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?

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