SAFC v Carlisle Utd ‘Who are You?’: on Bridges, Kavanagh and Wembley

Jake demands answers
Jake demands answers

Mark Nicholson*, located at Twitter, is a diehard Carlisle supporter who will join a sizeable army crossing west to east for Sunday’s FA Cup tie. What sort of Sunderland team he will see, with the leaue cup semis only two days later and a relegation battle to wage, is open to question. He’s a great admirer of the Sunderland old boy Graham Kavanagh, first as a player and now as manager of Carlise. All the same, he expects our class to make itself felt in the last 20 minutes …

Salut! Sunderland: Once upon a time, drawing a top-flight team away in the cup would have been a moneyspinner. Low gates make that a thing of the past as your own managing director John Nixon has said. Should you just go for glory then and hope for a Man Utd or Arsenal away tie in the 4th round?

Personally I think we’ve got to take what we can and run. A lot of Carlisle fans were hoping for a ‘winnable’ home tie in the 3rd round, bank the prize money and hope to get a draw like this in the 4th round. Problem is, that’s great on paper but there aren’t any easy ties at this stage of a cup competition and you’re not at all guaranteed to win against any team when the carrot of a big draw in the 4th round is being dangled. The draw, in my opinion, couldn’t have gone any better for Carlisle.


So you have had a great run since the start of November but why were you shipping all those goals, especially at home, earlier in the season?

The problem with our defence is simply an issue of quality. It’s been our weakest area of the pitch for quite a few seasons now and was, by our previous manager Greg Abbott, neglected for a long time. We’ve shipped a large amount of goals for the past 3 or 4 seasons now. Another issue is the severe lack of consistency. We’ve had over 20 different back 4 combinations already this season, with loan players, stop gaps, and youth products making up our defence. Graham Kavanagh has started to improve the quality at the back without doubt, but we still have the consistency issue. We need a settled defence for a number of games and while we have tightened up a lot recently, we’ll not be the solid unit required until that happens.

What was Graham Kavanagh – whose Sunderland career was limited by injury – like as a player for you and how do you rate him as manager?

Graham Kavanagh as a player for Carlisle United really was a cut above. A commanding midfielder with obvious quality who also possessed an eye for goal, he used to turn up and perform most weeks and scored some spectacular goals too. Graham Kavanagh the manager however, even during these early months, has seriously taken his abilities and knowledge to the next level. Without doubt he knows exactly what he wants from his players and doesn’t mind telling them both behind closed doors (whether that requires a stern word or an arm round the shoulder) and during games. He has shown a football brain and tactical understanding that (with respect to Greg Abbott) wasn’t always shown under previous management.

Make no mistake; he wasn’t the preferred choice of probably 95 per cent of Carlisle fans, who almost unanimously wanted a complete regime change. However, he’s now well on his way to proving he was the correct choice all along.


Have you realistic hopes of making the playoffs?

This year I don’t believe we can have any realistic hopes of making the play offs. Quite simply, we’re not good enough. Best we can hope for is finishing top half of League 1 and taking Sunderland back to Brunton Park to further add to the bank account. Beating Sunderland is merely pie in the sky…


And how far do you think the club can go – and what would it take to get locals more interested in turning up?

Currently the club is seriously limited by the funding situation. The current owners have the thankless task of keeping the club ticking over and trying to break even every year on falling crowds and ever increasing costs. They are, in the most part, doing exactly that. While making a loss, Carlisle United isn’t quite in financial dire straits but if things continue as they are the outlook isn’t the brightest. It’s no secret the club needs to find investment, a lot of fans grumbles come from the fact that, from the outside at least, the club isn’t very proactive in finding it.

The PR and advertising from within the club ranges from a disaster to none existent. Not one poster or flyer can be found around Carlisle City Centre advertising the clubs next game, they are simply under the (extremely outdated) impression that simply being there is enough, when in fact, it’s far from it in this day and age.


Who are the best players you’ve seen in Carlisle colours and who would you rather forget?

We’ve been extremely lucky in the past few seasons to have seen some loan gems, a couple that stand out are James Chester and Ben Marshall. Both utterly fantastic players and will without doubt do well in the game in the future. There are honestly too many bad players to list, but rest assured we’ve had some shockers. A certain ex-Everton ‘wonder kid’ has been stealing a wage off the club for 18 months without kicking a ball. Awful, awful business when cash is so tight.

If not in your last reply, what memories do you have of Michael Bridges at the club? He seemed get quite a few goals.

Michael Bridges was another player who looked a cut above at our level, he came at a time when the club was on the up anyway (there was only one way we could have gone from the lowest of the low) but his intelligent play was often so good he looked on a whole level of his own to the rest of the squad at the time and indeed the rest of the division.


And what have been your highs and lows as a supporter?

