Carlisle United v Portsmouth FC
Brunton Park / League Two / 3rd April 2015
The Harrison family were off on holidays for the Easter break. My parents were driving down to my Auntie’s house in central France, whilst my fellow Lost Boyo Marc and his wife Kathryn were driving up from San Sebastian to meet them there and to spend a few days in rural France. A family reunion across the Channel would be a pleasant way to spend the first week of my Easter holidays, but crappy train times and prices and expensive flights led to me abandoning the plan. So, I resorted to finding a new location to spend my Easter weekend. Where could rival the majesty of the Poitou-Charentes region of France? Oh, I know, how about Carlisle? Following a very brief chat with Gibbo, we were all booked up for a weekend in Carlisle with Carlisle v Portsmouth on Good Friday and then Celtic Nation v Shildon on the Saturday; unfortunately for us, the Celtic Nation game was postponed just days after we had booked our trains, but we found ourselves a replacement game – you’ll have to wait for that blog though. Today was all about Carlisle and Carlisle United.
The day began disastrously, as it turned out that my pre-booked 7.45am train from Manchester to Carlisle no longer existed. Great. Instead I would have to get myself to Preston, hang around there for 40 minutes and then get the Glasgow train to Carlisle. Gibbo on the other hand was setting off from Wigan and he soon shot up to Cumbria well in advance of me with his train actually showing up, unlike mine.
I arrived into Carlisle an hour later than planned and quickly found Gibbo, who had headed to Wetherspoons for breakfast whilst waiting for me to catch him up. Strangely, Carlisle has two Wetherspoons located on the same street and literally yards apart.
After a swift drink in The William Rufus Spoons, we headed to our Travelodge only to find they wouldn’t let us dump our bags there (“It’s because of health and safety sorry,”) but we were directed to Bar Solo opposite the station where they took our bags for a fee of £2. Now we could go explore Carlisle properly.
We learned rather quickly that Carlisle is very small as far as cities go and we found most of the bars/pubs located on a street called Botchergate. We headed into the Cumberland Inn first, where on ordering our drinks I encountered a sour-faced barmaid staring me down whilst she poured my pint; I would love to say she was entranced by my beauty, but she looked more like she was going to punch me. I’m not sure what I did to annoy her – maybe she just doesn’t like the Welsh.
We then headed next door to our second Wetherspoons of the day: The Woodrow Wilson. For those curious to why a Wetherspoons in Carlisle is named after the 28th President of the United States, the link comes from that fact that Woodrow’s mother was born in the city. Another pint of Tuborg was enjoyed, we indulged in Wilson’s philosophy on ‘friendship’ emblazoned on the wall and then we opted to work our way towards the ground.
The ground is only a 10-15 minute walk away from the centre, although this walk was slightly interrupted by the drunken Pompey lad who was skipping down the street singing his love for Portsmouth at the top of his voice, before then climbing in a skip for no apparent reason. He seemed a bit of a knob to say the least. But soon enough we did find ourselves outside Brunton Park.
I think it is fair to say that both me and Gibbo fell in love with the place as soon as it came into sight. This is a proper old-school Football League ground with the stands looking charmingly tired, 3 big floodlight towers looming overhead and, most importantly for me, two big standing terraces. It turned out we had gone to wrong ticket office to collect our tickets and so we had to traipse round the ground to the opposite stand; not that this bothered us as it gave us the perfect chance to have a proper nose round Carlisle United’s home.
Carlisle United were formed in 1904 and began life playing at Milhome Bank and then later moved to Devonshire Park. The club got elected to the Football League for the first time in 1928, but it would take Carlisle 30 years to win their first promotion. In that time, the club did give a little known Scottish manager named Bill Shankly his first managerial job though; 10 years later, he would end up at Second Division Liverpool FC – although I’m not sure how successful he was there…
Carlisle’s golden age would come in the 70s with the club finding itself in the First Division taking on the elite in the 1974/75 season. Despite a good start to their campaign, the club would eventually finish bottom of the league, never to return to the heady heights of the top-tier again. Instead the club would spend the best part of the next 30 years in the basement leagues of the Football League, even once getting rescued from dropping into non-league football in 1999 with a last-minute goal; the thing that made this extra special was that it was scored by Jimmy Glass – their goalkeeper – which still remains one of my all-time favorite football stories.
