THE concept of divided loyalties will be alien for everyone in the crunch clash at the Kassam Stadium tomorrow, but there will be one Gillingham player
with a soft spot for Oxford United.
Simon King spent a decade with the U’s from under tens upwards and was handed his debut by Mike Ford in the final first-team game played at the Manor Ground, in May 2001.
The talented defender made just four appearances before being released, making his name at Barnet before a £200,000 move to Gillingham in 2007.
Now 29, King retains close links to the area, with his family still living in Witney, and an affection for the U’s remains.
“Oxford were my team because as you worked through the youth teams the club gave out tickets, so I used to go with my Dad and watch from Beech Road,” he said.
“I really grew up in the youth team, so there’s always fond memories when you go back.
“I had a couple of years with Mickey Lewis, he’s a top man – an Oxford legend – so it will be nice to bump into him this weekend.
“I have a lot of friends who are Oxford supporters so they’ll be looking forward to the game.
“It was a little bit disappointing when I left because I never felt I really got a chance, which is something I’d always liked to have done because they were my team as a kid.”
King’s career flourished at Priestfield, playing a key role in the Gills’ play-off win three seasons’ ago, but he did not get the chance to play a part in their resulting League One campaign.
A career-threatening ankle injury in pre-season saw the centre back sidelined for more than 18 months and the after effects continue to prevent him training every day.
King has staged a comeback this season, first on loan at Plymouth Argyle and then back with Gillingham this spring.
It has given him confidence of finding a club this summer when his contract runs out at Priestfield, something which looked wildly optimistic at one stage.
He said: “The last couple of years have been a complete nightmare, but I’m happy with some of the performances I’ve put in this season.
“Fingers crossed I can find a club this summer and stay in the league for another couple of seasons.
“I’ve had doubts and it has crossed my mind about giving it up, but getting through a few games and not picking up more injuries felt good and I’m enjoying it again.
“I’m going to be a bit of a gamble for someone, but I feel I’ve shown I can still perform at this level.”
For the moment King’s focus is on helping the Gills reach another play-off campaign and pulled no punches about the importance of tomorrow’s game.
He said: “I don’t even need to say how much of a must-win game it is for Gillingham.
“Oxford have had a little blip, like ourselves, so it’s probably going to be a bit edgy and nervous.
“We need to make sure we stay in the game and if we do that we’re more than capable of getting a result there, although we have to be careful because Oxford have some very good players.”