Carlisle City v Atherton Collieries
Gillford Park / Preseason Friendly / 16th July 2016
Fair to say that beer and pubs have played a prominent role on my football adventures over the last few years. Many of our great adventures and escapades have probably even been triggered by over-indulgence at times. However, when we talk of drunken nights, there’s always one that comes up in me and Gibbo’s conversations: the memory-hazed, drunken night on Botchergate, Carlisle. Me and Gibbo had spent the afternoon enjoying League Two football at the superb Brunton Park, before heading back to our hotel and out into Carlisle. Then, we woke up the next morning remembering very little of the previous; my mate Ed had to text me to see if we were alright as apparently we had phoned him and Gibbo had genuinely thought he was Ed Milliband – we were that bad. And we won’t even mentioned what happened on the train to Dumfries that morning…Anyway, with the memories (or lack thereof) still regularly talked about to this day, a return trip to Carlisle was always needed at some point. An opportunity would arise this preseason.
Every summer Atherton Colls have a preseason ‘jolly boys outing’ with the past two seasons seeing the team and fans head off on the coach to glamour hot spots such as Eccleshall and Whitley Bay. 3 years ago, I joined the Colls Barmy Army in the remote surroundings of Glantraeth on Anglesey, where a dull 0-0 didn’t stop us having a superb day at a beautiful ground and winning a fans’ penalty shootout at half-time. This year with Gibbo in charge of arrangements, we would be making our return to Carlisle – more specifically Carlisle City.
On that infamous weekend back last year, me and Gibbo had arranged to go see Carlisle United and non-league Celtic Nation play, but with Celtic Nation’s opponents Shildon making it to a cup final, Celtic Nation’s game was postponed and so we headed up to Dumfries for some lower league Scottish football instead. Weeks after that weekend, the once highly ambitious Celtic Nation went bust and folded following their strange 3 year existence (which you can read about in this BBC article here), leaving their Gilford Park without a football team. However, me and Gibbo would finally get our chance to visit Gillford Park with Carlisle City calling the ground home since 2015.
My trip to the far distant land of Carlisle began with a train journey to Atherton. On board I met up with Ollie and we were arriving into Atherton by 10.15am. With the Colls coach due to depart Atherton at 10.30am, we had a small window of opportunity to make it to ASDA to purchase some beverages for the 2 hour bus journey into the heart of Cumbria. Just as we were about to hurry to ASDA, a car horn beeped behind us. Pauline, Gibbo’s mother, was there smiling telling us to get in as she had heard that we were in a rush to get beer. Pauline Gibbons became the first ever Lost Boyos beer taxi. Cans of Punk IPA were purchased and it was onwards to Alder Street where we found the Colls fans and players beginning to congregate.
It wasn’t long before we were on our way and the sound of cans fizzing open could be heard resonating around the coach. I raised a can to Emil, who had also purchased cans of Punk IPA as he declared how he had got them 4 for £1.25 each. I expressed my annoyance at paying £5 for 4, before moments later realising that that was the same as £1.25 a can and that I had purchased the exact same. This is why I teach English not Maths.
For the journey I found myself sitting next to Colls new signing Dajour Buffone, a player I would later learn was an international footballer with 1 cap to his name for Montserrat. He remained quiet throughout the whole trip, so I let him be (I suppose being an international superstar meant he was getting in the zone). There were a couple of incidents on the bus (not to be blogged about) but the scenery outside was delightful as we began heading north of Lancashire and into the hilly territories of Cumbria. One of my biggest regrets when I move away from the north next week will be the fact that I never explored this county or the famous Lakes more in my time up here.The journey had gone quickly and it wasn’t long before we were heading down Botchergate, the main street of Carlisle city centre and a sight familiar to me and Gibbo from our previous trip. Going down the street actually helped us piece together whatever happened on that hazy night last spring. The fans all dismounted here, whilst the players and coaches headed onwards to the ground located a short distance from the city centre.