Eventually the club did sink into non-league for a few years, before climbing back into the Football League and yo-yoing between League One and Two. Today, on our arrival at Brunton Park, Carlisle found themselves towards the bottom of League Two with a very real possibility of being relegated. However, I was in town today and I seem to have brought luck to struggling Football League clubs over the past 12 months – such as Crawley Town, Notts County and York City (although none of them are exactly safe from relegation yet either).
The club’s current home, Brunton Park, has been the club’s base since 1909 when the Earl of Devonshire kicked them out of Devonshire Park. The ground has witnessed one of its stands burn down in 1953 and it was completely flooded in 2005 after 3 nearby rivers burst their banks. But Brunton Park still very much remains home for the Blues.
I wanted to go to the club bar, as the rain was now becoming to pile down on us, but Gibbo found himself drawn to the club shop near the gates into Brunton Park. There was quite a clear out going on in the shop with everything being very, very cheap. Gibbo wanted to try things on and I was too impatient to hang around outside the changing rooms for him, so off I plodded in search of the club bar.
Located in the rather ramshackled Main Stand, the ground’s bar, the Sporting Inn, is brilliant. Well, the facilities within are nothing to write home about, but the bar does offer a superb view of the ground from the viewing area at the back of the bar. It was here I took my perch with my pint and watched the rain hammer down on Brunton Park. Fairplay to the ground staff at the ground, the pitch remained in great condition despite the weather.
Eventually, Gibbo turned up with his £15 Carlisle United home shirt, which is amazingly made by Sondico; not enough Sondico in the footballing world these days! Whilst admiring the view of Brunton Park, we got chatting to a day tripper next to us, Dave, who had travelled down from Scotland for the day. As me and Gibbo regaled him with some of our stories from our travels he then informed us that he was actually a fan of Penicuik Athletic – yes, we didn’t have a clue either. It turns out that the club is located near Edinburgh and plays in the SJFA East Region Super League. Maybe we’ll pop in for a visit one day. We had a great chat with Dave, although he did upset me a bit when he said he didn’t clock my accent as Welsh and instead he thought I was a Manchester lad. This is beginning to happen more and more, which is worrying me. I don’t want to lose my beautiful Valleys tone!
We left our new friend Dave and headed round to the Warwick Road entrance, which led us onto the large covered standing terrace behind the goal. Another reason I like the ground so much is because of how all the stands are very different. We found ourselves on the Warwick Road terrace – a terrace with an echoey shed like shelter over head; to the right is the newest looking part of the ground, the East Stand, a large all-seater stand which opened in 1996; opposite this is the most interesting looking part of the ground, the Main Stand – this has a raised seating stand, as well as a paddock-like open standing terrace in front of it; finally, the other stand, behind the far goal, is called the Petterill End (aka The Waterworks End) and this also has a small open standing terrace with an area of seating on one side too – this stand wasn’t open for today’s game. Interestingly, I’d read that with a capacity of just over 18,000, Brunton Park is the largest ground in the country that isn’t all-seater; me and Gibbo both thought this didn’t sound right, but once we sat and thought it seems to be true – unless anyone can tell us anything different.
Gibbo went for a peruse of the stand to get some photos, whilst I headed round the back of the stand to purchase a pie. My pie came in the most ridiculously thick plastic carton to ensure it maintained its warmth and the chicken and leek pie within was absolutely immense. Hats off to whoever provides Carlisle United with their pies – this was spot on. I was still relentlessly talking about how good the pie was as the teams kicked off in front of us.
Gibbo wanted to stand at the front of the terrace as he claimed it felt more like a big non-league match then. It was from our view here that we witnessed the first goal of the game and what a goal at that. A ball in the box was only cleared to the edge of the box where Carlisle’s young hotshot Kyle Dempsey was lurking. Dempsey unleashed a ferocious right foot volley that flew into the bottom corner. A great start for the home side who were desperate for points today.
We had been told beforehand about how dreadful Carlisle have been this season, but the opening 20 minutes showed them to be a decent team. However, after 20 minutes, the Pompey fans suddenly came to life (including infamous John Portsmouth FC Westwood with his incessant bell ringing) and were making a lot of noise. This seemed to buoy the away team on as they started attacking more and more.
By now, me and Gibbo had moved round to the other terrace to get some photos and for a better vantage point, after chatting to fellow groundhopper Geoff, who was stewarding at today’s game. Shortly after we had moved stands, Portsmouth equalised and once again the goal was a worldie. Pompey’s best player, Jed Wallace, launched a 25 yard shot which flew into the top corner leaving Welshman Dan Hanford nowhere near it in the Carlisle goal.
