Unknown Legend; The Peter McLachlan Story - Part 1

From t-shirts to all of the published, and filmed histories of Carlisle United, one of the most used pictures is the team shot of the 'legends' squad. The squad who played out the only season Carlisle United have ever enjoyed in the top flight. There are many in the United support from that time, and from more recent years, capable of naming most of the squad. One or two of the less familiar faces can pose a problem. Who - for example - is the young, long-haired goalkeeper stood next to Tom Clark and Alan Ross?

Peter McLachan is - arguably - the 'unknown legend' but he is much more than that. His Carlisle United career was longer than most fans realise, and his insights into the club from the sixties to the nineties have never been published, until now. McLachlan takes up the tale :

My Carlisle United career started in 1967 when, at the age of 15, I was chosen to play for Carlisle schoolboys and several of us were asked to sign the Blue "Schoolboy" forms. At Christmas that same year the club had a goalkeeping crisis and I was asked to play in the first team in a behind closed doors friendly against Workington.

During 1968 I played a couple of times for the reserves in the old North Regional League but in general I just trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights with the rest of the amateur players and played occasionally in the A-Team in the Carlisle and District League.

When Bob Stokoe took over he scrapped the Reserve and A-Team and so we were all out on our ear. Fortunately this only lasted for one season and when Ian Mc Farlane took over he immediately resurrected the A-Team and used that as a reserve team. At this point I was asked to rejoin the club and gladly did so.

I played in this set up for a couple of seasons and was told on several occasions that I was close to being given a Professional contract but it never happened. During season 1972-73 I was sent out on loan to Netherfield FC who at that time played in the Northern Premier League. I played three matches for them while their keeper was injured, played reasonably well and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and step up in class.

Amazingly whilst still an amateur I was included in the first team squad in the trip to play Cardiff City. I actually thought for a short time that I might be playing but in the event Mr Ashman said he just wanted me to experience 1st team involvement and had me kitted out and joining Rossy in goal at Ninian Park for the pre-match warm up. It was a great way to celebrate my 21st birthday and I don't think anything like that has happened to anyone before or since.

Season 1973 -74 started off with me still an amateur with CUFC playing in the A-team/Reserve team so when, in late October of that season Netherfield contacted me with a view to signing Semi-Pro forms for them I said yes and looked forward to getting into the "shop window" of the Northern Premier League.

When Alan Ashman heard of this he asked me to meet him to discuss my reasoning, I told him that, basically, I was sick of the broken promises made by the club. He immediately offered me semi-pro terms for the rest of the season with a commitment to sign me as a full time pro at start of the next season. I agreed to this and returned to his office that same evening to sign the forms at which point he told me that he had changed his mind and was offering me a full time contract with immediate effect.

My dream of being a pro footballer was a reality. The rest of season 73-74 was no different in playing terms as I was still playing in the Carlisle & District league, but I was improving physically and mentally as I became used to full time training with a very good squad of players. I was lucky to be a part of this as they achieved the impossible by being promoted to the 1st Division.

I was also unlucky, a bad injury to my right thumb, in the very last game of the season resulted in me being in plaster for the entire pre-season preparations so, what should have been an unbelievably exciting time in the build up to our most important season ever, where I could put pressure on Rossy for his first team spot, turned into a very frustrating time as I trained like a dog but was unable to do any goalkeeping or play in any pre-season friendlies.

This situation set the tone for the rest of that historic season for me. I tried hard to impress, but the lack of a proper reserve team meant that we had this ridiculous situation of having a first team in the premier division and those outside the first team getting their only football in the Carlisle and District League.

I had started off full of confidence that I could improve and push myself forward. That confidence was slowly eroded as the season wore on and it became obvious that I was going to struggle to make the breakthrough. I think being the local lad didn't help me too much as, with hindsight, I was probably always viewed by management as being signed to stop me going elsewhere, rather than an exciting prospect unearthed by the scouting system.

It was still a fantastic experience to be a part of what I consider to be the best squad of players ever assembled by CUFC. We had a great team spirit and in those days all the players lived locally so we socialised quite a lot. Training was always fun with the usual mix of good trainers and the not so good who would try every dodge in the book to make life easier for themselves.

The mood in the camp was always up-beat and the football style was always Dick Young's favourite push and run style with emphasis on one and two touch training. Unfortunately in those days we had no specialist training and never really did any structured goalkeeping coaching.

Throughout the whole season we only had one bad defeat at the hands of Stoke City and the only thing lacking from the squad was a striker who could get those vital goals. So it was very frustrating for the lads as the 1-goal defeats kept on coming and we slipped slowly down the league after our great start to the season.

One funny story happened before a night match against Man City when the guys were being given a pre-match pep talk by the manager and he said "Guys I don't know what to do. I give these talks and think to myself, Alan they are up for it and ready and yet somehow between this dressing room, the tunnel and the pitch, you seem to lose some of that confidence. What can I do?

At this point Ray Train stood up and said; " Boss, why don't we go to the pitch through the gym and out over the Paddock. Maybe that way we won't lose whatever it is we lose. " The whole place cracked up. Anyway we didn't lose that night but couldn't find a goal yet again.

Next time, Peter's departure at the end of the 'legends' season, his subsequent football career and his return to Carlisle United.

Neil Nixon has written four books about Carlisle United, the most recent of which is Blueseason 2008/2009, Amazon link:

Blueseason 2008/2009