1st November 2008. Stockport County 3, Carlisle United 0. That cold, bright November day will never be pushed from my memory. As a Carlisle United fan I’ve been through my fair share of highs and lows, but that was the lowest in my memory. The absolute bottom. A Carlisle United side totally devoid of any bottle, any fight, any pride and most importantly any real quality went down to the most dire and lacklustre defeat I’ve had to witness in my, admittedly modest, 23 years.
It was to be the last act of a man who had split the opinion of Carlisle fans everywhere. The 3rd of November 2008 brought about the enviable sacking of ex-Cheltenham Town man John Ward. With a run of ten games without a win (a run that had included nine defeats) the writing had been on the wall for a while.
If John Ward had split the opinion of Carlisle fans then his eventual replacement was to create a chasm of biblical proportions (a touch sensationalist, perhaps?) between a seemingly black and white Carlisle United support.
That man was Greg Abbott, number two to both Ward and his predecessor Neil McDonald. Abbott also had a successful stint as caretaker after McDonald left in somewhat bizarre circumstances after the first game of a season filled with hope. After Ward’s sacking Abbott was again placed in caretaker charge and wasted no time in putting his hat in the ring for the main job at Brunton Park.
Another successful (by the standards of what United fans had been subjected to so far in that season, anyway) stint in caretaker charge paved the way for Abbott to be given his wish as he took over the managerial position on a full time basis almost a month to the day after Ward’s sacking.
At the time Abbott took charge Carlisle were looking doomed. 20th in League 1 and squad devoid of any real quality or any players who looked like they were up to the challenge of fighting for their lives. A steady improvement in results was to follow and Carlisle United, with doing things the hard way etched into their history, survived courtesy of a 2 – 0 home win over Millwall on the final day of the season.
What more any Carlisle United fan could have asked for is beyond me. Abbott then set about improvement. Improvement on an extremely tight budget. A task that was almost instantly made more difficult when top scorer Danny Graham rejected a new contract and eventually joined Championship side Watford.
A summer which saw Abbott’s hunt for a replacement front man seemingly stumble at every possible moment was to culminate with the arrival of sensational flop Richard Offiong. That story however, is for another time.
There were however shoots of recovery beginning appear from Brunton Park, with the arrivals of exciting Winger Matt Robson from local rivals Hartlepool, tenacious midfielder Tom ‘Tiddleface’ Taiwo (initially on loan) from Premier League giants Chelsea and slightly later in the year, what proved to be a real masterstroke, exiled French battering ram (he used to play for Juventus, don’t you know) Vincent Pericard.
Season 2009-10 was, in my opinion, a fantastic one for Carlisle United. More so considering what had been the season before. A third Round FA Cup draw away at Goodison Park, in which United put up a very good account of themselves and although ending in a 3 – 1 defeat to a strong Everton side was undoubtedly a very proud day for all Blues fans.
Add to that a Wembley Cup final in a competition that has been very kind to the club over the years and a respectable fourteenth place league finish and I certainly believe you have a season which can be classed as a successful one for Carlisle United. That Wembley final was the largely disappointing point of the season, a 4-1 loss in front of more than 70,000 spectators saw Southampton lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with relative ease.
Again, what more any Carlisle United fan could have asked for is beyond me. Onwards to 2010-11 and what was to be another season full of the usual Carlisle United highs and lows. Dumped (respectably) out of the League Cup at the first hurdle by a strong, and expensive, Huddersfield side; the FA Cup campaign wasn’t to be quite as respectable. A second round scare at home to Tamworth was followed by a dire loss in the third round away at Torquay. Yet again the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came to the fore as a important competition for the club. A run to a second consecutive final included a fantastic win over Sheffield Wednesday and a two leg victory (although only just) over old foes Huddersfield.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final was to be much kinder this time around, serving up a largely nervy game which United triumphed one goal to nil.
League position again improved, albeit only marginally, a rise up to twelfth position. A rise which could have been much larger had it not been for a catastrophic end to the season losing three games on the bounce. A run that has since been blamed, rightly or wrongly, on fatigue.
Getting back to what was the original point of the blog, why such dislike for the man who has performed the latest fire fighting act at Carlisle United Football Club? Why such dislike for the man who has slowly and steadily improved a flagging Carlisle United side? Why such dislike for the man who brought the first piece of silverware to the Brunton Park trophy room for five years?
What do Carlisle United fans expect of our manager that he hasn’t managed to deliver so far?
This blog isn’t me trying to tell the world how perfect Greg Abbott is. We’ve had some poor results, some very poor results in fact. We’ve had some poor signings, both permanent and loan and I’ll admit the way he can come across in interviews is perhaps a touch arrogant. The point of this blog is me trying to tell Carlisle United fans that I don’t believe Abbott is deserving of much of the negativity aimed in his direction.
This coming season is going to be make or break. This is now a team fully made up of players that Greg Abbott wants at the club. Not players he’s inherited or players that are being forced on him, players that he and his trusted coaching staff have chosen. Where that will lead us remains to be seen, but the incoming players so far this season have had a real impact and look to have the quality and experience our squad has been craving. Only time will tell.
But please remember. Slow and steady wins the race…
Written by Mark Nicholson, We Are Going Up’s Carlisle United Blogger
Mark tweets at @fromthepaddock