Friday, 24 December 2010

Blue in Exile Pts 1&2

These posts initially appeared in the Cumberland News and Star on December 13 and 20 respectively. They appear here by kind permission of sports editor Phil Rostron. Enjoy!

Carlisle Lose While I See a Great Draw

How’s the Great Cumbrian Thaw going? I wonder if you, like me, are beginning to wish it had stayed at -15 all week.

Saturday’s dispiriting submission to a well drilled but limited Dagenham side capped a rather desperate fortnight in my life as a Carlisle fan. Firstly the London Branch Supporter’s Club Dinner fell foul of the weather and was followed swiftly by the cancelling of my ‘local’ away game versus Orient (for the record, the pavements in North East London were far from raising any safety fears – my own view is that they were keeping fresh for their FA Cup win). The Blues return to last season’s habit of following a JPT victory over an ex Premier League side with a home reversal against a weaker team only compounded the misery.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the National Gallery’s Canaletto exhibition with my girlfriend and her parents. Her Dad (a Southampton fan) felt Dagenham at home was ‘an easy three points’ for Carlisle – after all this time keeping a keen eye on our results he clearly hasn’t learned! The exhibition was underground and thus out of reach of phone signal so he and I played our own technologically advanced version of ‘The Likely Lads’ for the hour it took to walk around. When we emerged, blinking into the sun, to see a pair of 0-2 scores we both rather wished we’d been locked in.

Regular readers of this column are probably wondering where John Hartley has gone and who I am. He approached me to take over after reading my football blog ‘Bring Me the Head of Keith Mincher’. Here I constantly threaten to cover subjects as disparate as the wonderful re-emergence of Borussia Dortmund and the overseas career of John Charles but mainly descend into confused ranting about Tom Taiwo’s positioning or the privileged world view of Barcodes fans.

I don’t consider myself a typical Carlisle fan. I was raised in Workington rather than within hearing distance of the ‘Brunton Roar’ and I spent my childhood years haring headlessly round its green spaces in the colours of Leeds, not Carlisle, United. I harboured a soft spot for Carlisle throughout the Knighton regime and this has fledged over time into a full blown obsession – one fully confirmed by my absolute delight as we turned over Leeds at BP in 2007/8.

I left Cumbria for university in 2002 and have slowly wended my way down the country via Durham, York and Leeds to London. With each step my involvement with Carlisle United has grown stronger to the point where I now consider my fandom part of the very essence of my Cumbrian identity. Visits home now are almost as about spending time in the Paddock as with my parents or on the fells and I’m often joined at games (home and away) by old friends who showed no interest in football at school; Carlisle United is part of what keeps us together.

What is Francois Were Merely Frank?

Another week’s passed where the ‘fantastic indoor facility at Stoke’ has been the only hospitable place for the Blues to kick a football round. On weeks like this I normally pray for a bit of boy’s own stuff with the orange ball but having seen the utterly bizarre scenes at Portman Road. As Sven’s temperature soared whilst his players recreated scenes from Ice Age 2 I saw the logic in Terry Skiverton’s men dispatching Greg and the boys back to the club owned house for a few of Frank Simek’s Christmas Budweisers and a chance to beat Kav on the Wii while he’s still on crutches.

This hasn’t been a slow news week at BP though. The midweek news that Ivorian totem Francois Zoko has penned an extended deal would have provided a fillip to the majority United faithful, while Ben Marshall’s extension should hopefully salve the rest.

I’m unashamedly delighted that ‘Big Francois’ has elected to stick around in North Cumbria. In those games I’ve seen this year I’ve seen him at his best and, when his tail is up, he seems to be able to lift tricks directly from the pages of ‘Roy of the Rovers’. There’s also an undoubted frisson about seeing a flair player with a delicious foreign moniker flashing up next to your team on ‘Final Score’. Even if it is his second against lowly Tipton.

That subject has been broached over on the CUFC Messageboard where long suffering site administrator Tim Graham posted a couple of great articles from When Saturday Comes discussing the tendency of fans to over-rate players with exotic sounding names. The ‘Nardiello Factor’, dubbed by Barnsley fans after the Exeter hitman of the same name, is an index linking the popularity of players with partisan fans to the ridiculousness of their name. Their striker Jeronimo Morales Neumann scores a ‘NarFac’ of 9 despite his warming the Tykes bench all season. Where’s Francois? Eight surely?

It’s obviously a bit of fun but it does raise a serious point. I remember standing on the Paddock a couple of seasons ago when Danny Graham was going through one of his legendary mid-season dry spells. He was being harangued from all sides for his profligacy, despite putting in a work horse shift at the prow of John Ward’s cursory 4-5-1. It makes you wonder if a name like Daninho Grahamo (run with me here…) or even just ‘Danny’ (a la Zenit St. Petersburg’s Portuguese No 10) might have got him off the hook.

When Zoko was pulling up trees on trial over the summer I had an excited and childish conversation with a Shrewsbury supporting workmate. He told a cautionary tale about ex-Shrewsbury and Ghana forward Derek Asamoah. Asamoah, despite previous spells with Northampton and Lincoln, was received in 2006 at Gay Meadow like a gift from God. Ten goals and 39 appearances later he went AWOL and demanded a transfer to Nice. I reckon he’d heard he had a ‘NarFac’ of below five. Francois’ll be safe at BP.


  1. Great stuff - but having just returned from a spell in the US lasting a few months, I'm actually most interested to know what the Canaletto exhibition was like?

  2. And to think the old man told me that bit was too high brow! It was okay. The pictures are fascinating and obviously incredible but there isn't much variety there! He was hardly Picasso when it came to innovation. I found it a bit cold myself but still worth a visit. Colin loved it - even bought the DVD!

  3. As I get older, I must admit that youthful preferences for modern art have given way to a liking for the older stuff and Venice is a great city so I will probably get along to it. I think I'm right that there are already more than a few Canalettos in London - Kenwood House in particular has a few I think.

    What this has to do with Carlisle I don't know - my fault if this pretentiousness puts off your readership.

  4. Happy New Year John!
    As I've not been home for Christmas, & Phil neglected to comment on my recommendation, beyond thanking me for my efforts, I didn't know if you'd got the gig!
    Well done. Don't worry about Canaletto, I wrote about literary theory, Shakespeare, Roman history, 20th Century poetry & stuff, to the extent that my Sis said I needed to get to more games.
    After suffering the Dag & Red debacle I actually regretted hanging up my pen drive. Abbott's use of subs seemed to have regressed to last season.
    Anyway I'll keep an eye out for you here. Best wishes!