Friday, 25 November 2011

'It's not a job, it's a pisstake.' - An Interview with Steve Soley

Steve Soley is not your average ex-footballer. He wasn’t your average footballer either. This much is patently apparent during the hour long chat I had with him earlier in the month.  The man himself puts it down to his late breakthrough into the professional ranks and his background and apprenticeship as a bricklayer in Lancashire – he has little time for the airs and graces of the modern game. Too many players, he says, ‘treat it like a job. It’s not a job, it’s a pisstake.’ It is a trope that he returns too throughout a plain spoken and, at times, near the knuckle interview.

Recalling his debut at Portsmouth (who he joined from non-league Leek Town in the summer of 1998 having scored 12 goals in ten games for the Derbyshire side) Soley spoke of his joy at joining the fans for a post-match pint being punctured as his colleagues filed through and past supporters his assistant manager Keith Waldon told him to ‘get used to it, they aren’t here to be peoples mates’.

At the other end of his career Soley spent a short spell caretaker-managing a struggling Runcorn side in what is now Blue Square North.  ‘I did alright’ he says ‘They wanted me to stay on and put a three year contract my way but I turned it down and went back to bricklaying – I have my own business now, building conservatories, extensions and the like.’

The reason – ‘The players. I hated their attitude, they were playing in Conference North and they thought they were brilliant – they treat the fans like dicks. I wanted shot of the lot of them.’ It’s the same reason he turned down a coaching role with his pal and ex-Carlisle colleague Billy Barr at Preston; the ‘Premier League attitude’ has filtered down, ‘they all reckon they’re Rio Ferdinand, but really, who would want to be like that idiot?’ he adds.

This isn’t to paint Soley as a throwback to a bygone age when footballers were drinkers and earned their spurs as ‘real men’ on and off the pitch.  He merely understood his role as a community ambassador; saw that he was living the dream of those on the terrace – ‘those players who treat football like a job, right, they’d clearly never dug up a road. I had, and that’s maybe why I gave a shit about the fans, that’s what they did for a living.’

Pompey fans will barely recall the Soley seen at Brunton Park. One asked in preparing this interview recalled him only as the victim of the infamous act of being a ‘subbed sub’ at Fratton Park.  This was, he says, due to personal issues – his family having fled back to the sanctuary of the North after his son was bullied at a local school.

So it was that Soley arrived at Brunton Park in the summer of 1999, initially on loan but with a view to a permanent move which was sealed within a week. ‘It just felt like the right place for me. I knew all about what had gone before, with Jimmy Glass, and the fans took to me right away, and me to them (as they should to a man who scored the winner on debut – Ed.). Within weeks of joining the club, I was one of them – a fan too’.

Lovely Bloke, Crap Manager

Soley’s arrival at Brunton Park coincided with a topsy-turvy summer for the club, which eclipsed anything which the club’s madcap, Walter Mitty of an owner, Michael Knighton, had hitherto produced.  The manager, Martin Wilkinson, was the summer’s third after Leicester’s new (old) manager Nigel Pearson and then Keith Mincher felt the iron fist of the moustachioed alien spotter.

Soley is as candid about Wilkinson, a singularly unpopular figure amongst Carlisle fans, as he is about Knighton.  He liked them both – ‘they were trying’ -  Soley loves a trier.

‘The thing about Wilkinson is just that he was a lovely, lovely bloke who was trying his hardest. Was he a crap manager? Yeah, I think he was. But he went through hell for Carlisle that year.’

The ‘hell’ Soley refers to was serious mental illness and depression. Long serving club physio Neil Dalton told me recently that Wilkinson ‘hardly ever’ looked in on training, leaving that to Neale Cooper (‘the Scottish fella’ a clearly unimpressed Soley dubs him) and Paul Baker. 

‘By the end of the season you’d go and see Martin and he wanted a hug off you, I just gave him them cos he cared about his players. He was asking me and Brights (David Brightwell) to pick the team behind the coaches backs though and that’s when I knew it’d gone horribly wrong.’

You could argue it never went right – ‘He (Knighton) made promises to Martin and he never kept them. I was told when I arrived that I was ‘the first’, that more players of a higher standard were joining, but they never arrived.  Staying up with that side was a miracle, I really do think that. Carlisle fans owe Martin one as I genuinely think the club would have gone to the wall had it been relegated that year. Knighton would have packed it in.’

