Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Donnelly's Away Days Part One - Chesterfield

In the first of a new series for this season 14 year old, Yorkshire based Blues fan Mark Donnelly brings us his views of his visit to the Crooked Spire town.

I was accompanied to the game by two friends (neither of them Carlisle fans) in the promise they would see some ‘proper football’. We joined over 500 other Cumbrians at Chesterfield’s b2net Stadium, in the hope that Carlisle could string together two successive wins.

The midweek win over Tranmere had given fans renewed hope in the build up to the game, and Greg used the ‘If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, sticking with the same XI that started at Prenton Park, meaning Liam Noble was again preferred to Tom Taiwo.

Leon Clarke had been in the centre of much controversy in the weeks leading up to the game (picking a fight with Paolo Di Canio is NEVER a good idea), but entered the game in a rich vein of form, and this continued after 3 minutes of the match. Mendy’s cross was too deep, but Westcarr knocked the ball back across the face of the goal, giving Clarke the simplest of tap-ins.

United continued to press, and after a string of corners, they finally got their reward on 20 minutes. A Berrett corner was headed upwards by Murphy. Miller challenged Fleming for the ball, and at the second attempt he volleyed in to equalise for United.

The lead was short lived however, as only 6 minutes later; Clarke doubled his and his sides tally for the afternoon. Former Carlisle target Danny Whittaker, subject of many ‘Where’s your eye patch!’ calls (mostly from Mr McGee (lies! - Ed.)) crossed, and Clarke met the ball with a glancing header. The ball crept past Collin, who looked as if he could have done more to save it. Lee Miller was then forced to come off through injury, with Craig Curran coming on. Surely The Ginger Kuyt was just as prolific as Miller?

Carlisle somehow kept the score at 2-1 coming into half time, courtesy of some fantastic blocks from Michalik and Thirlwell. I met up with John at half time, and we both agreed that the Robson/Murphy partnership on the left side of defence was poor. We also agreed that Chesterfield weren’t particularly impressive, but Carlisle were appalling.

United did little to liven the spirits of the travelling army after the break and after six minutes Clarke completed a career first hat-trick. United failed clear a Whittaker free kick, and after Clarke’s original effort was blocked, he converted a Craig Westcarr flick, to the annoyance of Adam Collin.

The game was put beyond doubt 15 minutes later, as Westcarr headed in to complete the rout. The Blues hadn’t learnt from previous defensive mistakes, and gave him enough time and space to find the finish.

At this point I stopped concentrating on the game, and instead joined in the chorus’ of ‘Twist and Shout’ by The Beatles that a number of fellow Blues had started. Both people I had come with commented on our fans never say die attitude. Despite being 4-1 down, the United faithful were the ones making all the noise.

The only other chance of note came close to the end. You wouldn’t believe it, but occasionally Mr Curran does like to play football instead of rugby kicking out the ground. He slid in a Loy cross, but the linesmen (who in all fairness, looked about 12), deemed the ball to have not crossed the line.

The game finished 4-1, and on the way out the ground, many Chesterfield fans saying ‘How did we score 4?’ As I usually do, I waited outside the players entrance post match. I had a brief chat with Greg, who apologised for the result, and said ‘Things will get put right’. I am an Abbott fan, and have complete faith in the man. This may be an unpopular opinion after the recent sets of results, but I feel Abbott should stay around for a bit longer. The main point is, who could we get better than Abbott? He’s done wonders on our small budget, and established us as a mid-table League 1 side. This may be another unpopular opinion, but as Chris Lumsdon said on BBCRC, we are only a mid-table League 1 side. It may be unwise of me bur, for the foreseeable future at least, I will be staying on Team Abbott.



Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Just Desserts?

As some of you may know I write a short weekly piece for the print edition of the Carlisle Evening News & Star under the hackneyed moniker 'Blue in Exile'. I wanted to share this week's piece more widely as I felt the theme was more universal. This is it...

Before I move on to Carlisle this week, I’d like to spare a thought on Plymouth. On Sunday afternoon they sacked their beleaguered manager Peter Reid after an early season run saw them to the bottom of the table.  This is the same Peter Reid who has had to shed 40 players from his staff over the last 18 months in football’s hottest seat.  The same man who, after repeated board room promises that a takeover was in the offing, sold some of his own football memorabilia to ensure that those office and ground staff living on a working wage could put food on the table. His reward? Being sacked by the classless oaf Peter Ridsdale.

Over the years, I’ve come to expect little from a sport that can install the man who oversaw, and was untouched by, its worst disaster – Dave Richards of Sheffield Wednesday – to its highest position as Chairman of the Premier League. But the taste left by a serial meddler like Ridsdale pulling off such a charm free act is particularly sour.

So where do Carlisle fit in? Well, this Saturday our fans showed their complicity in the whole charade with a piteous and fickle tirade at a beleaguered manager.  Before readers clamber atop their soapboxes I must first say this – everyone is entitled to voice an opinion and right now, to stand at the back of the b2net Stadium, or Brunton Park for that matter, and holler ‘Abbott Out’ seems a perfectly valid act.  I’m of a sensibility where seeing fans of any colour turn on their manager makes me pall. But if you’re a reader doing that, go on, it’s your right to be heard.

