timberland earthkeepers chelsea boots A night of nostalgia and emotion at latest Carlisle United
There was a moment, towards the end of a night of great humour and nostalgia, that the audience fell silent, and still. Mick Wadsworth was speaking from the heart and, for a second, it felt like his emotions might catch up with him.
Carlisle United’s director of coaching from 1993 to 1996 the Division Three title, Wembley and all was asked to name the things he most values from his long career. Medals aside, he first referred to personal inscriptions made by Sir Bobby Robson in a number of books that sit on his shelves.
Then he remembered some other writing. “I got a load of letters from Carlisle fans when I left, and I kept them in a file,” Wadsworth said. “They are amazing. Amazing. The connection in what those people saw how much it meant to them was far greater than what I perceived it to be.
“They are beautiful letters, poems, drawings, bits of art. I’ve still got them.”
Those gathered in Carlisle’s Old Fire Station for the second United “legends night” were rapt by this intimate disclosure from one of the club’s most celebrated managers. Around this time, a member of the audience spoke to thank Wadsworth for giving him, a Blues supporter, the chance to see his team at Wembley for the first time.
Applause broke out, and Wadsworth was touched. “Other than for family, I’d move here tomorrow,” the Yorkshireman said. “I feel at home in Carlisle.”
These were the most poignant moments in an evening otherwise studded with insight and dressing room comedy. Wadsworth was the final turn, treating the crowd to some gems from that transforming time at Brunton Park in the mid 1990s.
His first training session, for instance: interrupted by the sight of Michael Knighton “in full kit, ball under arm, like Brian Glover in Kes, jogging onto the pitch.” Wadsworth instructed groundsman Ted Swainson to ask Knighton to go back whence he came, using a few words too salty for a family publication.
Knighton also left behind by the team coach at Huddersfield after an Auto Windscreens game, on Wadsworth’s word was a ghost at this feast. The most controversial character in the Blues’ recent history also formed the context of Fred Story’s account of his own Carlisle ownership.
Story, who oversaw two promotions and very nearly a third, began by paying tribute to his predecessor, John Courtenay, the “crazy, fantastic Irishman” who had wrested the club from Knighton in 2002 and so brought it back to its supporters.
Story, who bought the club two years later, applied his business brain to the task of making United more professional; clearing debts, responding to the 2005 floods and building on the turnaround Paul Simpson had started towards the end of the Courtenay era.
His legacy was reflected in the warm reception he received as the night’s first guest. The building tycoon balanced his own memories with praise for certain individuals and bodies of people (Simpson could be a manager in “any industry”, Andrew Jenkins was a “legend”, while United’s staff were described as routinely hard working), while the former owner referred more than once to the special relationship that grew between club and fans during his tenure.
The night at Stoke, when Conference promotion was achieved and a classic “booze up” followed in Carlisle, was his most memorable time.
Inevitably, the bumps in the road had to be negotiated. Story was ready for the question about Neil McDonald’s sacking early in the 2007/8 season and seemed to relish the chance to dismiss “100 per cent” some of the lurid speculation that followed it.
“I know what the rumours are,” Story said. “But if there had been a personal issue, I would have addressed it in a personal manner. Business comes first, and I sacked Neil for issues as a manager.”
Story, without being specific on the “issues”, recalled how “conversations” with McDonald in the close season went unheeded. This saw him pull the trigger after a 1 1 draw at Walsall on the new campaign’s opening day.
“It was nothing personal. Was it the right time? No. That was a mistake. It made it very controversial and high profile. But the way I run a business is, if I think something’s wrong, I address it. I think Carlisle United benefited from that style.”
Story’s other admission was that he had allowed himself to be drawn into a “stupid war” with the United Trust, which led to two courtroom sagas. “Who won? The solicitors,” he said. “I think of the time, money and energy fighting that crazy, wasteful battle. It was a really sorry episode in the club’s history and I take some responsibility for that, because I should have risen above it.”
Kevin Henderson, a striker who also crossed the Courtenay and Story years, was excellent value on dressing room affairs. A reliable pro, he was one of the first men signed by Simpson to help rout the drinking culture which, Henderson said, was “ruining the club”.
The post Roddy Collins dressing room was, he felt, “a disgracewith a contingent of players that wouldn’t have got in Sunday League sides”. Henderson, out of favour at Hartlepool, had family ties of his own in Carlisle and enjoyed the opportunity to bring some overdue professionalism to an underachieving club.
A natural raconteur, he painted familiar pictures of icons like Kevin Gray and Dennis Booth. Paul Arnison was another warmly recalled, not just as a fine pro but “the tightest man in soccer he would look under the bed to see if he’d lost any sleep.”
Henderson also remembered coming on as a substitute against Barnet with a secret brief to “do” the Bees defender Ian Hendon, who had been tormenting United. The resulting 50 50 clash saw Hendon limp off but Henderson carried off. “But that’s what we were. You would fight for each other, put yourself on the line.”
Tom Cowan was another committed customer from a similar period. He found the team spirit at Carlisle the equal of anywhere he had played, while the gallery enjoyed his anecdote about being knocked out cold against Halifax and trying to return to the pitch 10 minutes later, not realising he had already been subbed.
He also drew cheers when referring to a familiar foe: Stevenage manager Graham Westley, who had shouted vehemently in Cowan’s face after a foul in the 2005 play off final. “As soon as the final whistle went, the first person I saw was Westley,” the former left back said. “‘Get it up you, you ‘.”
Paul Thirlwell, from a more recent vintage, was next, describing how the “ginger prince” Chris Lumsdon made his decision to join Carlisle from Derby easier. United’s former skipper was amusing as he recounted the day against Millwall when he and Graham Kavanagh scored wonder goals to keep the Blues in League One.
The pile on, after Thirlwell’s goal, endangered his health, not least when Kavanagh took a running jump onto the mound. “Kav was about 16 clem at the time, as well.”
Thirlwell dwelt more seriously on good and challenging times. He described Peter Murphy as the man he’d most like by his side in a crisis, and Ian Harte as one of the best he played with. “He was so miserable, though either the pasta was too hard or too soft.”
He defended former manager Greg Abbott’s “body of work” in a climate of criticism, and felt successor Kavanagh, sacked in 2014, was a “good guy” who did not fail for a lack of commitment. Thirlwell, also joint caretaker manager with Tony Caig before Keith Curle arrived, confirmed they had been interested in the permanent post, “but it was never really on the cards”.
His conclusion, that Carlisle was a “fantastic place to play football” was shared by Derek Walsh, who threw light onto United’s turbulent years at the turn of the 1990s.