Colin Randall writes: our Carlisle United interviewee Mike Booth, a moderator at the Carlisle fans’ forum thecumbrians.net, says most people have a soft spot for Sunderland because watching Newcastle struggle – he’ll have enjoyed their first two results – is such fun. I only just suppressed the temptation to make that the headline.
Mike is too young to remember Carlisle’s season of glory, promoted to the top flight and top of the league after three games (but relegated all the same), but says people still talk about it …
Salut! Sunderland: What were your thoughts when you came out of the hat against us – ‘that’s a great draw ‘ or ‘not them again’?
Mike Booth: yeah I thought it was a good draw. Potential for a good crowd, and I’ve seen Sunderland have quite a few games in a short space of time, so this game might be seen as one where they can rest a few players, which could potentially lead to an upset.
Carlisle FC has a fascinating history and some notable achievements. What does Carlisle FC mean to you and, with no competition from neighbouring big clubs, the city?
I think as a club, we have a lot of potential because of our large catchment area. There isn’t another professional team in England for about 50 miles which certainly makes us unique. We don’t really have any major rivals, we don’t like Preston or Burnley but if you asked them if they saw us as rivals they probably wouldn’t! I think its a great city, and while other managers have bemoaned its attractiveness to players coming all the way up here, Keith Curle has really started selling the club and city well in a more positive light.
If too young to have experienced the top flight season of 1974-75, what handed-down memories do you have and do people still talk of being top after the first three games?
I was too young to remember, but people still talk about it. By all accounts we really tried to play football that year, and when we won promotion to the top flight, our former manager Bill Shankly, who was then Liverpool manager, dubbed it “the greatest achievement in the history of the game”.
My mum was a regular back then, in fact her first game was at home to AS Roma, just a couple of years before that. We drew 3-3 against them at Brunton Park and beat them 3-2 away. There’s not many clubs that can say they have an unbeaten record against AS Roma! It would be nice to think we’ll be back in the top flight again one day, its hard to see right now, but there’s clubs that have been mucking around in the lower leagues for years like Swansea, Huddersfield, Blackpool, Bournemouth that have all done it with a bit of investment and ambition, so why not Carlisle?
Keith Curle was a fine player and seems a steady manager, and older SAFC fans know of Colin West of course. Good management team?
Yeah so far so good. The squad Keith inherited from former Sunderland man Graham Kavanagh was absolutely atrocious. We were nailed on to get relegated that year, but he managed to turn us around and keep us up.
The season after we finished mid-table, and last year we made the playoffs, sadly losing to Exeter in the last minute of the Semi Final second leg. So there has been steady progression every year, but we have to be gunning for promotion this year. He’s developed the nickname “Mysterious Curle” because some of his tactical decisions are baffling, but some of them pay off brilliantly. We played Liverpool away in this competition two seasons ago, and Liverpool played pretty much their first team. He decided to play three at the back, with a 32-year-old central midfielder at left wing back! But we managed to take them all the way to penalties that night, sadly just losing out.
Supporters have a stake in the ownership. How does it work in practice and are you in safe hands?
Frankly, it doesn’t work in practice. They have a 25.4 per cent stake in the club and a place on the board of directors. It sounds good in principle, and members can vote in who they want to sit on the board at the club, but from my point of view, and other fans might think otherwise, they are all part of the same clique within the club.
They don’t like fans offering constructive feedback and seem very set in their ways. It was set up to get rid of Michael Knighton, who nearly destroyed the club, and they act as a stumbling block to any other potential nightmare owners taking over the club. They even tried suing the club a few years ago, when we were owned by Fred Story, which ended up costing the club a couple of hundred grand, which is a lot to us. It was all in a dispute about the ownership of some floodplain land round the back of the stadium, which frankly, nobody else could really give a monkeys about.
Hand on heart, how far can they take the club and what does this season have in store?
The current ownership can probably only take us as far as League One, we made the League One playoffs under them about 10 years ago, but we were still riding the crest of the wave of winning back to back promotions. If we want to kick on and be a Championship/Premier League club, we will need new owners/investment.
Who are the key players who could give us a fright?
Nicky Adams on the left wing churns out assists in his sleep. New boy Richie Bennett up front has looked impressive, worked his way up from non-league and is an old fashioned “all elbows” centre forward.
Your highs and lows as a supporter?
