Through The Turnstiles #3

In part one, I said that ‘I wasn’t gonna miss it’ in reference to the clash between Leeds and Carlisle — and apparently I really meant it.
Come the new year and my dad decided it was time to take me to his theatre — and so when we boarded the train this time, instead of heading West towards Carlisle, we headed East, towards Leeds.

With a few of his mates, we hit up a series of pubs as I tried to blend in with the group. This trip was immediately different — days out to Brunton Park suddenly felt like a warm-up, as if dad was only taking me there to keep himself spry and that visits to Elland Road were the main event.

There were tinnies on the 10:07 train (none for me), and then an immediate visit to the station pub, which I think was called The White Rose. After a few in there, we’d hit The Scarbrough (if there was time) before catching the bus to the ground.

Everything seemed so much more planned out, and I was a big fan of organisation, so add that to the fact that I was about to see a football match and I was swept up.

Then I saw Elland Road.

Absolutely no disrespect to Brunton Park, I love that ground and it holds a special place in my heart, but in that moment, my only thought was that this is a stadium.
Even at that point I didn’t really remember the Stadium of Light from my visit four years prior, and my only other experience with big stadiums was speeding past unidentified ones on family holidays.
I tried to take everything in, wowed by badge sellers and burgers, statues and stanchions, programmes and personnel, I was having a great time and I wasn’t even in the ground yet.

I’ve never reacted that extremely to turf, but I could have kissed it.

We sat in the East Stand, as even though my dad had probably told me I would be going under the guise of a Carlisle fan, I don’t think he could stomach sitting in the away end of his home ground.
I did watch the players warming up but I think I was still caught up in the turf, so the first time I really clocked them was when they walked out. I saw my favourites starting — David Raven, Cleveland Taylor, Michael Liddle — and I was struck by a sudden gulf between the two sides. Not so much between the players, but the difference in their homes affected my perception of them. Danny Graham was suddenly dwarfed by Jonathan Douglas, Michael Bridges was immediately eclipsed by Lubo Michalik (the former of whom is Leeds alum and the latter of whom would go on to play for Carlisle).

For the first time since I’d developed a sense of support, I was watching as a neutral.

I would’ve been happy had either side won, and it was the Cumbrians who came out on top 0–2. Twice I’d seen the game that season and twice me and my dad had been in the wrong stand to celebrate the goals. Though I did give him a bit of stick as revenge for Leeds having cruelly beaten Carlisle in the play-offs the season prior.

We got back on the bus, headed back to the station, picked up some more tinnies (still none for me, the game wasn’t that long) and a Burger King, and headed back home.
Carlisle had won and that was good. But the day was better.

And though I didn’t think of myself as a Leeds supporter, from that day, I felt like one.

But Brunton Park was home.
And though Carlisle had found some form under Greg Abbott, we were still struggling. Following victory in Leeds (and one at home against MK Dons), we would only win twice in the next twenty games, leading into the final day of the season.

On that ride, I got to three games. The first was against Stockport.

I think my dad was at work so I attended BY MYSELF. That’s right. I fancied a change and so passed by the entrance to The Paddock stand when walking down Warwick Road and opted for the end named after that very road. Still standing because I believed sitting for a football match meant you were weak. It obviously doesn’t, but I’m still uncomfortable sitting down in a football ground to this very day.

Stockport had been on the up and up in recent seasons but this was the one that saw them hit with a ten-point deduction and they would soon begin their slide back down the divisions. I also got the chance to see two players I’d admired for County, those being the goalkeeper, Owain Fon Williams, and midfielder Dominic Blizzard. The former especially played an exceptional game as his side won 1–2, with Blizzard scoring the first.

We were drab against Stockport, but I hoped returning with my dad on his birthday would inspire them, even though they weren’t to know and couldn’t have feasibly had any idea that is was his birthday.

Therefore, it was drab once more.
We had the ball plenty and negated their attacks, but anytime we won possession I distinctly remember by dad bemoaning the fact that we just lumped it forward, which the two hulking central defenders were more than happy to clear up.
Now, while that is a distinct memory, I also remember one of those defenders being Sean Gregan, a former Leeds man my dad recognised. But he was playing for Oldham at the time, a team that we would play essentially the same game against a month later.

So maybe I’m mixing those games up. They both ended 1–1 anyways. And while I have no ticket for the Oldham game, I have four tickets for the Scunthorpe game. We did not go with anyone and I can only assume I picked two up off the floor to bulk up my collection.

Which must have been the case as I could never take a seat in Brunton Park.

The final Carlisle game of the season I attended was against Northampton.

I went to this one with my friend. We went to a few together but I must have lost a lot of those tickets. Our routine was getting the 12:43 into Carlisle, sitting down for a Subway, and then making our way to the match, simple as, but effective as all feck. A real class day out.
He was a hot-headed football fan, devoutly passionate when attending on a match-day and didn’t like my appreciation for the other team. And Northampton had a few — namely Adebayo Akinfenwa, who I laid eyes on for the first time that day.
Others were the goalkeeper Chris Dunn, because I love goalkeepers, and the other two were Giles Coke and Jason Crowe, but probably the former just because I liked his name and the latter because I wanted to see him go up against David Raven in the battle of the birds.