‘You got me relegated’

Wilkinson departed at the end of the season, replaced by Ian Atkins, whose Chester City side had been relegated to the Conference, thanks in no small part to a late Scott Dobie winner for a 9 man Carlisle at the Deva Stadium. Soley recalls that Atkins wore his wounds heavily.

‘On his first day he came in and his opening sentence to those of us who were left from last year, Dobes (Scott Dobie), (Richard) Prokas, Luke Weaver and Tony Hopper were “Right, you bunch of fucking cunts got me relegated.” I think it’s fair to say that turned a few off him right away.’

When pressed further Soley suggests that Luke Weaver’s declining form lay at Atkins door ‘Luke was a player who constantly needed reassurance.  He couldn’t cope with Atkins at all. He was old school, he tried to grind you own and see if you could cope. Luke couldn’t at all and he hardly ever played football again.’

What about Soley himself?

‘It didn’t bother me. I’m one of those people with an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude. So I just vowed to myself that I’d better be undroppable as he clearly wanted shot of us all.’ He did it in dramatic style.

‘I’d taken penalties in my debut season but when he (Atkins) came in he wanted his man (Carl Heggs) to take them. I ignored him and then missed one against Aberdeen in pre-season and Atkins was absolutely livid and lost it with me in the dressing room.’

The arrival of Atkins’ former Chester charges Heggs and Tony Hemmings had, along with Atkins opening impression of a budget Brian Clough, opened a visible dressing room rift from the start of his tenure. ‘Heggs had been in my face in the tunnel at that Chester game. They’d been sent out there to try and wind us up and it worked cos we had two sent off. It’s fair to say I wasn’t pleased to see him walk through the door, no.’

The opportunity presented itself for Heggs to make a home crowd hero of himself on debut against Halifax.

‘We were two nil down and I took the ball into the box and got tripped from behind, a clear penalty.’ remembers Soley. ‘Heggs came over and asked for the ball, remembering what Atkins had said after Aberdeen, I told him to fuck off. I put it down, stepped up and slammed the ball into the top corner. Get the fuck in! Have that gaffer.’

Soley went on to equalise in the last minute of the game before celebrating in front of the home Paddock, and Atkins – ‘drop me now you cunt, I was thinking.’

It comes as little surprise that Soley was pleased to see the back of Atkins at the end of the season. ‘The players he brought in were all absolute dickheads – they didn’t give a toss about Carlisle and were just coasting for their next paycheque. He tried to get us to intimidate the opposition and I just thought, this is bollocks.’

One player in particular raised Soley’s temperature. Mick Galloway was a journeyman midfielder who joined from Chesterfield and actually settled in the area, going on to play for Gretna and Workington after his spell at Carlisle. But, for Soley at least, he came to represent an unprofessional laissez-faire seam that was present in many Atkins players.

‘That bloke was a good footballer. He was skilful and he could pick a pass. The trouble was that he was a balloon; a total arsehole. I hated him, hated him.’ The words lingered as they left Steve's mouth.

He recalls a particular incident the night before a game – ‘We were all staying in a club owned house in Carlisle. I’d stayed in and gone to bed early but Galloway and a few others had been for a few jars. They came in and most went to bed but he stayed up and put music on and woke me up.  I went down and had a go at him and he pissed off, turned up the next day and played like a dick.  He then tried to blame me for him being crap in training on Monday so I grabbed him round the throat and threw him in the floor.  He called in the next day claiming to be ill. God, I hated that bloke.’

The Pint Test

The orthodoxy amongst Carlisle fans heralds Atkins as a ‘good’ manager and holds little time for the talents of the maverick Irishman, Roddy Collins.  Seemingly never one to sidestep controversy, Soley again disagrees.

‘Think of the players Roddy brought in. Richie Foran has played over 300 times in the SPL, Peter Murphy’s still at Carlisle and Brendan McGill played at a good level too.  We finished comfortably mid table in his first season (17th).  It went wrong when he came back and tried to build a team from the League of Ireland.’

It’s a fair observation. Collins second season, his second spell, with his friend John Courtney in charge of the club was when the collective horrors of Trevor Molloy, Darren Kelly, Des Byrne and co descended on Brunton Park – it’s this, and Collins colourful persona, that sticks in most fans minds.

‘He was great was Roddy. The likes of (Lee) Maddison and Galloway couldn’t be on with his methods – the boxing training and everything (Collins brother Steve was a world champion middleweight at the time). It was them who were the clique; not the Irish lads like people think.’

