On the 3rd October 2020, Carlisle United hosted Barrow AFC in the fourth division of English football.
It was their first competitive meeting in 56 years.
In fact, for any all-Cumbrian clash in the football league, you’re going back 50-odd years to when Barrow clashed with Workington in the old Division Four.
Cumbria is the third largest county in England (out of 48). It’s full of fields, like, so the population sits just under 500,000.
The third largest county has the 41st largest population.
That is fair sparse, mate.
But that don’t excuse the fact that we only got ten documentable football teams.
We got a load of fields, that should be more football pitches, right?
500,000 folk? Divide that by 11 and you get…
45,455. That’s how many teams we could have. Half of ’em men’s and half women’s.
But let’s assume 50% of the population aren’t interested in football. That still leaves 22,727 teams.
But people are busy, alright, got their own jobs, their own lives, too busy to play football, so we’ll take off another 50%. Still gives us 11,364 teams.
Too old? Too young? Well, we can have a walking football league, but I’ll cross the wee ‘uns off, 25% there. Still got 8,523.
I am going eleven per team here, so they need subs and that, so I’ll combine every two teams into one so they all got reserves; 4,261 left.
4,261 teams of male footballers, female footballers, trans footballers, old footballers, youth footballers, disabled footballers, and all the rest of ya up there.
Now I know there be a lot of clubs in Cumbria at a lot of levels; I’ve played for some of ’em, and played against a lot more of ’em, and that number could well be right.
But this ish is, why are only two of them professional?
If we take the smallest county (bar The City of London), Bristol, they have a population only 35,000 less than Cumbria despite being 42 square miles in area. Cumbria is 2,613 square miles in area.
The county of Bristol has the same number of professional men’s teams as Cumbria.
They even go one step further, having one professional women’s team as well.
Counties like Tyne and Wear and Merseyside all have more professional sides despite being massively smaller, and though they do have much more inflated populations and we ain’t saying their professional club count is out of this world, I’m just wondering where they’re putting all their pitches…
In the same place Cumbria are.
One for each town, no matter how shoddy. Each town you go through will have a set of goalposts staring each other down on a stretch of grass varying in kemptness up and down the country.
Every town, every village, every school, every city (Cumbria has one city) might have a few, every hamlet, every township, every settlement; it’s one of the first things to go in.
So why does Cumbria only have two professional football clubs?
One team for every 1,306 square miles.
When Bristol has one professional team for every 14 square miles.
Is it money? Is it hierarchy? Do people think we’re actually in Scotland?
It’s probably some boring reason. Maybe we’re just not marketable.
Despite all that, against whatever odds might be there; on October 3rd 2020, amidst a world in chaos, a Cumbrian derby was played in the English Football League for the first time in half a century.
Jon Mellish headed the only goal of the game midway through the first half in a game that threatened to boil over late on. David Dunn’s men had their chances, but were kept at bay by Carlisle ‘keeper Paul Farman whose fine saves saw out the 1–0 victory for The Blues.
Manchester, London, Yorkshire, Birmingham, Norfolk; they have these once a season, but Cumbria has had to wait 50 years for a marquee meeting, and whatever the score, the game at Brunton Park would not have disappointed, and neither will the return fixture at Holker Street.
These are now the teams to beat for 4,259 other Cumbrian sides. And though the likes of Workington, Kendal, and Penrith might be a little closer, Alston F.C. could be climbing the ranks soon as well.
This article might be about Cumbria, but this goes further-a-pitch than that. Grassroots football is surviving, and does thrive.
Just in some places more than others.
Keep it streets ahead,