Thursday 19 April 2018

Jimmy Glass and the Magic of Carlisle

When the local News & Star newspaper complied a list of the 100 greatest Carlisle United players of all time Jimmy Glass only came in at number 65, but when you consider the fact that the on loan goalkeeper only ever made three appearances for the club that is quite a remarkable feat. Having said that, when you look back at the events 9 May 1999 the only surprise is that he wasn't listed higher.

It was the last day of the season and Carlisle's match at home to Plymouth Argyle was tied at 1-1 going into stoppage time. With United needing all three points to avoid relegation out of the Football League, not only were they drinking in the last chance saloon but last orders had already been called. Scarborough had just secured a point at home to Peterborough and unless Carlisle pulled off something magical would be staying up at their expense.  United's last hope was a corner kick with everyone including goalkeeper Jimmy Glass going forward into the Argyle half. From that corner the journeyman goalkeeper not only went down in Carlisle folklore, but became a household name for football fans all around country, if not the world.

Voted 72nd in the Channel 4's 100 Greatest Sporting Moments, 7th in The Times 100 Greatest Goals of All time, and 15th in ITV4's 20 Goals that Shook the World, Jimmy Glass saved Carlisle United from relegation by volleying the ball into the net when it fell to him from that aforementioned corner. 'Jimmy Glass has scored! Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass the goalkeeper has scored a goal for Carlisle United!' cried radio commentator Derek Lacey on local BBC station Radio Cumbria as fans invaded the pitch and were in Lacey's own words 'bouncing on the crossbar'. What followed was absolute pandemonium with a man who's life would never be the same again carried off the field by supporters in wild scenes of jubilation.

An awful lot has happened in the intervening years, promotions, relegations, and a cup final win just to name a few. But 19 years on those final day events against Plymouth are still are still talked about in these parts, and definitely remembered fondly. In fact they actually play the Jimmy Glass commentary over the tannoy before every home game, and I would myself hear Lacey's now famous words echoing around Carlisle's Brunton Park home as I stood on the terraces during my maiden visit to the scene of that famous injury time winner.

It's a very damp, cold, and miserable day, at a time of year when you'd hope it might be starting to get a little warmer. I disembark from my train at Carlisle station after an hour and a half of winding through the Pennines, zig zagging past hills populated with sheep and their newly born lambs, some areas still covered in a light dusting of snow, whilst stopping at remote stations devoid of any life in tiny villages where probably very little ever happens.

Although awarded city status as far back as 1133, with a population of only about 75,000 Carlisle is essentially a small to medium sized town. Situated in Cumbria and 25 miles from the edges of the Lake District, Carlisle was during the middle ages an important military base on the Scottish borders. The city's castle has been the scene of many wars and invasions and dates back as far as the reign of William II, son of William the Conqueror. Carlisle later became a bustling mill town during the industrial revolution whilst nowadays it is listed as a 'Fair Trade Town'.

I head straight for Brunton Park where today's opposition are Lincoln City, and find myself walking down Warwick Road past terraced houses with little neat front gardens, dental practices, doctors surgeries, and welcoming bed and breakfasts. The Cumbrians as Carlisle United are nicknamed have been playing their football at Brunton Park since 1909 and joined the Football League in 1928. They hung around in the league until 2004 when five years after their 1999 heroics they were finally relegated to the fifth level of English football, what was then known as the Football Conference. Their hiatus did not last long though as back to back promotions quickly followed and Carlisle went on to spend 8 years in the third tier, otherwise known as League One. This successful period also included 2 Football League Trophy finals at Wembley, with United winning the Trophy for a second time in 2011 having previously won the competition in 1997. Since it's inception in 1983 only Bristol City (3 times) have won the competition more than twice. Unfortunately since 2014 however Carlisle have once again found themselves in the bottom division of the league, where under the stewardship of ex Man City and Wolves defender Kieth Curle, 20th and 10th placed finishes were to preceded a play-off semi final defeat at the hands of Exeter City last season.

