London Calling - February

Big Ben
Nick gets to see the Blues not losing away from home
Well, there’s never a dull moment being a United fan.

It’s been some month. On and off the pitch. It probably wouldn’t be fair to say that the excitement generated by the 3-0 stuffing of Scunthorpe at the beginning of December - our first league win for some time, remember - had been completely dissipated in the following weeks leading up to Christmas, but the mauling at Tranmere and the disappointing manner of the defeat at Rushden had a few people, including me, looking ahead to see what we could pick up over the festive period to get us back on track and clear of the bottom. And then, personally, there was the frustration of getting back to Carlisle for the Christmas and New Year period only to find both games off, and even the chance to stop off at Rochdale on the way back down south, and to take in the game there, snatched away. If someone had told me at that point that, by the end of the January, we’d be a significant way along the road to new ownership, we’d have travelled to three of the top five or six, led in all, lost none, and taken five points into the bargain, and that Roddy would be walking away with the Scotch, then I’m not absolutely sure I’d have believed it.

As I’ve mentioned before, the easier games to get to from the south east were loaded towards the first, pre-Christmas, part of the season and, with no Barnet or Brighton either, the trip to Luton was the last really handy trip of the season really (especially for those of us in the Hertfordshire area ). We met up in a suitably Irish pub, Eddie’s Bar, close to the station, and I have to say that we were made very welcome. A few beers later, most of us got cabs up towards the ground and, despite walking the last bit, we still ended up in the ground at the unfeasibly early time of about quarter to three. A decent Carlisle turn-out as it happened and there didn’t seem to be many spare seats in the Luton parts of the ground. For a ground hemmed in on all sides, and with little chance of being re-developed, you’ve got to question the wisdom of sacrificing an entire side of the ground to Executive Boxes, but to be fair to them we got a decent seat allocation.

The ordering, purchasing and allocation of tickets was organised with military precision, given the firm message beforehand that it was ticket only for away fans, and there would be no cash exchanging hands on the day. Few wanted to risk it, but frankly it was no surprise to see cash being taken over the turnstiles without any questions asked. So what was the point? Easier administration on the day? Your guess is as good as mine.

You can usually get a good idea of what then atmosphere will be like from whether there’s a roof on the away end. There was, and it echoed nicely. Personally, if I owned a club, taking the roof off the away supporters’ end would be my first move. You just have to compare the noise at the likes of Orient and Luton compared to, say, Barnet, to know what I mean. As for the game, I was a bit disappointed to read Joe Kinnear’s comments on the Monday that we got our point through luck. I thought the disallowed goal was harsh when I saw it right in front of me at the time, and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind since. Just how much longer has Alcock got? It’s starting to get embarrassing, and I don’t think the Luton contingent were much happier with his performance than we were. Yes, Luton dominated early on, had more possession and more shots, but most of them were from distance and into the top of the stand. We played a decent counter-attacking game, and I don’t think a draw was unfair on either team. If Keen could just commit to crosses (he’d get the free kick even if he didn’t get the ball.)

I don’t want, or need, to say too much about the takeover. Suffice to say that supporters outside Carlisle are following proceedings just as closely. What’s particularly intriguing, and I guess a little concerning, this time is that not only are we closer to a takeover than we ever have been, but that the stakes are now that much higher. Roddy’s made it clear that if this doesn’t go through, then he’s off too. Given the developments on the pitch, that really would put us back a long way. Just where would we go from there? It may not quite be all or nothing, but it certainly feels a bit like it. Here’s hoping. This time. Please.

The pool and darts teams continue to take on all comers in their respective leagues. Still waiting for the darts reports unfortunately, but I can report mixed success on the pool front. With Stoke having failed to show just before Christmas, the tie against the Saints of Southampton went to the wire, but was lost 5-4. The season’s record to date is pretty even, but we’ve lost a couple of close ones now. Our luck has to change shortly. Where have I heard that before?

Other good news to report is that the London Branch Magazine, Hit The Bar, won the award for the best third division London Branch fanzine for last season - and not for the first time either I’m led to believe ­ by the Association of Professional Football Supporters’ Clubs in London (APFSCIL, I think I’ve got that right). It’s still going from strength to strength, and is just one of the many reasons to get in touch with London Branch if you haven’t already.

Where to from here? Talking generally, the priority has to be for the takeover to be signed, sealed and delivered. On the pitch, Roddy has done a tremendous job. But we can’t get complacent. Unlike in some of the recent seasons, there’s no-one losing touch yet, and not only are any of the teams at the bottom capable of picking up points, they are actually doing it on a reasonably on a fairly consistent basis. Even Halifax have shown they can win, and I’m told were unlucky not to get a point against Hull. We may have picked up eleven points from fifteen but we’re stil only six off the bottom. Okay, we’ve had a couple of games off, but with even an average return over the period, we’d still be right down there. I don’t want to sound negative, because it’s looking as though we have a lot to be positive about. But we have to take points from the games in hand and the six-pointers to get and stay clear. The job’s only half done. Roddy’s got to keep their eye on the ball, so to speak.

As for the London Branch, it looks like we’ve secured the services of a cut-rate minibus, which should help at least a few of us to get to a few more away games. Next up I believe, is an organised trip to Lincoln. We can win that. Just got to keep the momentum going.

As ever, if you’re interested in joining the London Branch, would like to receive information on organised trips to away games, the chance to mix with other exiles, and to receive the Hit The Bar magazine, please just get in touch at the below email address, and I’ll forward your details to right contact.

Nick Crowther