In my time supporting the club, the highs have to be back to back promotions from the Conference to League One.
The Conference (Or Vanarama National as they call it now) is a very hard league to break out of, so it was great to do it at the first attempt. Then we were tonking teams 5-0 every few weeks when we came up to League Two.
Low point has to be relegation from the Football League. We’d managed to fight off relegation for so many years before that, due to other clubs going into administration, or having our goalkeeper, Jimmy Glass, score the last kick of the game to keep us up.
And all those years I had resigned myself to us going down and yet we managed to stay up. But the year we finally did go down, there was a real belief that we’d actually stay up. We had five points in December, but then after Christmas we hit promotion form, but sadly it wasn’t enough and we went down on the final day.
Best and worst players you ‘ve seen in Carlisle colours?
By far the best player I’ve seen in Carlisle colours has to be former Sunderland man Michael Bridges. When we were in League Two, he’d score goal of the season, and you’d naively think that you won’t see another goal better than that. Then the week after he’d go on to score one even better. He bagged us 15 goals in 21 games, he wasn’t there long, but he was worth the entry fee alone.
For worst player, there are far too many to mention!
Thoughts on Sunderland – club, fans, city, region, Simon Grayson?
I think most people have a bit of a soft spot for Sunderland, purely because watching Newcastle struggle is highly amusing! Got a lot of respect for Sunderland fans, they’ve been through some terrible times and stuck by their club through thick and thin.
I went to the match we played in the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light a few years ago, and it’s a cracking stadium.
It was a good day out apart from the result! Simon Grayson has proven himself at League One level multiple times. But for whatever reason, has never quite taken a club from the Championship on to the Premier League, but I put that down to clubs being all too trigger happy when it comes to sacking managers nowadays.
He should be a success if the board back him. Because while he has succeeded at multiple clubs, he’s had a decent budget to work with every time.
How will we do this season?
Without wanting to sit on the fence too much, it could go either way. The Championship is a tough league to get out of, and they’ll be quite a big scalp for some teams. I don’t think they’ll be anywhere near the bottom, but sadly I’m not convinced they’ll be that near to the top. I’ll go for mid-table.
What is your assessment of the standard and style of football in League Two?
There’s some teams who try and play football, and there’s some teams who desperately try not to play football. You have to have a variety of game plans up your sleeve. Some of the pitches are absolutely atrocious for professional football clubs. I feel the league has got stronger over the years. With the top three all being automatic promotion spots, it means that any club from about 14th upwards can be in with a shot for the play offs, which makes it exciting.
Are diving and other forms of cheating a much lesser problem than in the Premier League?
It’s hard to tell really. When watching highlights of our games, we don’t get the benefit of various camera angles. In fact most highlights don’t even show the controversial fouls again, they just show the goals and any other close efforts. There are teams and managers renowned for it though. It doesn’t help that the standard of refereeing is absolutely awful either.
Best ref, worst ref at your level?
It’s hard to remember them by name like it is in the Premier League, but I have a general rule, the shorter they are, the worse they seem to be!
One thing the authorities need to do to encourage lower league football?
I think a massive thing would be to stop Premier League Clubs from stockpiling all the young talent. Chelsea had over 30 players out on loan last season. While players can be loaned out for experience, many of these players are promising players with Football League Clubs, snapped up by a Premier League club, play for the under 23s for a few years, and then you never hear of them again.
But they stockpile them, because if just one player out of 30 makes it, then they deem that a success.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
I won’t be sadly as I am working, but I’m going to have to be the optimist and say a 3-2 win to the blues. I think Sunderland might underestimate us and put a few kids out. This competition can be a big money spinner for us, so Curle will definitely be taking it seriously. He even rested some players in the league game before our trip to Anfield two years ago!
]* Mike Booth on himself: I’m one of the moderators at thecumbrians.net. I have lived in Liverpool all my life but was a season ticket holder a few years ago, now I don’t go as much as I’d like due to work commitments. I have family in the Lakes and was taken down to a game at an early age, and have been hooked ever since. Supporting Carlisle is a far more “real” experience than supporting one of the local Premier League teams. Relegation from the Football League was absolutely devastating, and you get Premier League fans thinking that not finishing in the top four is the end of the world! If you offered me Carlisle finishing just outside of the top four in the Premier League, I’d bite your hand off!
Interview: Colin Randall