Eventually I arrive at Brunton Park, it announces its arrival with the Carlisle United club shop sat by the main road and a statue of ex player and former Scottish International Hugh McIlmoyle stood outside it. Turn left round the side of the club shop and and you are here, hidden behind Warwick Road, this is the home of Carlisle United.

Although your archetypal lower league ground, Brunton Park believe it or not did for one brief season host top flight football. After a formidable 9 seasons in the old Second Division Carlisle were in 1974 promoted to the First Division for the very first time in their history. An excellent start to life in Division One included an opening day win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but the optimism of the opening month would not last and the Cumbrians finished the season rock bottom. What the late great Bill Shankly called 'the greatest feat in the history of the game' abruptly came to an end and United have never came anywhere near the top division since. As for Shankly, he was as well placed as anyone to appreciate Carlisle's magnificent feat. The man who's success with Liverpool saw him recognised as one of the greatest British football managers of all time, actually started his managerial career in 1949 with a 2 year spell in charge of you guessed it Carlisle United, a club he had also appeared for as a player.

Back to today and I have arrived at the ground a good forty minutes before the kick-off in today's League Two clash. Across the road from the club shop there are a few people stood outside the Beehive pub which is no doubt doing a roaring trade inside, whilst further up and back on the other side the queue is out the door at Claire's Bakery. I enter the ground having opted for a spot in the paddock below the main stand. This is a terraced affair and my ticket was obtained from a small ticket office next to the turnstiles that lead into a section of Brunton Park which will be my home for watching not only ninety minutes of football, but also a half-time egg and spoon race!

Brunton Park is very much an old skool stadium, there is an empty open air terrace at one end of the pitch whilst at the other there is covered terracing that from some angles looks arguably similar to a large cow shed. The old grandstand above the paddock where I stand was built in the 1950's after it's previous incarnation burnt down, whilst across the pitch is the newest part of the stadium in the shape of the the East Stand. This stand has the travelling Lincoln fans housed towards it's far end. When you view the East Stand it looks out of sync with the pitch, stretching beyond the uncovered terracing that sits behind one end. When it was opened in 1996 there were plans to rebuild the rest of stadium and move the pitch a few yards further north. This however never materialised due to a lack of funds and so the pitch and the East Stand don't quite align properly. There has in recent years been talk of building a new 12,000 all seater stadium in another part of town, but what becomes of this we shall have to wait and see.

Come kick-off the stadium doesn't look overly full. There are more than 5,000 spectators here today but this being largest non all seater football ground in the country, and with a capacity of just over 17,000, there is certainly room for plenty more people inside. Despite the wretched weather the game gets underway with the pitch looking in reasonably good nick. After severe flooding in December 2016 and several home games having to be played elsewhere, the pitch was relaid at a cost of £150,000. Those pictures of the old Brunton Park pitch completely underwater and looking like a swimming pool are now iconic, but thankfully there are no such issues today.

Despite some strong spells of pressure from Carlisle early on, the match looks destined for a 0-0 half-time score, until that is the 43rd minute when some excellent play sees the visitors take the lead. Matt Green finds space to run onto a Neal Eardley free-kick and slot the ball past United goalkeeper Jack Bonham to make it 1-0. Just after the goal some of home support seem to take offence at one of the visiting players going down injured and a lot people around me seem rather angry and irate as the players walk off for half-time.

The mood of the home fans doesn't exactly improve in the second half when they see Carlisle awarded a penalty on 73 minutes only for the referee to change his mind after consultation with his assistant. The original decision had seen Lincoln City's joint manager Danny Cowley looking rather apoplectic whilst waving his hands about furiously on the touchline.

Carlisle struggle to test the opposition goalkeeper as the second half heads towards a close and things only get worse for the hosts when midfielder Mike Jones is  sent off in the dying seconds for a second bookable offence.  With time running out the home support start to trudge away in disgust knowing a defeat will put a huge dent in their teams play-off hopes. I soon follow suit and head back for my train home when despite six minutes of injury time Carlisle can't find the net for that all important equaliser and the match ends in defeat. Where is Jimmy Glass when you need him?