Carlisle has two Wetherspoons yards away from each other with the only space between them being filled by another Carlisle boozer. Remembering that we weren’t too keen on the Woodrow Wilson Spoons, we headed to the other Spoons, the William Rufus. A few of our crowd opted for a few pints of the excellent Shipyard Pale, which seems to be becoming a Wetherspoons staple drink now, before I delved into some more exotic ales; but time was of the essence and it was soon creeping towards 2.30pm and time to head for the ground. Any talks of walking to the home of Carlisle City were quashed and we all made for the taxi rank outside of Carlisle train station.
Gillford Park is slightly isolated away from the city itself. As our taxi twisted and turned its way through the Carlisle suburbs, it was difficult to even spot any football ground; that was because the ground turned out to be hidden away down the bottom of a dusty, country road, alongside the train line heading in and out of Carlisle.
We had past the ground on the train when we had headed up to Carlisle before, but there was more to the ground than I remember. On arriving in the car park we found ourselves behind a fairly, steep sheltered stand located behind the goal, whilst also sitting on the halfway line was a another fairly big stand. Opposite, down the other side of the ground, a shelter runs all away along the majority of the length of the pitch.
As more and more of the Colls Crazy Gang began alighting out of the small armada of taxis, we headed into the club bar outside of the ground’s entrance. Well, most of us did; it seemed one taxi had taken some of our party to Carlisle United instead. Oops.
Although needing a bit of TLC in places, the ground’s club bar was spacious and welcoming enough with most of our gang making beelines for the pool table and the scandalously cheap jukebox (I had a lot of love for whoever put on James – Sometimes – probably my favourite song of all-time). Kick-off was looming and the issue of ‘can we take our drinks out with us?’ began arising to which we were told ‘yes, if it was in a plastic cup’. Understandable. Yet, Colls media man Zach had made his way to the turnstile ahead of us with his plastic vessel only to be told that entrance was forbidden with any alcohol – plastic cup or no plastic cup. He duly downed his pint before phoning us to forewarn us of the situation. As news spread of the ground’s alcohol ban, our party became uproarious with some claiming they’d watch the game through the fence with beer in hand and snub entering at all. The barmaid was quickly on the phone to some part of the Carlisle City hierarchy (I imagined him sunning it on a beach in Barbados on the other side of the phone) who after some deliberation responded with the answer, ‘just this once.’ A cheer went up and we all headed for the turnstiles with our £2 entrance in hand along with our plastic-cupped beers.
Timing proved spot on, as we entered the ground as the teams got ready to kick-off – Carlisle City in light blue and Colls back in their new snazzy centenary kit. The Colls flags were placed around the ground, before the majority gathered together on the stand behind the goal, which Colls would be attacking.
Carlisle City have spent the entirety of their existence since they formed in 1975 playing in Northern Football Alliance, but this year they’ve decided to step up and have a go in the North West Counties Division One. This means they will be playing in the league below Colls this year and the league difference in the club was clear today.
When I saw Colls play Bolton Wanderers at home two Saturdays previous, I mentioned that Colls had gone all hipster and signed a right-sided Polish player, Lukasz Malkowski. He played well in his 45 minutes that day, but today the Pole really was the man. Playing out on the right wing, Malkowski caused havoc all game and was rapidly gathering cult hero status in the stands. His every act was greeted with chants of “Oh Lukaaaassss Malkowskiiiii…” (to the tune of Seven Nation Army) and regular chants of “POLSKA! POLSKA! POLSKA!”
It would be Colls’ new Polish icon Malkowski who would setup the opening goal – and a lovely opener at that. The Pole’s cross went to Dave Sherlock, who’s curling effort flew in . 1-0 Colls.
It was complete Colls domination and 20 minutes after the opener Brad Cooke made it 2-0. Jordan Cover rolled it across the box for Brad to tap home. Brad then went on to perform a Fabio Borini ‘knife between the teeth’ celebration; I’m a great fan of the celebration as it reminds me of that glorious 6 month loan spell when Borini fired the Swans to the Premier League – although Brad being a Sunderland fan, I’m fairly sure he was saluting his Sunderland days rather than his Swans days.
There was still time in the closing 3 minutes for Colls to add two more goals. The first came when Jordan Cover fired powerfully at goal and almost took the net off…well, he did take the net off, as the ball ended up going through it. This was then followed by Malkowski getting on the scoresheet when he finished easily after some lovely skilful play from Cooke and Cover.
