Football / Fan's Eye View: Spare a little hatred: No. 22 - Carlisle United

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CARLISLE'S 15 minutes of fame lasted a week. As every programme editor knows, and is at pains to remind us every visit, United topped the League after three games at the start of the 1974-75 season. Chelsea 2-0, Middlesbrough 2-0, Spurs 1-0. It's like a liturgy.

If other supporters know anything about Carlisle, it is that well-worn statistic, followed by the fact that it didn't last and Carlisle were back in the Second come the end of the campaign.

It is particularly frustrating when you weren't either born or Blue at the time, as Carlisle have done nothing of note since. Promotion once, relegation three times too many, and the unleashing of Peter Beardsley and Paul Bannon (sorry) on to the world, isn't much to show for the past 18 years.

Rival supporters don't seem to care. Another Carlisle fanzine, The Cumberland Sausage, pointed out that we're the forgotten fans of football. We might sing, 'No one likes us, we don't care,' but we do, terribly, because no one does hate us. Our nearest geographical rivals are Newcastle, but they are usually more League places than land miles above us; two derbies a decade is hardly the making of bitter enmity. Besides, they've got Sunderland.

We have to consult the fixture list to see which club we can call this year's derby rivals. But be it Burnley, Blackpool or Bolton, we are treated with little more than indifference by other clubs' supporters, who have rivals closer to home. Worse still, in the last two seasons Carlisle won just three away games, and were positively welcomed, bearing the gift of three points. We hate not being hated.

Last season, with Aldershot retiring hurt, Carlisle and Doncaster were left to decide who would be last in the Football League's last Fourth Division. Rovers finished ahead of us. It was official: United were the worst professional team in England.

The end seemed nigh. But then came our Knighton (shining armour), and strange though it seems, few Blues thought he was taking the Michael when he bought the club for less than the value of Gazza's dodgy knee. Michael Knighton might have been the clown prince of Old Trafford, but at Carlisle, where things couldn't get any worse, anything was better than nothing happening at all.

Knighton promised United would win their opening game and two minutes after it started, George Oghani, Carlisle's new centre-

forward, did score on his debut. OK, so his was an own goal and United didn't win (they didn't even draw) but it didn't matter, for here was someone as blindly optimistic about United as the rest of us.

Not only that, but the club (well, Knighton) was being talked about, written about, even photographed. He says he will lead us into the Premier League in seven years, even hinted that he might juggle and volley in front of the Warwick Road end some time this season (where finding the net should be easier than finding the crowd).

We'll have to wait and see if it's merely the blind leading the blind, but season ticket sales increased and 1,500 supporters followed Knighton to Turf Moor. There, we rocked the rafters, promotion-party style, to mark a first-round Coca-Cola Cup triumph, the size of the following and scale of our celebrations grossly distorting the importance of the game. Carlisle went out, albeit honourably, to Norwich in the next round, and then generously gave way to Wigan in the FA Cup, missing a penalty and conceding two own goals in the first 20 minutes.

A chairman is only truly a chairman, of course, if his hands are bloodied by the sacking of a manager. The hapless Aidan McCaffery was duly dispatched at the end of September. McCaffery's chief claim to fame was inclusion in the worst United XI of the Eighties, according to The Cumberland Sausage, which also voiced disquiet over his replacement, David McCreery.

The problem isn't his managerial ability (he's got Carlisle winning away from home with decent football), but the severe difficulty McCreery's name, like his predecessor's, has fitting into any terrace war-cry.

It might well all end in tears. Knighton's promised land may be no more than a fool's paradise, but there again, supporting Carlisle's never had anything to do with good sense. So it's fun while it lasts and who knows, with Knighton's high profile and some more away wins, one or two people might just start to hate us.

Tim Pocock, editor of 'So Jack Ashurst, Where's My Shirt?', the Carlisle fanzine.