On the basis that a club without its history is nothing, it is telling but unsurprising that for many Carlisle United fans, their chosen way to get through this strange, extended period without football is to delve deep into the Blues’ eventful past.
Favourite games, players, goals, and so on. Memorable days, glorious nights, notorious characters and infamous mishaps. All are coming to the fore during this enforced coronavirus shutdown and thoughts of the Cumbrians of yesteryear are certainly helping fill part of the void.
Sifting through United’s old days is an obvious diversion, then – but it could also prove beneficial in other, practical ways, should supporters have the time and the inclination to trawl a little further.
The club’s own archive – of footage, memorabilia, artefacts and so on – is limited as a result of previous tough times. Floods, such as the devastating waters of Storm Desmond in 2015, ransacked Brunton Park and took with them some items which are irreplaceable.
It is heartbreaking to hear of certain things which left staff with no option other than to discard them. In other cases, the deluges damaged the sort of memorabilia a club will always squirrel away, display or dip into as routine. Carlisle, to sum up, are shorter than they would like of the kind of items which lend the Blues a sense of heritage, and they are now asking if there is anything out there, in supporters’ homes, which could be identified during the game’s shutdown and, in due course, brought forward.
The thought arose at Brunton Park at a time the club’s own staff are joining the rest of the football media in relying on nostalgia to plug gaps in coverage where a handful of 2019/20 League Two games should have been.
“We’re doing all of this archive trawling, but our archive has been decimated,” said club spokesman and media officer Andy Hall.
“As an idea of the kind of thing we lost, we had a fully signed Arsenal-Carlisle programme from the FA Cup in 1951, which had every single signature on it. It was one of the first things I looked for after the 2015 flood, and when I found it, it was congealed, matted together and unsaveable. The ink of the signatures had all just run. That was lost.
“What the physical worth is of something like that, who knows, but the actual worth of it to the club was priceless. That ended up in a skip.
“We also had a catalogue of Roma stuff [referring to Carlisle’s incredible Anglo-Italian Cup victory in the Olympic Stadium in 1972], from match tickets to programmes…there was also a little miniature Roma cap thing that was stapled to the programme. It was just absolutely destroyed; the cap had started to disintegrate, and that all ended up in the skip too.
“Things like that, which were integral to the club archives, we will not replace. But thinking about this has made us wonder whether there is anything else out there, and if this is a period when people would be able to take the time to help us, if they can, to rebuild our archives?”
The Carlisle United Supporters’ Groups (CUSG) have, for some time, being steering efforts in this department. Their rounding up of memorabilia items has seen some of the Blues’ bars decorated with shirts, programmes and pictures from great United days, while an array of United shirts through the years has also been collated, with some displayed on the stairs up to the main reception in the Pioneer Stand – an area occupied by staff ever since the post-flood revamp at the stadium.
The ball used by Billy Rafferty to plunder arguably the club’s most famous hat-trick, against Cardiff in 1976, made its way back into United’s possession last year, thanks to the scorer, who said last January: “We’re quite settled now in Carlisle – we’ve been here for nearly 30 years – and I thought, well, it’s a bit pointless it being up in the loft. I’ve always thought my grandchildren would be very happy to keep the ball, but I just thought I’d rather have it on display here at the club, so that everybody can see what all the talk’s been about all these years.”
Pieces of treasure like this might not be easy to find, but then again, who knows? Trinkets and tickets tend to be scattered across the city, county, country, the world even, from their time of origin and it would be nice to think a few things of rare meaning could be turned up as a result of a fresh appeal.
It is, from CUSG, an ongoing project and the hope is that, with people confined to their homes much more than normal for who knows how long, it might spark some into seeking out what Blues things they have.
“What if somebody had a match ticket from the Roma or Catanzaro game, or who knows what else,” Hall says. “Perhaps, if they were willing, people could loan it to us, or have it displayed permanently here?
“That’s the sort of position we’d love to get to, but for the moment, it would be fantastic just to know if anything is out there.”
United have, these past couple of weeks, been rummaging through their video archive in a bid to entertain fans with footage from memorable times. This, though, is in itself a task easier in some places than others.
“It’s on a hit-and-hope basis, in that we had an extensive DVD archive that was also submerged, covered in silt,” Hall added.
“We managed to get the whole lot to a man in Oxford, who cleaned them all, but he couldn’t guarantee the integrity of them. We are finding that to be the case now – some will work, some won’t. So when people are saying, ‘Can we have a look at X game’ from 2002’, for instance, we’re finding that it won’t play. Or in some cases it will.”
Carlisle have preserved some of these, as well as picture DVDs from club photographer Mark Fuller, from various eras. In this time of shutdown, and in terms of rebuilding a list of things a club should always treasure, no item is off limits.
“It might be scrapbooks, videos, cinefilm, DVD clips that have been downloaded and hoarded,” Hall added. “Programmes. Anything at all, any items of memorabilia, unique things that would help the club, either on a loan or donation basis, to rebuild that archive.
“As everyone knows, we are all digging back and pulling up what we can to lighten the mood. It has highlighted again just how sparse our archive, which used to be full, is. To answer the question of how people could help us at this time, if they would like to, that’s certainly one way.”
*CUSG can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CarlisleUtdSG