Thursday 12 April 2018

Doing The Pools

By the time you read this things may have changed for Hartlepool United, hopefully for the better, but as I write the situation is far from great. The club has debts totalling £1.8m, and there are fears of administration if they don't find £200,000 by the end of January. The fans of Hartlepool however are not giving up hope and they've raised over £68,000 to date, vital funds that apparently mean the players will get paid next week.

So amongst a backdrop of finical woes and an uncertain future, welcome to Hartlepool. I disembark from my train once it pulls into the station, it's a numbing cold January day with a clear crisp sky and the sound of seagulls drifting through the air. This is the town where legend has it the locals once hanged a monkey believing it to be a French spy sent by Napoleon, and where a man dressed in a monkey costume was once elected mayor. I've arrived on what is a big day for Hartlepool United. A bumper crowd is expected for this afternoon's visit of Wrexham as the footballing world rallies behind this stricken club. As well as the large number of locals that should be out in force, fans from various clubs are supposed to be coming along to lend their support and bring in much needed cash into the coffers.

Today Hartlepool sit in the bottom half of the Vanarama National League having last season finally been relegated from the Football League for the first time in forever and a day, or in numerical terms 95 years. However having faced and overcame re election a record fourteen times it's surprising they didn't drop out sooner. But with proper relegation to non league football having been in place since the late 80's there was this time no escape. Despite a final day victory, other results went against them and their long reign within the top four divisions of English football finally came to an end. 

During their Football League years Hartlepool never managed to find their way into the top two divisions, but they did have their moments within the bottom two tiers. Their first promotion came in 1968 when Brian Clough was boss. The famous Brian Clough. Clough was considered one of the greatest English managers of all time and Hartlepool was where it all began for him, where he started his managerial career. He took over a failing team near the bottom of the league and within a couple of years had them promoted to old Division Three for the very first time in their history. Clough soon went on to bigger and better things and sadly within a season Pools were relegated back to Division Four. It was 23 years before they would be promoted again. Three years later saw relegation again, whilst there were another couple of promotions and relegations in the noughties, and a League One play-off final defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in 2005 when they were eight minutes and a dubious penalty decision away from reaching the Championship, probably the most successful season in the clubs history.

Nowadays the Pools are more famous for celebrity fan Jeff Stelling and his Saturday afternoon antics as presenter in the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday studio. Covering the Saturday afternoon football with latest scores and updates, being professional and unbiased always goes out the window when Hartlepool are concerned. His eccentric cheering, elation, and jubilation when his beloved Poolies score has for many years been amusing fans watching up and down the country.

Back to today's visit and with a bit of time to kill before the big match I head for the Royal Navy museum. Although Hartlepool isn't exactly known for having much of a naval tradition it was once a major force in ship building, and this museum, complete with a fully restored HMS Trincomalee,  is supposedly Hartlepool's number one attraction. Though perhaps not the main attraction for me, at least not today. It's seems there is only one particular event today that I am really bothered about and visiting a museum isn't really it. But head for the museum I do. When I arrive the woman behind the ticket desk seems very happy to see me and is very enthusiastic about what lies ahead for me within the museum. The main centrepiece of the museum is the aforementioned HMS Trincomalee navy ship which was originally built shortly after the Napoleonic wars. This is situated outside in the main courtyard in the middle of the museum but with access only available with a tour guide and with the next tour not till 14:30 I will have to give it a miss. Nonetheless I decide to have a quiet nose around inside the various rooms and buildings dotted around the place inside which many aspects of nineteenth century naval life are depicted. I don't hang around long though, the whole place is mostly deserted, no one is interested it seems, everyone is probably at the football. The turnstiles will already be getting busy, the crowds will already be gathering, and with myself not having a ticket I soon decide its best to head up to the ground and sort myself out.