What really grated about Saturday’s rough and raucous post game bawling, though, was that its source was the same as that was singing altogether different songs in the first half.  The chorus with their drum seemed happy to lead a stirring chant of ‘Yellows’ as the team went one down, to belt out ‘Greggy Abbott’s Blue and White Army’ after Miller’s stabbed leveller. Forgive me for shaking my head at the two-faced nature of that.

Forgive me too for feeling contempt for those calling Greg Abbott’s failure to wave to the fans ‘the final straw’. These are the same people who demand burning passion in the representatives of their club, yet fail to see a man bursting with wounded pride unable to face the shame of being booed by those people he is paid to entertain.  The same man who spent 15 minutes apologising to a 15 year old fan who’d stayed behind post-match to meet his fallen heroes.

This isn’t to say I’m pure – my years supporting Carlisle have been pocked with as much badmouthing as the best; I’m complicit. But that doesn’t stop it grating – this necessity of fandom to dash one’s own team.  Next time you’re wound up by the Ridsdales and Richards of this world, wound up by the ill-informed commentariat or even just irked by Abbott’s own in-interview arrogance perhaps it’d pay to pause a moment and think about yourself – what is all this mess that is modern football, if not our own fault?  We get what we deserve.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Gordon Abbott and Greg Brown

I’m currently reading the second volume of former Sunderland MP Chris Mullin’s political diaries. ‘Decline and Fall’ covers the period of transition from the Blair to Brown eras through to electoral defeat in May 2010. It forms the droll author’s pitchside musings on the web of intrigue and catalogue of mistake that define the period.

Whilst thumbing the pages this last week or so I’ve felt a rather odd parallel calcifying and repeatedly asked myself the same question – is Greg Abbott to Carlisle United what Gordon Brown was to the Labour cause?

I imagine that note has already led to a number of click-throughs but I hope some of you will stick with my facile commentary awhile; at least in my mind the case is quite compelling…

The Coup

In some quarters of Carlisle’s support Abbott has never been able to shake off terrace innuendo that he facilitated the downfall of his erstwhile gaffer – the lithe, showbiz John Ward was, some say, victim of a briefing campaign by Abbott and a number of senior pros, including ‘Abbott henchmen’ Paul Thirlwell and Graham Kavanagh.

Pause a moment and consider that – the unheralded, bruising back room boy who stood aside and allowed a shiny PR wizard into the role only to grow resentful and plot to overthrow when the good times stopped rolling? Sound familiar? For Abbott and Ward read Brown and Blair?

The Public Image

Gordon Brown – a great thinker, a global titan, the man who made the health service better for all, pay better for public sector workers, conditions better for young families and who according to many saved world finance.

Gordon Brown – public buffoon, PR man’s nightmare, persecuted for shortcomings with a microphone.

Greg Abbott – righted a sinking ship, brought consolidation and footballing improvement, a glut of good new players and links to great clubs and a shiny trophy.

Greg Abbott – public buffoon, PR man’s nightmare, persecuted for shortcomings with a microphone.

Failing Tactics

Much has been made recently of Abbott’s inability to find his best XI, his loyalty to personal friends, and often in the past to his perversion towards loan players and long ball tactics. Much too made of Carlisle’s inability to raise their game against mediocre opposition.

In Mullin’s account of things Brown is painted as obsessed with tinkering in minutiae – constantly proffering new and unnecessary initiatives, failing to get to grips with the talents of the likes of Jack Straw and David Miliband and, tellingly, an almost pathological need to shuffle his Ministerial pack at the first sign of danger.

Re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’s deck may be a little forward a metaphor for Greg at present but there certainly seem to be similarities.

The Denouement?

In Brown’s case this was, of course, defeat to Cameron’s Conservatives and Clegg’s Lib Dems. But this wasn’t before a number of staged coup attempts – first from obvious quarters (James Purnell and Patricia Hewitt) but latterly from loyal sages such as the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee and a number of Government whips. You’ll recall that David Miliband’s panic stopped Labour short of regicide and the ‘will they, won’t they’ saga fully and finally punctured Labour’s electoral hopes.

For Greg to fall the rebellion would need a Miliband like figure to call him out – though the Brunton Park heroes of the past who chatter in local pages are too loyal to BP’s ancien regime to provide that voice. I think Hughie McIlmoye enjoys his well earned hospitality a little too much for that. So what about one of the directors? If past form is anything to go by – our own electoral defeat, or relegation to League 2, could be in the offing. Nevertheless, last night’s JPT defeat to Accrington has seen a number of Abbott ‘uber-loyalists’ (as Mullin calls them) desert the cause.

Same problem, different context.

Who's Next?

The key to Labour’s maintenance of the status quo has always been cited as the surety of electoral defeat under Miliband, Alan Johnson or whoever else. The Brown fingerprints couldn't be cleaned away.

So who other than Abbott to kickstart the campaign? Aidy Boothroyd? No thanks. John Coleman? Can we afford the compensation? Paul Ince? One success and two failures, and would the fans accept his tainted MK Dons past? And even if someone were found would they wrest a decent side from their arrow straight path back to mid-table? It seems doubtful.

The Legacy?

It is oft said of Brown in dispatches that history will smile kindly on the work he did in his short time in the ‘top job’. One can’t help feeling the same may well be true of Abbott when his time comes too.