D3D4 Carlisle Correspondent Nathan Ridley recalls how his love for Carlisle United embedded itself in his heart…
Growing up in the heart of Cumbria, you learn to appreciate all things the county possesses that no other place in the world can rival. We’ve got the Lake District, the hills, the mountains, the incredible scenery, the farming, the down-to-earth, grafting locals who pride themselves on their heritage, and Carlisle United Football Club. Whether it’s by train or car, with family or friends, going to Brunton Park has become standard procedure most weeks during the season, but with a team like Carlisle, every ‘experience’ is different. Ever since I could comprehend what football was, Carlisle United was an integral part of my footballing world.
In my time, the club have made memorable trips Hillsborough to go top of the league, Stoke in a Conference play-off Final which is the first match I can ever recall going to, and twice to Wembley 2 years on the bounce in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. However, it’s not always those spectacular journeys that stick in the memory. It’s those ones that mean so much to you that they can become milestones in your adolescence, whether it’s in that Paddock at Brunton Park, or on the infamous away stand at Accrington Stanley. I’ve now had a season ticket for the last 2 seasons and again for this coming campaign and it really has served me well being there every home game. It’s been years since I last missed one. I’ve had countless memories created from being Carlisle fan, not all of them fond but that’s football. I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t be football fan just for those good times, but to be part of something and belong somewhere. The spirit of being on an away day, celebrating or conceding a goal, are all things unique to the beautiful game.
After a few years of my life supporting Carlisle, I’d never felt absolutely immersed and invested in the club until one cold, February night in 2015. Carlisle were facing double relegation. The first season back down in League 2 was a disaster, despite Keith Curle’s efforts in the few months he’d been at the club. League leaders and eventual runners up, Shrewsbury Town, came to Brunton Park midweek and it was vital Carlisle didn’t lose this one. We’d nicked a goal around the hour mark as Charlie Wyke’s goal scoring magic continued; a hard-fought performance looked as if it would be rewarded with an incredible win. Then the board came up. 3 minutes, added time. Like two gunshots to the heart, Shrewsbury had somehow equalised and before I could clench the wound, I heard the distant cheer again from their fans, they’d won. Heartbroken, that’s the only way to describe it. A silent trip home and even at school the next day I was struggling to comprehend what I’d seen. A string of bad results followed as we hit the foot of the table, and the night lived long in the dark corners of the memory.
We did stay up that season, just, and it’s looked back now with a frustrated yet jubilant smile but it was the first time I ever felt as if it wasn’t Carlisle who’d lost, it was me, each person in the stands, everyone listening on the radio, who’d lost too. Football really did seem more than just a game that night; that’s why I’ve never felt the same supporting Carlisle again, it’s in the blood now. I can imagine that might just be a Shrewsbury fans’ best night ever, it probably gave them that spark to get promoted and that just shows the nature of the sport. Keith Curle summed it up nicely by saying ‘It was like being in a restaurant on your own having just finished a nice meal, and then your ex walks in with a new man.’ Trademark Keith. I’ve written this much about it in order to convey just how much it affected me and it’s the thing I think of most when looking back on my time as a supporter, a part of the club.
My favourite season was actually the 2015/16 campaign, the season after. It was time to really build in League 2. The club seemed on a blank slate and ready to go onto a new course. The season seemed magical at times. A last minute winner at Hartlepool in an unbelievable game. The night at Anfield when we took Liverpool to penalties in the EFL Cup. A full Brunton Park just weeks after the terrible Cumbrian floods against Everton in the FA Cup. A 5-0 win on the last day of the season at Notts County. Performance-wise it wasn’t spectacular but due it being my first season ticket season, I could share every experience. The team spirit was incredible and Keith Curle’s antics were a joy. My favourite shirt was from that season too, the home one. If only we wore red socks with it though, always love that. Old school.
It’s extremely difficult to choose a favourite 11 but it’s my best effort. Players come and go with ease up at Carlisle but some have the talent or just sheer attitude to really leave a lasting impression on you.
There may be no glamour and breath taking moments like the Premier League, but supporting a League 1 or 2 team like Carlisle really does change your life somehow. It’s for the better though. It makes you who you are. It takes some bottle to keep turning up on the cold winter nights, sacrifice things in your life, and travel far and wide to watch your team. But that’s what it’s for because it’s your team. Carlisle are mine and they always will be.