What about the famous drinking sessions? The card schools?

‘Everything was a test with Roddy. He’d make you go to the Beehive the night before a match and get the pints in. After a couple I’d head off and it’d be “Soles, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” but I knew I had to be ready to play. Some of the younger lads weren’t so smart. Roddy’d say before the game that they were supposed to follow me out and that they’d learn a lesson. Shame we normally lost on those days!’

Soley’s departure at the end of the 2001/02 season (he joined non-league Southport) remains a mystery to most fans, who assumed the returning Collins had binned him. Not so.

‘The truth is that my knee was gone. Billy (Barr, by then caretaker manager) really wanted me to stay and the word was that Roddy did too, but I knew I couldn’t train every day.  There was a three year deal on the table but the club was skint (Courtney’s sale not yet completed). It felt like I’d be robbing them.  I went to Southport, training three times a week, and had virtually retired by Christmas.’

Loneliness of Long Distance Soley Fan

What is Soley’s enduring memory of Brunton Park?

‘The fans. And being one of them – I still love Carlisle and the club.’

One particular Soley fan was the lost and much loved Radio Cumbria commentator Derek Lacey; Soley recalls doing commentary with ‘Deggsy’ whilst injured and ‘having to keep one eye on him as he kept drifting off. You had to fill in for him!’ It’s this shared time on lower league gantries, not his performances, that a modest Soley suggests endeared him to Derek.

‘There was one bloke though, a big Paddock whinger, who hated me when I joined. Gave me dog’s abuse he did.  Then, when I moved to Southport, he shouted over cos I was on the bench saying he’d come down to see how I was.  He’d come all the way on a bike, on his own.  It’s the stuff like that which I loved about Carlisle; it’s why I ended up a fan myself.’

Soley’s passion for the club is clearly undiminished.  He was upset that a recent trip to Brunton Park with his son was spoiled by the poor attitude of club staff – it led to him passing up the chance of a pre-match salute to fans.  ‘The club needs to reach out better to the community, it was flat that day’ he adds.

In the time since our initial talk the club has been cosying up to fans in order to sell their grand, stadium moving plans. One hopes this will continue beyond the obvious efficacies of this ‘big sell’.  A first step may be to employ someone who understands the fans properly. For that, they needn’t look to far into their past; if they ask nicely Soley might even bring his trowel and repoint Brunton Park while he’s at it.

You can follow Steve on Twitter at @soles08. Expect plenty of chat about Marouane Fellaini's poor attitude - he is a self professed 'huge' Evertonian.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

My Favourite Blue - Magno Silva Vieira

Cue the whimsy-o-meter. The latest in our regular series is from Mark Nicholson and it is a BEAUTY Jeff...

The streets of Brasília are almost certain to be littered with young, raw, Brazilian footballing talent. Although not the stereotypical poverty ridden metropolis that has shaped the careers of countless Brazilian World Cup winners over the last 30 years, Brazil’s 4th largest city has been the birth place of its own fair share of all-conquering South American superstar.

Most notably, Real Madrid’s Kaká hails from Brasília, but more importantly for Carlisle United (although admittedly not quite in the same league), so does Magno Silva Vieira. A product of the Jairzinho football academy (which boasts Ronaldo, the fat one that is, as one of it former students) Vieira moved to Wigan as an 18-year old but was to leave before making a first team appearance.

Wigan’s meteoric rise up the football pyramid proved to be too fast for Vieira, and a brief loan spell at Northampton before joining The Cumbrians was his only taste of first team action in the lower English leagues. Saturday afternoons away at Forest Green Rovers are hardly where you would expect to find a boy from Brazil plying his trade.

Still a complete unknown when signed from Wigan Athletic during our Conference season there were many reasons which still stick in my memory for Carlisle United fans to remember the little Brazilian, although not all of them for the right reasons.

Vieira initially joined Carlisle United on a month’s loan, a move which at the time was financed by the late Brooks Mileson, and marked his debut with a goal as a substitute in a 3-0 win at Forest Green Rovers. A 7-0 thrashing of Farnborough at Brunton Park was to follow, and although Vieira didn’t quite grab the headlines from Karl Hawley (hat-trick) and Andy Preece (2), he did bag another goal. A good start to his United career.

By the time his loan spell came to an end, Carlisle had a return of 10 goals in 35 appearances from Vieira, but it was the manner of some of the goals, or the goal that never was, which made him stick in my memory.