So on to the ground it is and it's not hard to find. The giant floodlight pylons of Victoria Park entice me towards them like homing in beacons directing me to the promised land. I am not the only one heading towards the ground, but the numbers are rather small compared to what I see when I actually find myself in the vicinity of the stadium. There is a hive of activity in and around the ground with crowds of people swarming about all over the place.

Having walked around the outside of the ground I enter the home end turnstiles only to be told I can't pay there as they have sold out. I find the same problem further round and start to panic. I'd heard a bumper crowd was expected and what if god forbid the game is a sell out? Panic stricken I walk round to the ticket office I passed earlier. There is a small queue but everyone in front of me seems to collect envelopes containing tickets purchased in advance. I am worried, very worried, especially when I once again hear the words 'sold out'. Thankfully this it turns out is in reference to the matchday programmes, one of which I've already purchased, and thankfully again there is huge relief as when I reach the front of queue I am able to purchase a £20 ticket for a seat in the Niramax Stand, the one remaining area other than the away end that isn't completely sold out. Hallelujah, I have a ticket, I can enter the ground, I can watch the game.

There are large numbers of Middlesbrough fans here today, you can see their red scarves and bobble hats all over the place. Friendship works both ways and the Boro support vividly remember when the boot was on the other foot. In 1986 financial problems saw Middlesbrough locked out of their then Ayresome Park home and it was Hartlepool who stepped in, allowing the Boro to play their home games at Victoria Park. The Middlesbrough fans clearly haven't forgotten this act of kindness and have turned out in force today to help as much as they can. 

I enter through the turnstiles and find myself in an open plan area behind the stand. I walk up some stairs and above to my right is covered seating whilst below me is uncovered terracing. With no stewards around to check my ticket I decide forgo my seat and instead stand amongst the hordes whom have already gathered on the terraces some ten minutes before kick-off. I look around the ground and see covered stands on the other three sides of the pitch. In front of me across the field of play is an all seated stand, another all seated affair sits behind the goal to my left and is housing the travelling Wrexham support whilst the home end to the right is standing only.

I see a man in a monkey suit walking along the touchline and waving at the crowd. This is Hartlepool United's mascot Angus the monkey, and the same monkey suit that was worn by Stuart Drummond when he successfully campaigned to become mayor of the town in 2002. On the terraces the die hards are in full voice belting out a pre match rendition of fans favourite 'Two Little Boys'. Unfortunately probably most famous as a hit for the disgraced Rolf Harris, the song was actually originally written in 1902 almost 30 years before Harris was even born. I hadn't realised this song was sang at Hartlepool but the supporters standing around me passionately sing their hearts out. Forget 'You'll Never Walk Alone' this is what it's all about.

During the first half I get talking to the lad next to me who seems well chuffed that I have travelled down to support his club in their time of need and even offers to buy me a pint. Top bloke. As for the football, the first half is rather poor with both sides creating little in the way of chances and by half-time you can see why Pools have been struggling to find their feet in this division.

At half time I walk behind the stand from one end to the other end and discover there is a steward letting fans through a gate which leads to the terracing behind the goal. I take my chance and nip through so I can stand behind the posts for the second half. I don't know if it is down to the lack of a performance on the pitch from the home side in the second period but the atmosphere here is rather disappointing compared to the fervour where I had been stood for the first 45 minutes.

For the supporters of Hartlepool, the less said about the second half the better. Two fantastic goals by Scott Quigley, both of which see him run 40yds before finding the net win the game for the visitors and at the end of play Hartlepool have only one win in their last eleven league outings.

Full-time and I head back to the station for a train home, whilst as for Hartlepool United well who knows what the future holds. Things may not look good at the moment but the whole of the football world will I'm sure be praying for those historic Poolies and hoping they can find a solution to their problems so they can survive for many more years to come.

Hartlepool United - Never Say Die

A version if this was printed in issue 32 of Football Weekends magazine (April 2018)