You Can't Take Carlisle From the Boy

Last updated : 19 March 2007 By Neil Nixon
So we're past the half way point, on a good day we look like play off contenders, on a bad one we look like the definition of mid-table mediocrity. Some people think we'll land a 'name' or two in the transfer window, others think we'll lose the names that really matter and pack the squad out with bench warmers from clubs little more fashionable than we are. I'm not claiming any insights into these issues above and beyond what I see on message boards. I do think - however - that I'm inclined to feel good about things rather than despair at the moment.

As 2007 dawns I think there are two things to feel good about, despite the problems and the obvious need to put some strength into an injured and slightly uneven squad. Firstly, barring a disaster of Knightonesque proportions we're heading for the best league finish in 21 years and that has to be worth something. Without getting too anal about it the last time we finished higher was 1986 and that was hardly a cause for celebration since the third bottom place in the old Second Division saw us relegated and proved to be one step along a three season free-fall that ended in the summer of 1988 with us missing out on relegation to the Conference because Newport County seemed hell-bent on raiding the local sixth forms for their first team.

If you're new enough to this business to know nothing of those days it might be worth asking the old timers for the most memorable things they saw on the pitch that season. Those who were there will remember Jim Tolmie's suicidal own goal at home to Charlton that - near enough - made relegation a certainty and the sad spectacle of a deliberate pitch invasion away at Oldham in the last game in a desperate attempt to get a game we were losing abandoned, not that it would have made a blind bit of difference in the end. If it comes down to mid-table this season that might make for a dullish end, but sooner that than a relegation battle. Let's face it, there are some desperate teams at the bottom who'll never be as good as we are now before the end of their seasons. You've got to feel for them, mainly because we've been there often enough in recent years to know how bad that is. But this season, we can breathe, and it's useful - I think - to remember that when we get frustrated at another performance with lots of pass and move football and few really good chances.

Secondly, I've come into contact with so many good people in and around the club in the last month that I've been reminded just how life affirming this whole business can be. Thanks to those of you who came up and chatted, and bought books when I did a signing in the Blues Stores last month. Apart from anything else it's good to know someone reads these columns! I hope the signed books got good homes and a good reading over Christmas. I'd also like to say thanks to the staff in the shops, especially the girls in BS2 who made a real effort on that Saturday morning, and even agreed to pose in the Evening News photographs. That afternoon I watched Carlisle lose to Scunthorpe, despite the reminder that there are better sides than us in the league it was a good time. Mainly because I spent a lot of the game talking to Kristina; the young steward who looks after the back of C stand. That afternoon she could have got her mobile phone, rung up the surgeon who'd operated on her earlier in the same week and said; 'I'm at the back of C stand, it's bloody freezing and we're losing but I still want to be here.' I doubt if she'd made such a call the surgeon would have been impressed. I certainly was. For as long as we have people who care that much about being part of Carlisle United we can't go completely wrong. I don't recall attitudes like that being too evident five years ago. Hope you're well mended now Kristina.

And speaking of the right attitude; those of us who were there at Brighton will not forget it in a hurry. Soaked to the skin, freezing, 1 down at half time and obliged to pay stupid prices to sit so far from the action that the guy beside me rang up Carlisle - where his family were listening to Derek Lacey - to check who'd scored our first goal. Somewhere at the end of the first half with the rain sheeting down and the chant of 'we'd sooner have a goal than a roof,' starting up behind me I thought; 'this is magic.' The sight of a gents toilet - in the nation's gay capital - packed wall to wall with Cumbrians refusing to budge back into the rain at half time was worth a laugh as well. But the second half performance, of the team and the support, was a celebration of guts and effort. Classic stuff, it made my Christmas.

So, now I'd like a decent finish and a decent signing or two to make the New Year.

As Roddy would say; go well!

Neil Nixon