Possibly the finest point of Vieira’s Carlisle stint was a second half hat-trick away at Aldershot, where three fine second half goals completed yet another high scoring rout for The Blues in their Conference season. A hat-trick and the resulting claim on the match ball should be a moment to savor for any player, more so as this happened to be his first at senior level.

While the goals didn’t quite flow as freely as those of his strike partner Hawley, every contribution Vieira made in the goal scoring charts seemed to be an important one. An extra time header in a FA Cup first round replay against Bristol Rovers (League opposition at the time), sent Carlisle through in dramatic fashion and provided a much needed pay day for the club.

The goal which vividly sticks in my memory to this day was a tap in. Perhaps tap in is a little harsh, as it was outside the box and really credited down to the quick thinking of Glenn Murray. It’s a goal plucked right from a ‘Goals and Gaffs’ DVD, one that will never get old. It was indeed this one.

89 minutes into a dour 0 – 0 game with Halifax Town at Brunton Park, Halifax ‘keeper Ian Dunbavin had a kick out at Glenn Murray after Murray had chased the ball down right into his arms. The referee gave nothing and waved play on. Dunbavin (one can only imagine) though the referee was waving him over for a word, but in fact he had not stopped play. Wandering out of his area ball in hand, Murray quickly realised the visiting ‘keepers mistake. Hand ball! Within seconds the ball was rolled to Vieira and it was 1 – 0 Carlisle. Cue goose bumps.

A quiet (well, as quiet as the most dramatic penalty shoot out win in the history of the world) end to Carlisle’s season culminated in their most important game in recent history; a Conference play off final at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium against Stevenage Borough. A first time return to the Football League would be massive for the club. If they failed the chance of financial meltdown and years in the wilderness of Non-League was a distinct possibility.

A first half Peter Murphy header had The Blues in front at half time. As the second half wore on the already nervy game became more so. Stevenage pressed and pressed. It was true kitchen sink stuff. Carlisle got absolutely battered.

Deep into injury time ‘Boro ‘keeper Alan Julian headed up for a corner which was yet again defended valiantly by United but this time it broke Carlisle’s way. Vieira, on a second half substitute, ran up the field, defenders in tow with only an open goal to aim at. 2 – 0 would surely win it for United. SHHHHOOOOOOTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!! Head down he kept running, unaware (we found out after the event) that the goalkeeper was no where to be seen. Eventually Vieira was fouled by a defender and the resulting free kick was hit hard and high into the stand to bring the game to an end and seal United’s return to the Football League at the first time of asking.

However you look at it, Vieira is firmly stamped into Carlisle United history during a time there were many talking points both on and off the field. A return to Carlisle when he was released by Wigan at the end of that season was all but guaranteed, but ‘Passport Issues’ prevented it.

A move to Barnet did eventually materialise and at 26 years old with 67 goals in 204 League and Non-League appearances for a host of clubs, Vieira certainly hasn’t forgotten where the goal is.

Although his spell at Carlisle was a short one, it was during a good season for the club and a time where things started to look up. I have no reservations in saying that without his contribution Carlisle United Football Club would certainly not be in the position it is now.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Loan Signing Profile - Christian Ribeiro

Paul Binning, proprietor of the excellent Bristol City site 'The Exiled Robin' gives his view on United's latest arrival.

Players tend to go out on loan for one of two reasons.  Either they are no longer required by their parent club but aren’t an attractive enough proposition to sell, or they’re young and need games to develop their experience and confidence.

The ones who have most success whilst borrowed tend to be the latter and Christian Ribiero certainly falls into that category.  The vast majority of Bristol City fans view this move as just that and would be disappointed if it was the beginning of the end for the popular Welshman at Ashton Gate.

A key reason Ribiero isn’t a regular starter at Ashton Gate is due to wretched luck with injuries.  He suffered a cruciate ligament injury just half an hour into his debut which put him out of action for more than a year and recently spent a few months out with back and hamstring injuries.  

A strong defender, he is decent in the air, has pace and good defensive qualities.  Ribiero has generally played at right-back for City but probably looked at his best when played on the right-hand side of three centre-halves.  This tends to cut out his biggest weakness, which is being caught out of position, generally due to a fondness for bombing forward from the full back position.  Playing at right-back he also tends to drift into perhaps his more natural central position, leaving left-wingers with far too much time and space.

On the plus side, he is one of the better full-backs we’ve seen when going forward in recent times and certainly doesn’t suffer from the metaphorical nosebleed, often showing composure and no little skill when threatening the opposition’s back line.

