GILLINGHAM have made it clear they will be keeping a close eye on local talent after missing out on some high profile players in recent years.
Boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping another Chris Smalling doesn’t slip through the net and at present they don’t have to go far from home to see some quality talent just waiting for a chance to impress.
The Gills recently plumped for West Ham’s Frank Nouble to give their attacking options an immediate boost but the club will no doubt also have noticed some familiar figures doing the business upfront in the lower leagues.
Raw talent needs nurturing, so it was no surprise Hessenthaler went for someone of Nouble’s stature for a quick fix, but in the long run he could be turning to some of Kent’s top non-league sides as he did when he went back to Dover to land Adam Birchall.
As Danny Kedwell is proving, since getting his dream move to the Gills, it can be a long route into the professional game but there are so many players out there just waiting to show what they can do.
At Ebbsfleet they have an attacking threat in Michael West who would no doubt do the business at a higher level. He came through Fleet’s youth set-up and has grown into a key player for Liam Daish’s side.
He’s a skilful player, hampered by injury this season, who loves to run at defenders. Although not a striker, he knows where the net is. His goals in last season’s successful Blue Square South play-off campaign were crucial.
It wasn’t long ago that Charlie MacDonald was banging in the goals for the Fleet. He was linked to the Gills but ended up at Southend and then Brentford. He reportedly cost MK Dons £1m this summer and has hit three goals in eight games so far.
Andy Pugh, meanwhile, who was released by the Gills in 2007 has become a big hit at Welling since taking a step backwards. The 22-year-old top scored for the Wings with 17 last season and has 10 in 10 so far this season. He is quick and skillful and will surely be back in the league some day.
Another former Gillingham youngster, Frannie Collin, has netted double figures for Tonbridge Angels and will be just as determined to prove that he has developed and is ready for another shot at the big time.
Charlie Sheringham meanwhile has the name, thanks to his father Teddy, and is fast developing a good reputation at Dartford. He has 11 goals to his name already and after spending his younger days with Tottenham he has been brought up to play decent football.
Dartford have certainly produced some talent in recent years. Cody McDonald wasn’t there very long but they cashed in when he went to Norwich City just a few years after wing-wizard Dave Martin moved to Crystal Palace.
Kent may not be awash with top teams but is developing some good footballers and the Gills need to remain alert so it’s them that benefit and not others.
Chris Smalling went from Maidstone United to Manchester United and the Champions League in the space of a whirlwind three years, which included a £10m move from Fulham to Old Trafford. Despite going to Chatham Grammar he bypassed his local club completely.
Young defender Jack Baldwin moved from Faversham to Hartlepool in the summer, despite brief interest from the Gills. Will he prove to be another that got away?
Clearly the Gills can’t sign every half-decent player in Kent but the good thing is that Hessenthaler has made a point of keeping in with the locals, by spending the summer playing numerous pre-season friendlies and loaning a number of players to local clubs. It is unlikely local talent will by-pass Priestfield so easily in the future and the next big star could be turning out in blue and not elsewhere. Just who can make it remains to be seen.