Nick gets to see the not-so-mighty Blues struggle to force a replay against Barnet in the cup and also takes us through the some what more important news that the London Branch have a new pool & darts venue.

Big Ben
Improving Barnet hold Carlisle to a draw in the FA Cup - or should that be t'other way round?
Well, the season of goodwill may be upon us, but there's not much to cheer about if you're a Carlisle fan (er...again).

A few London Branch members have made disappointing trips to see the lads down south(ish) over the past few weeks (and Exeter is a long way to go, even from the South East, for a 1-0 defeat and a missed penalty) but the FA Cup game gave a few more of us the chance to get together in the Old Red Lion (something of an old haunt, but not one we'd expected to be frequenting this year) over at Barnet. As ever, a good turnout by the Carlisle contingent, and a good - if not over confident - atmosphere; Barnet were of course on a decent run at the time, and fourth in the Conference. That only put them about 7 places behind us in the pyramid, and it's debatable whether we even started as favourites.

It was the first quite a few of us had seen of Carlisle for a while, and I, frankly, had hoped for a bit more. Credit to Barnet, for a team that had been very poor when we played them there last year, I thought they'd come on quite a bit. They'd lost a few players on getting relegated, but perhaps that was what was needed, and Purser and Strevens impressed up front in particular. Most of their supporters we spoke to after the game felt they had done enough to have won it. We had our chances of course, but all in all, we had to be happy with 0-0. But I can't really leave the Barnet game without a word about the "hospitality" shown to us after the game. Despite there being no obvious signs of trouble before or during the game, The Old Red Lion was shut, and the three-quarters empty pubs in the vicinity that were open were not letting any supporters in. Maybe they had their reasons, but it's always nice to dissect the game over a pint afterwards, and it all seemed rather unnecessary. I wonder if they'll do that for the visit of Forest Green?

The London Branch Pool and Darts Leagues are underway, and we'll try and keep you up to date with how we're getting on. It's not as easy as you'd think trying to find a decent pub with a decent pool table that'll accommodate matches and, after deciding that last season's in Victoria wasn't really what we were looking for (the locals clashing - literally - with our opponents on too regular a basis...) a couple of dedicated players set out in search of new premises. It was close call, but with the season just days away, a suitable venue with pool and darts facilities was eventually located close to the centre of the City, thereby providing the opportunity to play matches of both alongside each other, and the added benefit of being able to supplement a team that is short with players from the other. And the buffet's excellent too. Our pool record to date reads played three, won one (Barnsley) and lost two (Blackburn and Derby) but Stoke are next up on the 4th.

Not that we need much of an excuse, but the next London Branch social will be the Christmas Meal. Someone seems to have found a pub with a Thai restaurant upstairs apparently, which sounds like the best of both worlds to me. The timing caused a few to hesitate, with it being on 7th, the evening (and possibly early morning) before what could have been an attractive (and possibly long) second round Cup trip. No disrespect to Tranmere, but I think that most of the doubters confirmed they'd be there after all after the draw was made and trip to Prenton Park confirmed (a few are still going, but I don't think hopes are high).

I'm sure the continuing intrigue coming out of Brunton Park will be ably covered by other columnists who are a bit closer to the action and who've seen a bit more of the Blues than I have recently. But at the time of writing (the day before the trip to Scunthorpe) we've picked up three points out of the last eighteen, and that's relegation form however you look at it. Plymouth aside, of course, we've haven't conceded more than a single goal in the league since Hartlepool back in September, which speaks volumes for where we need to improve, but the news that there are no more resources available for players after having scored only three goals in the last seven is worrying, particularly when already three points adrift. I hate to be negative, but with trips to Rushden, Swansea, Rochdale and Hull coming up, as well as games against Scunthorpe, Darlington and Torquay, it's a little difficult to see where the goals and points are coming from.

Finally, just a regular reminder that, if you're living away from Carlisle (or even if you're not), and would like to join the London Branch (for assistance with travel to games, the chance to meet up with fellow exiled Cumbrians, regular meetings, and acclaimed Hit The Bar magazine, a record bumper edition of which is about to hit the streets) please get in touch with me - details below - or access the London Branch website (http://home.clara.net/glass90/CarlisleExiles/index.htm) for more information. In the meantime, wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from down here. And may 2002 bring a bit more success than 2001 (okay, a lot more).

Nick Crowther