I'm Cumbrian born and bred and I'm about to part with cash, gladly. So summat must be up, right? Well, to be honest, the problem here largely came from me and I'm happy to cop for the biggest mistake of my football supporting life. For years I never joined anything by way of an organisation for football supporters. I never really saw the point when it came to the very big clubs and games, I couldn't get excited. I've never really rated standing in a pub and watching your team play on a big screen as the definitive football experience. The live stuff, even when it was as painful as the seasons spent looking over our shoulders as the Conference threatened, always struck me as, somehow, the only honest way to do it. I started off going with a mate, progressed to going on my own and chatting away to all and sundry in the paddock and - eventually - graduated to a similar exercise at away grounds once I'd moved south. As a rule you could walk up and pay on the door for Carlisle, or get tickets by post from the club.
Gradually I became aware that there was an organisation for lonely Cumbrian exiles down the posh and overcrowded end of the country. In fact, off and on I'd chatted away over pints with several members of The London Branch. I'd put my failure to join down to a few Cumbrian traits, tightness of the wallet, the notion that I needed no help from anyone..ever! And the fact that I couldn't bring myself to think about making a change. Big mistake! I happily went on my way, well it wasn't always happy but that had more to do with the league performances than anything else. It was a chance encounter with Simon Clarkson on a train back from Barnet in 2005 that finally convinced me to give it a go. The motivation? Well, the tickets for Cardiff had something to do with it, the membership on offer was only to the end of the season, adding young Thom was bargain and - hell - we were playing well, I was in a good mood. So I joined. My first London Branch trip was Cardiff, minibus pick up so close I could have practically leaned out of the window and spat into the parking place, decent company there and back and an organised feed into the bargain. My general habit of figuring I had to sort everything myself took a bit of a knock, but I figured I could get used to it.
Maybe it's old age, but last season the thought of starting a Carlisle game with an organised pint really appealed and I got friendly to first name terms with a few supporters I'd only been on nodding acquaintance with before. I'm still just about bloody minded enough that - like Groucho Marx - I'd struggle to join any club that would have me as a member. But, where the London Branch, are concerned I'll make an exception. In fact, I know I've got the bug badly because I've found myself getting restless and fretting over when the renewal notice would arrive. It has, and the conversation with Thom this week over whether we'd commit to the return trip from Waterloo to Bournemouth rather than drive to Dorset was only likely to go one way. Dunno about you, but I can't bloody wait for next season, which should be a vintage campaign in the history of the London Branch. Loads of teams down south to play, a lot of them conspicuous by their battles against relegation last year, and only one game so far - Luton - scheduled for midweek. I'm thinking points, pints, a decent crack and sitting in the spring sunshine next year to watch nail-biting games offering results to keep the promotion push alive. Failing that I'll need the company and consolation to cope with the disappointment.
And finally, my dour Cumbrian nature means I hate it when some idiot tries to sell me something. So be warned, there is another book on the way, a record of last season combining my words and the photographs of Mark Fuller. I think it's pretty good, but then I would. More to the point, I'll probably devote some of the next column to giving you more details and following that up with the usual blather about how it's personal to me and why you should buy a copy. If such rantings bring out a reaction along the lines of; 'Who does this tosser think he is?' Please give the next column a miss. But keep the faith, eh? Good season coming up.
The London Branch: http://www.carlislelondonbranch.org/