When Julius Caesar briefly invaded Kent in 55 and 54 BC he found it the most civilised part of Britain, colonised by the Belgae from Northern France. Moving forward nigh on two millennia there are those who feel that civilsed Kent is not really a footballing part of the country. May we please remind you therefore of The Royal Engineers, hailing from Chatham, who played at Great Lines which was situated between New Brompton and Chatham? Four times FA Cup finalists between 1872 and 1878, including one victory over Old Etonians, this illustrious team of officers in their red and blue hooped jerseys ignited the interest of the residents of the Medway towns of Gillingham, Rochester and Chatham.
Their success led to the formation of many clubs in the area, including one named Excelsior FC in 1891. They began life playing on the patch of common land that once was graced by The Royal Engineers, Great Lines. Regardless of this name, the ground was known for its downward slope and its proximity to a manure heap.
After winning the Kent Junior Cup and the Chatham District League in 1893, Excelsior decided to turn their organisation into a limited company. It was at a meeting in The Napier Arms, Britton Street, Gillingham, in 1893, that New Brompton FC came into being, buying and developing a plot of land that was to become known as Priestfield Stadium. In 1913 the name was changed to Gillingham FC.
It will come as no surprise that the nickname “Gills” was taken from the club’s name. There are perhaps surprisingly no records of any previous nicknames for Gillingham. The choice of black and white colours in the early years was in the desire to copy the success of the likes of Notts County and Newcastle United. Blue shirts and white shorts were introduced in 1928 in an effort to change struggle for fortune.
The current kit, black and blue stripes, was first worn in the 1995/96 season when the club won promotion to Division 3. Rumour has it that the black stripes were introduced to resemble Inter Milan’s shirts, but they actually are just a throwback to tradition and the old New Brompton colours. The 2003-2004 campaign saw the introduction of a white shirt with two thin red stripes surrounding a large blue stripe, in fact representing the colours of the French flag and their sponsor SeaFrance.
Gillingham’s club emblem is an adaptation of the arms of Kent County Council. The white Invicta horse originates from its shield and is reputed to be the symbol of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Kent, dating from the 6-8th century. The leader of the invaders who settled in Kent bore a horse, perhaps that of Odin on his standard. Invicta means ‘unconquered’.
The Latin motto ‘Domus Clamantium’ screams for an explanation. When one of the Anglo-Saxons tribes settled somewhere in Kent they called their place ‘Gillingham’, meaning ‘The House of the Shouting Men’. With that in mind, are we to assume that the neighbouring bunch of invaders who settled near Chatham were more of the chatting kind?
Whatever, what would Caesar have thought about the Shouting Men at Priestfield Stadium? We think he’d still find them civilised.