Tonbridge Angels 1-2 Gillingham - Junior Dian will never be forgotten by anybody who was at that game, says Steve McKimm

Saturday 11th July 2015
Tonbridge Angels 1 – 2 Gillingham
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 11/07/2015 15:00

Junior Dian Tribute Match
Saturday 11th July 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS manager Steve McKimm says he will never forget Junior Dian.

The 24-year-old, Ilford based central defender was playing his first game in senior football on Tuesday night, but he collapsed on the Whyteleafe pitch during the second half of his debut and tragically died in a Tooting hospital in the early hours of the morning.

It has been an emotionally charged four days for those players, management staff, supporters, club staff and reporters who were at Church Road on Tuesday night.

The Ryman Premier League club insisted that today’s pre-season friendly against League One side Gillingham, who won 3-0 at Folkestone Invicta on that tragic Tuesday, would go ahead as a tribute match for the young man.

Tonbridge Angels confirmed that they are indeed a family oriented community club by staging a tear-jerking pre-match ceremony, which included a minutes’ applause for a player whose life was tragically cut short at such an early age.

Gillingham captain Cody McDonald and Dian’s friends, Tonbridge captain Jerrome Sobers and James Folkes laid wreaths while the rest of the Tonbridge players also paid their respects at the memorial (below, pic BBC Radio Kent)

A family member thanked the Tonbridge supporters for their love shown towards the family and Neil Durling, the club’s chaplain, read out an emotional poem written by one of the supporters.

The game was a fine tribute to Dian as both the players’ and supporters of both Tonbridge Angels and Gillingham conducted themselves well on a very tough day.

McKimm said: “We thought long and hard how we was going to do it. It was a fitting tribute to him.  Like I say, there’s no words to describe what happened the other night. All we can try and do as a club, the best we could as a send-off to one of our footballers.”

Gillingham took the lead on the stroke of half-time through Luke Norris’ finish, before Tonbridge Angels deservedly equalised halfway through the second half through substitute striker Tom Pearson.

Justin Edinburgh made eight changes at the break and John Egan, who played for an hour, planted home a header to win it for Gillingham with three minutes left.

McKimm said: “It was a tiring day! I woke up this morning, knew what I was, what we was putting ourselves in for.  I know how hard it was going to be and I thought the club, players, the staff, the supporters, everybody played their part today in giving Junior as good a send-off in terms of football that we could have done.”

McKimm revealed that he got his players’ together on Thursday night and their performance was brave and spirited today.

He said: “I made a conscience decision Wednesday that I got the boys in training on Thursday where as other people might have had off. I got them in because they needed to get reunited as a group again.  They came in, we spoke to them and they worked hard in training and they understand what Junior and speaking to his family what he would have wanted and that was to carry on as we did.

“As unfortunate and as horrible and as hard what happened, it’s happened. We’ve got to move on. It’s not in a callous way but you’ve got to move on because that boy will never be forgotten by anybody who was at that game, anybody who worked with him, i.e. the staff and the players. 

“You never forget what happened. It’s like anything, you have to move on to continue life, if that’s the nicest way to put it and remember him in that way that everybody else would remember him as a footballer.”

A respectful McKimm wants the club to move forward from this tragic episode and enjoy a successful season.

“It’s tough but you saw it out there today, the boys’ have got to get out there and play football and that’s what they do.  They’ve got their everyday work that they’ve got to do and like I said to them in the changing room, it’s going to take an awful lot of time for some people to get over it.

“It might not hit some people for, it could be two, three, four years, but it will hit them and then what they’ve got to do is understand how they’ve got to deal with it in getting some help.

“Things like that effect people in different ways. It will effect some more than others and it would hopefully make people stronger and hopefully make people to look at life in a different life.”

When he was asked if he wanted to talk about the game today, McKimm replied, “Yes, by all means mate!”

Tonbridge Angels created the game’s first chance inside ten minutes on a sun-kissed day in Kent when left-winger Nick Wheeler, a summer signing from Lewes, cut inside, turned his marker but his right-footed shot rolled into Stuart Nelson’s hands at his near post.

Gillingham’s opening chance arrived four minutes later.

Norris swept the ball out wide to Brennan Dickenson and the ball was threaded into Bradley Dack, who was tackled by Tonbridge defender Sonny Miles, the ball being deflected behind for a corner, although a goal-kick was awarded.

Tonbridge Angels created a decent goalscoring opportunity when Josh Hare tackled Luke Blewden and from Lee Carey’s resulting corner was met by Tom Parkinson at the far post but his header was caught by Nelson at the near post.

