Sunday, 13 February 2011

Why I'm #teamabbott

Last Wednesday evening an e-mail plopped into my inbox bearing an unfamiliar name and bearing an unusual title ‘#teamabbott needs your help’. Before I had chance to clock that this may be an elaborate Trojan Horse based on my choice of Twitter hashtags my curiosity bound me to open the message…

The idea had been floated by a few of the Carlisle United Twitter fraternity to make special ‘#teamabbott’ t-shirts to celebrate our team’s achievement of a second consecutive Wembley trip and give a wry, but well deserved, nod to our maligned gaffer. Of course I was going to buy one and wear it with pride, but this e-mail excited me.

What if we, a group of fans, could sell the shirts to raise money for a great cause – Carlisle Mencap’s Grace Little Children’s Centre which gives respite to the parents of profoundly disabled kids – would I help out? I’d do everything I could – and this is why…

Firstly, and entirely unashamedly, I love Greg Abbott.

Being a Carlisle fan and commiting that statement to paper often makes one feel like calling NHS Direct and asking to be sectioned. It’s hardly orthodox amongst the terrace hordes who outright hate him or are at least impassive toward him. Making a case for Greg isn’t always easy in the face of inconsistent performances and a sometimes grumpy public persona. But I never say he’s the ‘best’ manager I’ve seen at BP, merely my favourite. I anticipate each and every interview like a new Alan Bennett ‘Talking Head’. Which Greg will show up? Will it be ‘eyes popping’ mad Greg, schoolboy japester Greg or bleary-eyed, hard done by Greg? The emotion pours out of the man. He truly cares about Carlisle United and for that at least we should be glad to have him. His nous in the loan market, improving grasp of tactics and ability to pick a player ‘off the heap’ are frankly just fluff in his Orwellian tale.

My second reason is more personal – the cause. I’ve never had any reason to have personal attachment to any given charity. I’ll happily drop a tenner to a mate doing a fun run or a sponsored walk but I don’t have direct debits or campaign on the street.

So what’s different? I know a little bit about this specific issue.

My girlfriend Zoé’s eldest brother Shaun is 42 years old. He’s also severely mentally handicapped, blind and has Crohn’s disease. He’s also one of the brightest and most happy go lucky people I’ve ever met – that might sound patronising; it really isn’t. Any fellow who equates mention of my name directly with going to the pub is not to be sniffed at!

Shaun lives in a care home near Stratford-upon-Avon run by another great charity, the Home Farm Trust. Zoé’s parents are quite elderly and unable to provide the 24 hour care he needs – the respite given by the HFT is vital for their quality of life. I’m sure that all parents who are able to use the Grace Little Centre once its doors open will feel exactly the same.

The final reason is the clincher. I’ve often thought that many football clubs aren’t as present in the local community as they might be. I felt and hoped immediately that this idea presented an opportunity for the club and its fans to do something fun to help local people. When I got word that club director Steve Pattison had agreed to meet the cost of the shirts to maximise the amount raised I was genuinely enthused. When Greg himself agreed to flog ‘#teamcarlisle’ shirts at local pubs (he was understandably reticent to hawk #teamabbott) I was beside myself with joy. If nothing else ‘#teamabbott’ could set a high watermark for community engagement.

There’s a tide of good feeling around the club, the fans and the city despite our recent form and I hope in some small part to do with #teamabbott’s efforts as well as Wembley.

For that to continue though we need people to keep buying the shirts. You don’t have to be a Carlisle fan to recognise a good cause and there’ll be a good tale to tell when you don it down the pub with your mates. If I’ve started behaving like Fearne Cotton you’re within your right to smack me, I hope I’ve just about got the line right…

‘#teamabbott’ shirts, along with ‘#teamcarlisle’, ‘#lubo’ (celebrating our Slovak giant) and ‘#teamradar’ (the hardest working member of staff at Brunton Park and constant source of new talent) are available for £10 on eBay at:

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