High is without a shadow of a doubt winning a trophy at Wembley. There aren’t many fans who can say they’ve seen their team lift a trophy at Wembley and I’ve been lucky enough to see it twice, that’ll stay with me forever. Many clubs devalue the Johnstones Paint Trophy, but the extra revenue is invaluable for our club and more than anything, it’s a great day out. Honourable mention for the 3rd round FA Cup tie we played at Goodison Park a few years back. One of the best all round performances I’ve seen from any Carlisle team and we really did match them (almost) every step of the way. The atmosphere from the away end was something else. Low points way outweigh the high points unfortunately, being relegated out of the football league and the club almost going out of existence during the Knighton era are easily the lowest points of my time as a supporter.


Who is going up from your division, where will Carlisle finish if not promoted?

There are 5 or 6 teams who could be promoted out of League 1 this season; obvious contenders are Wolves and Peterborough. Leyton Orient are riding the crest of a wave but I’m not sure if they can keep it up throughout the whole season. Preston and Brentford just quietly keep picking up points and will undoubtedly be up there at the end of the season. For Carlisle I’d be happy with anywhere in the top half I think, that would be about right for us this year.


What will be the Premier top four in order and who do you fancy for the FA Cup? Oh, and do you reckon we’re going down?

Premier League top 4 is wide open at the moment; I can’t look past Manchester City for the title and think Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United will make up the other top 4 places. Liverpool don’t quite have the quality to beat the big teams and Tottenham are 1 step away from turmoil. I think Manchester United and David Moyes will be gunning for the FA Cup this year. If they can get themselves into the top 4 and take him the FA Cup they’ll look at that as a successful season considering their (not all that bad) current league position.
The bottom third of the Premier League table is looking as tight as the top third currently. I’d like to say I can see Sunderland staying up, but it looks more and more like they might struggle every week. I’m not sure there are 3 worse teams in the Premier League this season (on paper at least) but I do rate Poyet as a manager and your players certainly don’t lack the desire and commitment to the cause. Although if West Brom and Fulham continue to play as poorly you just never know!


Does anything about modern football inspire you – or make you angry?

Plenty to be angry at within modern football, without a shadow of a doubt, but I’m not sure any of it is actually worthy of being genuinely annoyed over. The money aspect, while Carlisle could obviously do with a larger share of the riches, isn’t something that bothers me. As long as I’m still willing to shell out the £50 a month for Sky Sports for the (admittedly high quality) entertainment I receive then wages are going to go up and money is going to go into the game. Okay the divide may be getting larger, but I’m not so sure how much of an adverse effect for the game overall the increased amount of money is actually having.

One thing that does get me however is the hugely inflated expectations we have of managers, especially those who have managed to win promotion from the Championship. We’re seeing Championship teams being promoted to the Premier League, those teams in the bottom half and managers being sacked. Where do these owners and boards actually expect to be in their first season?

Brazil 2014: excited already?

I’m not usually a huge fan of International football, so at the moment the excitement level for Brazil 2014 is minimal, but I’m sure nearer the time as the excitement in the nation builds I’ll be swept along as ever.

Will you be at the Stadium of Light on Jan 5? What sort of travelling support should we expect and what will be the score?

I will indeed be there on Sunday, hoping for a loud 5500 strong travelling support (in truth we could have sold twice that) and I’m going to go for a spirited 2-1 defeat. I suspect, as with Everton a few years ago, Sunderland’s class will begin to tell in the last 20 minutes. Anything over and above the cash injection we’ve already secured is a massive bonus!

* Mark Nicholson on himself: I’ve been a full time Carlisle fan since 1999, as my dad isn’t a huge football fan it was basically since I was self sufficient enough to take myself every week and I’ve never looked back since. My first season as a Carlisle fan was the faithful season Jimmy Glass scored to keep us in the football league. I’ve been quite lucky in truth, in that I’ve probably had more ups than downs in my time. While dropping out of the football league was an awful time for the club, the climb back to where we are currently has had a lot of good times and a couple of trophies along the way!

Interview: Colin Randall


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4 thoughts on “SAFC v Carlisle Utd ‘Who are You?’: on Bridges, Kavanagh and Wembley”

  1. Good piece, which is usually the case when the contributor actually watches the the team in the flesh rather than through TV, the papers and the internet.

  2. He won’t do that. The prospect of going out at home to a side from a lower league for the third season running is too awful to contemplate. Expect to see Gardener, Cabral, Alonso and maybe the Greek winger.
    Nice piece from Mark. I was at Scarborough when news of Glass’s equaliser came through on the radio. hey were disappointed.
    Shame Paul Thirlwell is injured – should have been the ungrateful Liam Noble, nasty little Mag scroat.

  3. I expect Poyet to play his reserve team. At least I hope so. We can’t afford anyone getting injured, esp. Mannone. Play it safe.
    Give Pickford, Ba, Moberg-K, heck even Cabral a run out. I for one am not bothered abuot the FA cup this year. Having a fit, injury free team to concentrate on PL survival is better.

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