Chelsea debutants come out in style

Glenn Moore watches Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes make a bright start
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The Independent Online
The setting was so unlikely as to be surreal, but there was no mistaking the dreadlocks. Ruud Gullit, former European and world footballer of the year and one of the best footballers of his generation, was playing at Gillingham. Had it not been for the extensive advance billing, it would have been like finding your mother on stage in a strip club.

When Gullit, winner of European cups and championships, decided to forsake the glamour of Italian football to tour England's historic footballing theatres, it is unlikely he had Priestfield Stadium in mind.

Although grandly named, it is modestly appointed. The ground does possess history - it has the oldest stand in the League, the Gordon Road stand, built in 1899 by dockers for beer and ciggies on their summer break - but that is only because the club cannot afford to replace it.

Gillingham cannot afford much at all at present. While Chelsea signed one of the world's most noted players this summer, the Gills bought Leo Fortune-West, latterly of Stevenage Borough, for pounds 5,000. The money was provided by the supporters' club, who also painted the ground for nothing during the summer.

It is only four weeks since Gillingham were saved from bankruptcy, and the finances are still so shaky the Football League - as helpful as ever to impecunious clubs - have withheld Gillingham's pounds 40,000 share of the pools promoters' money until the new year.

Thus last night's match was a godsend to Gillingham. Gullitmania swelled their coffers by an estimated pounds 25,000 as a capacity crowd of 10,500 filled the ground. Hundreds more were locked outside, the lucky ones watched from the windows and garage roofs overlooking the ground, the less fortunate walked away, some of the younger fans in tears.

Inside, Gullit was mobbed by media and supporters when he emerged, shortly before kick-off, wearing the No 4 shirt. As both sets of supporters gave him a standing ovation, he attempted to warm up while signing autographs and being trailed by a crowd of small boys like the Pied Piper.

Gullit, playing as a sweeper, played the first 45 minutes. Mark Hughes, Chelsea's other summer signing, played the second half. Their Third Division opponents, most of whom earn in a year what Gullit does in a week, rose to the occasion with the consequence that the match was more like a cup tie than a pre-season friendly.

Chelsea's greater class told in the end, with Hughes having the dominant say. With the score 1-1 and 22 minutes remaining, he picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and dribbled past three players before shooting powerfully into the corner.

Gillingham had taken the lead when Fortune-West reacted first in a goalmouth scramble, and his mis-hit shot went in off Andy Myers. Gullit showed some neat touches, especially moving forward, but defensively Chelsea looked vulnerable and Fortune-West and Richard Carpenter both hit the woodwork.

By then Chelsea were level. After Andy Arnott brought down Dennis Wise after 29 minutes, Mark Stein scored from the penalty spot. Hughes' goal and a last-minute penalty from Gavin Peacock secured the win for Chelsea, but Glenn Hoddle will be just as pleased about the way his new signings eased themselves into action.

Gillingham, however, will be even more delighted with the night as they count the takings.

Gillingham (4-4-2): Glass; Carpenter, Butler, Arnott, Watson; Rattray, Ratcliffe, Dunne, O'Connor; Fortune-West, Foster. Substitutes used: Smith, Onjure, Martin, Lindsay, Brown, Freeman.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Kharin; Sinclair, Gullit, Johnsen; Clarke, Wise, Spackman, Spencer, Myers; Peacock, Stein. Substitutes used: Hughes, Lee, Burley, Newton, Barness.

Referee: A Ward (London).