Simon Ratcliffe’s challenging time in charge of Gillingham has come to an end with what the club describe as a mutual agreement.
Ratcliffe, a former Gills player, was thrown in at the deep end when he was appointed less than three weeks before the start of the Premier League season after James Marrs left for Brighton, along with a number of Gillingham players.
He said at the time that the club had had its heart ripped out of it, and while he spoke positively and optimistically about the team’s prospects, it was clear Gillingham would always be up against it during a season of dramatic change.
And so it proved, as the Gills – who had finished second the previous season under Marrs – ended second-to-bottom and were relegated to South East Division 1 – an enormous, though not entirely surprising, decline, given the circumstances.
Gillingham’s Premier League record under Ratliffe
P W D L F A PTS
22 4 3 15 28 65 15
Ratcliffe, who had been coaching in Norfolk before taking on the daunting commute to Kent, told Sent Her Forward that he was leaving on good terms, and the club say his departure was “mutually agreed”. They say in their formal announcement that they are “parting company” with “regret”.
But there is genuine optimism for the club’s prospects for the coming season, albeit at a lower level, with a joint managerial duo at the helm, both with vast experience of the club.
Darren Hare, who took the helm temporarily during the chaotic few weeks following Marrs’ departure, and manages the club academy, will add the ladies’ team to his portfolio, alongside Jack Wheeler, who played a key role in Gillingham’s memorable 2013/14 season, as assistant to Marrs, before leaving the club last summer.
Wheeler told the club’s website: “I had a fantastic season with Gillingham Ladies not so long ago, and I’m delighted to be invited back into the set-up.
“Our 2013/14 season (during which the Gills also won the Ryman and Kent Cups and enjoyed an unprecedented run in the FA Cup) was a historic and record-breaking one, and while the club has undergone some setbacks over the last year or so, plenty of progress has taken place.
“I’m really impressed by the club’s commitment as a whole to the women’s team, the fact the girls have access to the facilities at the club, receive so much focus and support from the fans, besides having the opportunity to play at Priestfield, give plenty to be positive about and work with in the future.”
Hare acknowledged that in some ways the task of the new management team is easier than that faced by his predecessor.
He told the club’s website: “Simon took over at a very difficult point for the club, and while last season was spent regrouping and transitioning into the club’s framework as a whole, we’re now at a more advanced stage, with great foundations, ready to rebuild the winning mentality that is an integral part of the culture at Gillingham.”
Centre of Excellence boost
Much of the club’s progress in the coming season will rest on keeping a settled squad this time around, now that they have had a season to work together, and particularly retaining their key players.
But in another boost to the club, their centre of excellence has been awarded a fresh licence to continue producing and enhancing talent from the under-nine to under-17 age groups – some of whom have risen to the senior squad.
Centre manager Georgia Bowie told the club’s website the past season had been especially successful, with squad sizes increasing and the under-17s making the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.
She said: “We’ve seen girls represent England, either at training camps, international fixtures, or élite performance camps, we’ve moved to a fantastic new ground for our twice-weekly training sessions and we’ve got an absolutely superb group of talented, passionate staff, in coaching, admin and sports therapy.”
Trials for centre-of-excellence places begin later this month, while a taster session for players interested in the senior squad is taking place on June 16.