The Angels were playing well during the first half and Wheeler cut inside and laid the ball off to Phipp, the former Margate midfielder flashing his drive harmlessly wide of the far post from 25-yards.

Hare was stretchered off the pitch with a suspected knee injury and Gillingham played for ten-men for six minutes by the time that Egan came on to give him an hour on the pitch.

Gillingham released winger Jermain McClashen down the right and he cut the ball back to Emmanuel Osadebe, whose right-footed shot from 15-yards forced former Peacehaven & Telscombe keeper Anthony Di Bernado to make a comfortable catch while diving to his right.

Blewden, on his return to Longmead following his spell at league rivals Lewes, let a ball drop over his right shoulder before cracking a dipping volley over the Gillingham bar.

Gillingham midfielder Osadebe danced through the middle of the Tonbridge defence and Di Bernado held his shot well, diving low to his right, on the half-an-hour mark.

But a brilliant save from Nelson denied Tonbridge Angels a deserved 37th minute lead.

Blewden, who is good at holding up the ball, played a sublime diagonal pass out to Charlie Webster out on the right.  He played the ball inside to Parkinson, who cut the ball back to Folkes, who whipped in a cross from the right and Phipp’s powerful downward header was parried by the keeper to his left.

McKimm said: “Tom is a good player and to have someone like that at this club in the manner that he’s come as well – because I haven’t got loads of money – so I’ve offered him a deal that’s suitable to this club and he can see what I’m trying to do and he willingly accepted, so he’s a good acquisition, as is all the players I’ve brought in.

“I’ve kept the nucleus what I felt was a good, solid base and I’ve added to it and when the season starts we’ll tell where we’ll be but there’s definitely competition for places out there.

A second great save from Gillingham’s 33-year-old goalkeeper frustrated Phipp again.

Phipp started the move in midfield by playing the ball to Blewden, who found Webster out on the right and the winger - released by Gillingham in the summer - whipped in a cross and Nelson pushed the ball away high to his right as Phipp was so close to capping off an excellent first half performance with a headed goal.

McKimm added: “He’s had two headers from six-to-eight yards or whatever, you’d expect them to go in but the keeper’s pulled off two brilliant, brilliant saves! That’s what he’s there to do, that’s his job!

“Tom Phipp’s job is to get in the box for crosses, put crosses in and he’s got in there. Both players have done what they’re expected to do!

“Hopefully when the season starts Tom will convert them, like what he did on Tuesday night when he got in the box, header, goal!”

But Gillingham grabbed the lead, following a Tonbridge mistake, inside injury-time.

Tonbridge Angels’ midfielder Lee Carey gave the ball away inside his half and Osadebe fed Cody McDonald who set up Norris, whose right-footed shot across Di Bernado nestled into the bottom far corner of the net.

McKimm said: “I want my players to play and I want them to make the right decisions and do the right things.

“Now, the ball’s come into Lee and he thought a pass was on and it wasn’t. It got nicked off him but that’s football.

“I’m not interested in results. I’m interested in ironing out any mistakes that we make in these games so the 8th of August we don’t make those mistakes again – and we’re a functional side that know what we’re doing and when they’re doing it, when’s the right time and when’s the wrong time.”

McKimm explained why he had five substitutes on the bench.

“I haven’t had a lot of trailists in. I had Junior and I had two or three other trialsits in.  Two of them have already gone, Junior, obviously the situation has happened with him but I don’t want last year when I was having 15 trialists in at training where I can’t work with my squad, so there might be one or two coming in so I can have a look at.

“I said we just need one or two more players and when I bring them in I’ll have a look at them and if they’re good enough yes, if they’re not and they’re not going to affect what I’ve already got, then I’ll be saying goodbye to them.”

Gillingham made eight changes at the break and they had to wait until the 54th minute for their first opening when Jake Hessenthaler swept his shot into Di Bernando’s hands after Bradley Garmston’s corner from the right was cleared.

Hessenthaler swept the ball out to Ryan Jackson on the right and his cross from the right was met at the far post by John Egan, which he planted over the bar.

But the tempo of the game slowed right down after an hour as the part-timers started to tire on a scorching day.

McKimm was full of praise for substitute striker Pearson for equalising with 68 minutes on the clock.

Tommy Whitnell played the ball forward for Pearson to chase and he capitalised on a poor header by Egan and kept his composure to round goalkeeper Glenn Morris to slot his right-footed effort into the bottom near corner of an empty net.