Half-time: Carlisle City 0 – 4 Atherton Collieries.
We paid a quick trip to the bar again at half-time, where we also met fellow groundhopper Geoff en route; we had met Geoff stewarding at Brunton Park last season. Plastic cups gathered and back out we headed with me deciding that I was going to have a wander of the ground during the second half. We were all big fans of the Racing Pigeons’ truck parked next to the stand – although there was no sign of pigeon life within (they must have had a race away that day).
Despite some changes for the away team, they remained on top and had a few chances to further increase their lead. Yet it would be the home team score next when James Heath scored from close range.
Following Colls’ 5th, scored by Cover again, and with plenty of time still in the clock, Gibbo and Pete decided that now was the time to prepare the Colls pyro. I’ve witnessed pyro go slightly wrong at Colls before (see my awards blog here) so I waited with bated breath as Pete and Gibbo read through the instructions and the warnings (which were duly ignored). Gibbo began showing to Jordan Cover to tell the players to head into our small corner of the ground if they scored again. Problem was it seemed Gibbo had jinxed it right there.
Colls seemed to have taken their foot off the pedal in the closing stages and instead of waiting for a 6th goal with minutes left we began banging the boardings and chanting ‘OOOOHHHH, LUKASZ MALKOWSKIIIII…” The plan was to create at least a little bit of atmosphere before the flares were set off. Pete pulled the cord on his flare only to be greeted by nothing; Gibbo pulled his to see a torrent of red smoke shoot into the air. It then dawned on me that I had never held a flare before and with trips into Central/Eastern European football ahead of me over the coming season, I should probably have a go. I had a bit of a wave, made sure I had photographic evidence to make me look cool and then past it back over to our anarchist in chief Gibbo.
By the time the flare died out, the final whistle was sounding.
Full-time: Carlisle City 1 – 5 Atherton Collieries.
Back in the club bar, the Colls party was in full swing as players, fans and staff mingled and drunk together. I was surprised by the lack of a Carlisle City presence at first, only to find them all sitting around a table in the corner with Emil. Having enjoyed it so much earlier, I put James – Sometimes on this time, whilst everyone else started signing birthday boy Zach’s card, ready to surprise him.
Also getting a lot of love this evening was new cult hero Lukasz, as the fans love-in with him continued. Sat in the corner by himself, he was barraged with chants of ‘POLSKA! POLSKA! POLSKA!’ Clearly loving it, Lukasz began filming his new fans serenading him and his homeland. Colls fan Matt then began belting out, “We’re Atherton Colls…we’re hipster as fuck!” I’m sure West Didsbury & Chorlton, the league’s supposed cultured hipster club thanks to its rather bohemia setting, would have something to say about that.
At 6.30pm, after festivities were drawing to a close in the club bar, it was time to leave and we all began piling back on the bus. However, it was soon almost kicking off when the driver stated that we would not be stopping in the shop up the road to pick up some more beer. With fans and players not happy with this arrangement (to say the least) the driver eventually succumbed giving us a 5 minute window to acquire more beer.
For the journey back, I was delighted to find myself sitting in front of my new favourite Polish footballer Lukas Malkowski and me and Gibbo quizzed him all the way home. As well as being a genius footballer, he’s also a proper nice guy and we enjoyed our time drinking and chatting with him all the way back from Carlisle. He even gave me travel advice on where to head in Poland on my European crusade next season (he admitted he was slightly biased to his hometown of Katowice).
Just like the journey up, the trip flew by and we were soon camped outside the familiar sight of the Rope and Anchor in Atheron. As always, I enjoyed my drink in here and was just sad that I didn’t have too long in there with trains back to Manchester running low on this Saturday evening.
Another successful ‘jolly boys outing’ for Colls and it was a pleasure to be a part of their revelry as always. If I find myself back in the country next summer, I shall definitely be trying to jump on board the coach with them again to whichever random destination they elect to go to.
Highlights: a return to Carlisle, decent ground, decent club bar, plenty of goals, pyro, Lukasz Malkowski, fun times with the Colls fans.
Low Points: not much near the ground.
See all my photos from our day at Carlisle City here.