The rain was picking up again now and me and Gibbo decided to head into the bar as the time ticked over 45 minutes. I never learn. Just like when I visited Bradford Park Avenue 2 weeks ago, the moment we stepped into the bar, we heard a cheer outside only to then quickly learn that Matt Tubbs had scored a tap in and the back post to put Pomepy 2 – 1 up. Another goal missed.
Half-time: Carlisle United 1 – 2 Portsmouth.
The bar was far too busy to purchase a pint, so instead we just sat and watched the scores roll in from around the country, before heading back over to the terrace for the second half.
The second half was a fairly dire affair. Pompey were still the better team without really threatening the home team’s goal. Carlisle on the other hand couldn’t string two passes together and seemed to be relying more on hopeless long balls.
The home team did improve after bringing on seasoned Football League striker Billy Paynter, who actually started winning the ball for the Blues. The home team did not look like scoring though and it is fair to say that the Carlisle fans near us were more than a little bit annoyed. The frustration soared when in the final minutes Carlisle wasted a close range freekick with the ball feebly hitting the wall. “JESUS CHRIST!” came one shout from one particularly distraught fan behind us. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that the scoring was finished in this game.
Four minutes of injury time had been given and played and the crowd were just waiting for the final whistle to go now with many having already left the ground. Then, a long ball up pitch from Hanford saw Jason Kennedy battle for the ball on the edge of the box and break through on goal. Kennedy sort of stumbled over the ball whilst defenders tried to stop him, only for the ball to squirm its way to Charlie Wyke, who coolly rolled into the bottom corner from 10 yards out. Those who had been directing a tirade of four-lettered expletives towards their team a minute ago, were now going flipping crazy. I just started laughing that somehow Carlisle had stolen a point. In fact, I’m crediting Carlisle’s unlikely point to myself, as once again I had seemed to have brought a touch of luck to a struggling league club. I may have to start selling my services to such clubs.
Full-time: Carlisle United 2 – 2 Portsmouth.
We waited for the terrace to empty to take some parting photos and then said goodbye to Geoff, before leaving Brunton Park and heading back towards town.
Since they had so kindly looked after our bags, we opted to have a pint of Birra Moretti in Bar Solo. Fortunately, it wasn’t my round and Gibbo was lumbered with the £8.40 bill; easily the most expensive round we had bought all day. This was some sort of fancy Art Nouveau cafe/bar though and a listed building inside and outside. Apparently even Queen Victoria once visited there. I wonder if she went to get a kebab after having a pint like I did.
We headed next door for a kebab to take back to our hotel and I have to say that this place did a pretty crappy kebab, mainly because they couldn’t be arsed to make it properly. I was essentially just provided with a ‘Build-a-Kebab’ kit as there were separate containers for the salad, the sauce and the donner meat, which was covering by a minuscule pitta bread. It was a poor showing and poor Gibbo had to put up with me moaning about it for a rather extended period.
We had a few drinks in the hotel, whilst listening to random music on Spotify, and then went to explore the Carlisle nightlife. We made visits to the ‘colourful’ establishments of the Caledonian and then the Border Rambler, a fairly rough-ish pub where we ended up on the dancefloor with the natives dancing to Dakota by the Stereophonics. I know we enjoyed ourselves, but for both us the night is extremely blurry. The best story to come out of it the nightthough has to be the fact that I randomly decided to phone my mate Ed only for Gibbo to seize the phone from me and start telling him to “Vote Labour.” The next day, following a chat with Ed, we learned that Gibbo had apparently thought I’d phoned Ed Miliband! I’m still not sure to why Gibbo felt a) that I had Ed Miliband’s phone number and b) it necessary to adamantly keep telling Labour leader Ed Miliband to vote Labour. It certainly made me chuckle as we both battled hangovers the next morning.
The real winner from our trip to Carlisle had to be the ground itself. Brunton Park has to be one of my favourite of the 92 and certainly my favourite Football League ground I’ve visited recently. And I suppose in the end we couldn’t really complain about the game. Fun times. Next stop: Dumfries and Palmerston Park.
Highlights: two Wetherspoons, Brunton Park is a great ground, good pies, good club bar, good goals, always nice to see an equaliser with last kick of the game.
Low Points: not that much to the city, poor kebab from one of the city’s kebab shops.
See all my photos from my trip to Brunton Park here.