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!