You Can't Take Carlisle From the Boy

So that was 2007 then.

Well, as it write these words it isn't quite the end of the year but I'm assuming the good folks behind Footy Mad would like a minute or two off over the festive season and want to post this early.

There's a moment in Nick Hornby's book Fever Pitch when the author recounts the experience of seeing his first dead body. The story belongs in a football book because the incident of seeing the body occurred outside Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace when Hornby and a mate - both aged 15 - had gone to a game against Liverpool. A fan died of a heart attack in the street.

Having been told in no uncertain terms that the man died of natural causes and not as a result of the Scousers having 'done him,' Hornby starts musing on the way football mirrors real life. He considers that fact that the dead man died not knowing whether Palace would avoid relegation that season, unaware that Palace would - against all odds - see an FA Cup final etc. The point he's making is that we like to imagine neat ends and the ability to read the future. We especially like to imagine this at the end of a year. In reality it is seldom like that, especially in football.

So it's tempting to say that but for a frozen pitch we would have seen out 2007 as league leaders. It's also tempting to say that Carlisle United's consistent play off position over the last couple of months is an indicator of the final league position. Tempting, but foolish. I'm guessing that we can safely predict a few things. For starters our habit of running our very own manager of the month award seems to have ended, possibly for the next four years.

Beyond that however I think the only safe thing to do is seize the moment and enjoy it. Most of us would have taken fourth place at Christmas if offered it in August. I didn't meet many fans at the pre-season games who seriously thought we'd be quite this competitive for so long.

Similarly, with or without transfers coming in at the start of next year we've acquired well. It's a measure of how far we've come that just over a year ago we cheered Derek Holmes onto the pitch away at Gillingham during a particularly bad game when he replaced the misfiring Jermaine Beckford. Homer was an honest striker and eager to please but we probably saw some of his best ever professional games and Joe Garner - near the start of his career - is a better player than Homer ever was, in my opinion anyway. Similarly Marc Bridge-Wilkinson is an inspired signing. When he gets those accurate balls in to the front runners he's allowing us to create danger for the best defences League One can field. The stress of a long and slow crawl on the M1 to Northampton vanished for me the second MBW's free kick hit their net.

I'm fixing to enjoy the rest of the season, grab it and make the most of every moment because this is a season to remember and the fact that we've managed a consistency on the pitch despite ructions off it tells us a few things. Firstly, it shows that in a world of increasing financial pressure on teams outside the Premiership we can probably be more confident than many groups of supporters at the moment about our future and the state of our club.

For those of you not at Northampton it's worth noting that Fred Story and a couple of his entourage took stand seats with the rest of us and the chairman was greeted warmly. I wonder whether some other chairman- for example; Gillingham's Paul Scally - would dare attempt the same thing. Secondly, I think the consistency tells us that we've got a squad united enough to take a pride in their work and be willing to fight for their chance on the pitch because they know they can achieve things this season with this club. I doubt it's completely matey in the dressing room, it's never all that way in a professional club, but it is good enough at the moment for us to look an organised and ambitious outfit.

Okay, we've had our blips, and if you weren't at Luton, trust me. The only fireworks that night came from a group of local chavs trying to land a few real fireworks on the pitch. The Blue Army erupted into a chant of 'we want more fireworks' as the stewards scurried about and the ref called a brief halt to the action. Maybe the chant was for the benefit of those outside, maybe it was to gee up the likes of the misfiring Kevin Gall.

But that moment was also worth seizing because it shows one other thing that has marked much of 2007. Even in the worst moments there has been some hope. We lost at home to Swansea in April and lost out on a play off place because we took the game to them and fought hard. We had a laugh at Luton because we knew we had a good squad on an off night. And - deep down - I think we knew that we could come back from those embarrassing cup exits to focus on the league again.

Where this takes us in May I don't know. If - by any miracle - we see Championship football next year I'm not sure whether it would feel better than things have done this season. But we've already proven that on our day we can beat the best our present league can offer and that's a thought to cheer us as work winds down and we get a little more time to think. As Nick Hornby pointed out, there are no neat endings and few certainties looking forward in football. But 2007 has been a year to remember fondly. I'll settle for that.

Finally, a few random things that need saying;

Firstly; I got a few e-mails congratulating me on my promotion at Brunton Park, all of them having a laugh and all of them inspired by a poster on the message board making the mistake of crediting me with the power to call off the home game against Swansea. That decision fell to JOHN NIXON, no relation as far as I know. I'm guessing most of you dipping into my columns know I have nowt to do with CUFC in any official capacity. But I thought I'd mention it, so there's no misunderstanding.

Secondly; I highly recommend Paul Harrison's Cult Heroes of Carlisle United. Paul's had a struggle to get his work out in book form over the last few years so it's good to see him succeed at last.

Finally; I've had the odd e-mail asking about a book called Workington Dynamo. In answer to the questions I keep getting asked: YES it's my book and NO I haven't ditched Carlisle to support Wukkie. In fact, it's a novel and I don't need say anymore about it here because I'll probably devote the next column to the usual shameless blather about why you should consider reading it. By the time of the next column - of course - we'll be comfortably in the top four and breaking away from the clubs below us.

Be seeing you.

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Neil Nixon