend and it was just a loose conversation but they asked me what I was doing. Nothing came of it but that was the first involvement I have had with Gillingham. I ended up going to Oxford United but when Peter left the 21s at England and got the job at Gillingham it was a huge reason for me going there.
“I get on brilliant with Peter and have full respect for him as a person and as a coach. There were moments we would disagree but that is always healthy. There was always honesty and he was instrumental in everything I have done so I cannot thank him enough.”
He was joining a team who had come so close the year before, losing to Manchester City in a dramatic 1999 play-off final.
He remember that game well, saying: “The Man City game has been well documented with that amazing ending and I remember watching that game up in Scotland. I was playing at Southend then and I was rooting for Gillingham - only because I knew Paul Smith!
“They didn’t get there on that occasion and on the back of that, with a new manager coming in, the start of the season was really tough for everyone. We had a different way of playing, a different style and it took a while to bed in.
“I remember we got on a run of games, started building a winning momentum and it took us up the league. You could see the confidence growing.
“Right from the first day I joined in with training I felt like it was a strong team on the pitch but even more importantly it was a strong team off it. There were strong characters physically and there was also strong characters mentally.
“People like Mark Saunders, he wasn’t the loudest but he was a strong, strong character and played a huge part. Mark Patterson also played a part. We had characters like Guy Butters, Barry Ashby and Ady Pennock and they were loud. We had a good mix of quieter people too but were all strong individuals and that is what held the team together at the beginning.”
Thomson stayed with the Gills for their first season in the Championship but towards the back end would move to QPR.
At the end of his first full season with the Rs he had talks with Gills chairman Paul Scally about a return. He ended up signing another year at QPR and his last game for them would be in a play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, against Cardiff City.
He came off the bench, the game was goalless and he had a chance to be the hero again, in the last minute, but his header went wide of the post. Cardiff won the match 1-0 in extra-time.
It wasn’t to be that day for Thomson and he moved back up to Scotland for spells at Partick Thistle, Falkirk, Queen of the South and Stenhousemuir and moved into coaching.
He still keeps his Gillingham strip in a frame, up in the attic, with the rest of his football mementoes. He doesn’t like to boast of his achievements and only recently did his 18 year-old daughter watch back his winning goal at Wembley.
He said: “It’s definitely a proud moment and for people to still speak about it now does bring it back to how much it meant. It is more for other people and the enjoyment they got out of it. I take enjoyment out of it because it is for them.
“I don’t really get carried away with things but it was brilliant to be a part of what happened 20 years ago.
“When you have been a player for a long time there are loads of difficult moments, which makes the good moments even more special.
“The main thing for me was the people I played with and those around about the club, that was the best thing, to do it for them and seeing how much it meant to everyone involved was even more special.”