But this was a six-pointer, with Northampton struggling, and though that should give the football it’s talking points, it was between the whistles and off the pitch that sticks in my brain.

Between The Whistles (Just)
With the first-half drawing to a close and the scores level, Evan Horwood, from way away in the left-back position, let fly with an insane half-volley. I was stood behind him as he did it, corner flag kind of area, and I could see the swazz as it drifted towards goal and nestled top bins beyond a helpless Chris Dunn.
I didn’t even celebrate. I just made periodic high-pitched noises with my eyebrows raised off my head as I wondered why no-one else was celebrating.
It was because while the ball was drifting speedily towards the top corner, referee Andy D’Urso had blown for half-time. Horwood had been robbed of the greatest goal of all time and sure-fire Puskas winner, but more importantly, I had been robbed of seeing it and I let everyone who would listen know that.

Off The Pitch (Just)
Ikechi Anya was on the bench for Northampton, and this was the day I fell in love with him. He never got on the pitch, but from about the 70th minute on, he started practicing his sprinting drills right in front of The Paddock. He held his hands like shovels and absolutely bolted up and down — I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Horwood could have scored his banger and I probably would have missed it.
After the game, he was doing his cool-down with the same sprinting drills and a group of us stayed to watch, cheering him on. I hope he remembers that. The speed honestly looked insane and I swear he nearly broke into a glide at one point. I was glad to see him score a few goals in the remainder of that season and even happier to see him turn out for Watford, Derby, and Scotland so I could watch him some more.

The match finished 1–1 and it was really knocking on squeaky bum-time now. There were six games of the season to go and Carlisle were not in good nick. There was an urgency and a desperation in this game and things didn’t feel good.

But I could never see them going down. It always felt like we were gonna pull something out.

It wasn’t even real when it came down to the final day.
And come final day, I would watch one of these sides again, and not the one you might think.

Aye, my dad’s mate had managed to secure some tickets to the final day at Elland Road, and though there was nothing on the line for the home team, I was all in for witnessing the force that was Leeds United.

Northampton needed a win to have any hope of survival but I had adapted a chant (that I claimed I made up) that predicted the opposite:-

Northampton, there’s nothing you can do,
You’re going down to League Two,
You won’t win a cup, you won’t win a shield,
Your next derby will be with Macclesfield!

I don’t remember who started it, but I read it in a book of funny football quotes and thought it fit perfectly. Of course, looking back, I should have changed ‘derby’ to simply ‘match’ because Northampton and Macclesfield aren’t exactly neighbours. Both in the same country though.

Doesn’t matter anyways, I didn’t start the chant.
Didn’t stop me from telling my friends I did.

I remember this day being a bit more rushed than the others, but I think it was just the high attendance for the final day. It was nice getting to see Chris Dunn and Akinfenwa again, and Ikechi Anya started which was good because it meant I had something smart to say to my dad’s friends about his pace.
Much like my chant however, it didn’t really come into it — Leeds won easily and relegated Northampton down to League Two to play Macclesfield, god rest their soul.
We did duck out early to beat the rush and that resulted in us missing out on the Leeds third, scored by Robert Snodgrass, but a victory was already secured, and with it, a play-off spot.

But it would be Jimmy Abdou and one of his nine Millwall goals that would condemn Leeds to third season in the third division.
It was tough on Leeds. The first season they were there they had a points deduction and still made the play-offs, this season, they didn’t have that excuse.
But Simon Grayson had come in midway through the season, a profit was turned for the first time in ages, and the best B&B in Leeds (Beckford and Becchio) were raining hellfire and goals down on everyone.
An FA Cup defeat to Histon and a whole host of hiccups were behind them, and it looked like third time was gonna be the charm.

What choice did I have but to fall in love?

It didn’t feel like cheating! I’d been hiding my feelings from Carlisle-supporting friends for a while, but this narrative provoked me to reveal my true feelings.
And my peers’ feelings aside — I loved both Carlisle and Leeds, and I didn’t have to choose.

It just made the final chapter in their recent rivalry all the more entertaining.

While Leeds were stamping out The Cobblers and heading into the play-offs, The Cumbrians were on the other side of things.
If Carlisle had lost to Millwall, the side that would knock Leeds out of the play-offs, they would be relegated and Northampton would be spared.

But the mercurial Ian Harte was back in the squad, as well as a re-inspired Ben Williams between the sticks, who’d had a tough go of it since joining from Crewe. Carlisle saw Millwall off 2–0 and pulled off the escape.

It wasn’t glamorous, but Greg Abbott and his boys would get a full season to have a crack at League One.

As I mentioned, their relegation problems didn’t seem real. I’d watched them play poorly and drop into the relegation zone, but I couldn’t fathom them going down. I assume it was so difficult for me to accept them losing a match, that I didn’t want to think about them losing their spot in the division. If they had gone down… I don’t know how I would have felt ‘cos I still can’t compute it to this very day.

Maybe the guilt of also supporting a rival who were doing well in the same league brought on a swathe of emotion that would have been crippling had Carlisle suffered relegation so I chose to not even comprehend it in fantasy.

Are there this many layers to football support?

Apparently, yes.

To be continued.

C.L.R.

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