Linked with Everton before he’d made a first-team appearance, the fact that he has been capped twice for Wales shows his raw talent, as with fewer than 30 games under his belt for City he has had little chance to impress – everyone at the club will be hoping he can have a run of games at Brunton Park and come back ready to challenge for a first-team spot.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

My Favourite Blue - Stephane Pounewatchy

Some characters impose themselves on CUFC history through deeds on the pitch, others by their sheer physical hulk. Bothel's finest Steven Marrs reminds us of one who did both.
Having had my early taste of Carlisle United in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was used to watching us scrap around against relegation from the football league, then came the teams of the mid-90’s full of (relative) excitement and flair. Within this era there were (in the words of Commandant Lessard) many, many, many candidates for my favourite ever Blue. However, there was one team that housed most of them.
Mervyn Day’s team of 1996/97 was littered with quality players and potential cult heroes including local boys Darren Edmondson, Richard Prokas (if only for ‘that’ tackle) and Tony Caig, with the last real batch of quality local youngsters coming through in the shape of Matt Jansen, Rory Delap and the unfulfilled potential of Will Varty. Alongside these local lads we had Steve Hayward, Owen Archdeacon, Rod Thomas and probably most notably Warren ‘Sumo’ Aspinall. But, despite all of this talent two players stick strongest in my memory (and heart).
They both played at centre back, but with similar but contrasting styles. One arrived as a pretty average striker from Guiseley but was converted into a centre-half with an eye for a goal, especially following chants of DEANO, DEANO, DEANO at the winning of every corner or potentially dangerous free-kick. Dean Walling had been at the club since 1991 and was firmly fixed as my, and my dad’s, favourite player... until a surprise arrival from France, the very best thing that FGB did for Carlisle United, and potentially the best signing we’ve made in my time supporting the club.
Strong in the air, hard in the tackle and useful with the ball at his feet big Stéphane, Stéphane Pounewatchy to the unfamiliar, arrived on a Bosman free from FC Gueugnon having played three consecutive seasons in France’s Ligue 1. He had the ability to play at a much higher level than ours, and my God did it show.
‘Massive’ would be one of the first words I’d use to describe him,  Mervyn Day referred to him as a “six foot three centre-half who was also six foot three wide!” It was a good job that we played with three centre-halves and wing backs back then because he took a hell of a long time to get back into defence - usually after one of his tradmark mazy runs with the ball, turning defence to attack .
My two resounding memories regarding Stéphane are both related to how it was most unwise to get on the wrong side of him… the first was during the 1996/97 Northern Area final of what was then the Auto Windscreens Shield Trophy. I don’t remember much of the match other than we won on our way to Wembley, but the one thing that is firmly lodged in my memory from that evening is Chris Marsden landing a full haymaker of a punch on Stéphane’s chin. The inevitable red card followed only after a cool Gallic shrug of big Stéph’s massive shoulders. It must have been soul destroying for Marsden to have been outplayed by Stéphane on the night, then to have thrown his best punch at the Frenchman only for him to respond like a petulant toddler had just slapped him on the leg.
My second such memory was of the only time I saw the big man actually hurt – possibly the only time he’s ever been hurt.
It was a cold winter evening, Stéphane was wearing gloves – unsurprisingly no team-mate stepped forward to point out this made him soft. An opposition striker cleaned Stéphane out, resulting in a massive thud as he hit the floor. The Paddock drew its breath, everybody knew he was hurt simply because he was taken to the touch line to be looked over by Dolly. After a bit of treatment up sprang a rather angry looking Stéphane, the gloves came off and were thrown to the floor in front of the Paddock. Stéphane took his place on the pitch, right behind the offender, presumably muttering threats to him in French.
He stalked his prey round the pitch waiting for his opportunity. When the ball came within range Stéphane was as quick as lightening and smashed through his tackle, winning the ball cleanly whilst sending his foe through the air to land in a crumpled heap… I don’t recall what happened to the other player, but he definitely learnt his lesson.
A recent interview with Will Varty revealed another side to Stéphane. After the Wembley final of 1996/97 the players were told they got a bonus of £25 per man. Varty recalled: “I remember Stéphane, who had an accountancy background, was outraged and was throwing his arms up and saying, ‘£18.50 after tax!’”.  I’m not so sure it was from his accountancy background, I think secretly there was some Cumbrian in his ancestry!