McKimm said: “Tom’s got a habit of getting injuries and he’s got injured quite a bit last year and he got himself back, scored some goals and then got injured.

“I played him a couple of times last year and he done well. He’s someone I’m looking at to progress. He’s only a young boy. If he’s patient he might get a chance. If he’s not, like some of the other boys who may want to look for pastures new, then that’s fine.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders and I think he wants to learn.

“The goal was a tribute to him because he never gives up anything and that’s what I like about him – always chases things down! It was a poor header from the back and he’s nipped in past the keeper and slotted it into the empty net but that’s down to him and his perseverance.”

Lifted by the equaliser, Tonbridge Angels created a couple of chances to stun their League One opponents again, as two of their substitutes combined in the 72nd minute.

Charlie Slocombe played in a cross from the right towards Kostas Riascos – the Greek midfielder who has played Champions League football earlier in his career – shot straight at Glenn Norris.

Former Gillingham left-back Jack Parter progressed forward to whip in a cross but substitute striker Nathan Elder powered his towering header over the bar.

But Gillingham won the game with 41:18 on the clock.

Ryan Edwards, who alongside Mitchell Dickenson got through 90 minutes, skipped past his man down the left, cut into the penalty area and floated over a cross for Egan to power his downward header into the back of the net via the diving goalkeeper.

McKimm said: “We lost the ball near the halfway line, haven’t defended properly on the by-line, they’ve put a cross in and they’ve scored.”

The Tonbridge keeper made a low save to his left to prevent Hessenthaler scoring after he ran at the tiring Tonbridge defence late on.

But bravehearted Angels created the last chance of the game when Parkinson rolled the ball inside to Riascos, who took a touch before blasting his shot over the bar from 30-yards.

McKimm said: “But I’m not interested in results. I’m interested in performances and minutes on the pitch.

“We were never going to be as good as Gillingham because they play full-time. They’re a good side. Justin (Edinburgh) is a good manager. He earned his stripes all through the non-league into league football. He’s got Newport promoted and Gillingham wouldn’t have offered him a job if they didn’t think he could take them to the next level - I think he can!

“He’s going to assemble a good squad to what he already had. I think he’s going to do very well.  Who knows how long they can keep hold of him – if he’s successful.

“We’ve come up against a good side. If you look at their first team in the first half that won’t be far from many of their starters, give or take on or two and even second half there were a few starters in there so we’ve held our own.

“I don’t like saying held our own against a League side because I’m looking at what my players’ can do as a team rather than the opposition but we know what we was up against.”

McKimm takes his side to Southern Counties East Football League neighbours Sevenoaks Town on Tuesday night.

Micky Collins’ side opened their pre-season campaign with a 4-0 defeat against Vanarama National League side Bromley, in front of 293 fans at Greatness Park.

When asked how he will be treating the game, McKimm revealed: “Same as! It’s minutes again.  It’s a game of football and my players’ know what I want from them. It’s a bit of graft and hard work and they’ll do that and we’ll just carry on and we’ll do that for the next game and the next game. It’s just preparation for the 8th of August that we’re ready to go on all cylinders.”

Rest In Peace Junior Dian. Condolences, again, to the family and to those who knew the young man.

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di Bernado, James Folkes (Charlie Slocombe 55), Jack Parter, Lee Carey (Kostas Riascos 65), Sonny Miles, Lawrence Ball, Nick Wheeler (Tom Pearson 65), Tom Phipp (Tommy  Whitnell 45), Luke Blewden (Nathan Elder 46), Tom Parkinson, Charlie Webster.

Goal: Tom Pearson 68

Booked: Tom Parkinson 38

Gillingham: Stuart Nelson (Glenn Morris 46), Josh Hare (John Egan 30), Mitchell Dickenson, Emmanuel Osadebe (Ryan Jackson 46), Max Ehmer (Aaron Morris 46), Ryan Edwards, Brennan Dickenson (Bradley Gramston 46), Bradley Dack (Jake Hessenthaler 46), Luke Norris (Ben Williamson 46), Cody McDonald (Rory Donnelly 46), Jermain McClashen (Michael Freiter 46).

Goals: Luke Norris 45, John Egan 87

Booked: Bradley Dack 32

Attendance: 796
Referee: Mr Jeff Lengthorn (New Eltham, London SE9)
Assistants: Mr Steve Perry (Bexleyheath) & Mr Piotr Zachwieja (Orpington)


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