In the summer of 2004 Carlisle United signed an unknown goalkeeper. Released by Manchester City (before the Middle Eastern millions arrived let’s not forget) and seemingly on his way out of football, he was offered the chance of being backup to the largely popular Matty Glennon. The footballing journey Keiren Westwood has been on since is truely astonishing.
After grasping his Carlisle United first team opportunity with both hands, Westwood quickly established himself as United’s number 1 ‘keeper. During the 2007/08 season Westwood managed a record twenty clean sheets (although the centre back pairing of Danny Livesey and Peter Murphy certainly helped the shut-outs) and gained a glowing reputation as one of the best goalkeepers outside the Premier League.
A simply stunning performance in Carlisle’s League One play off semi-final first leg away at Elland Road against Leeds United – which went a long way to ensuring United won the game – made sure he was to be snapped up in the summer by Coventry City. Since then Westwood has been capped seven times by the Republic of Ireland and earned himself another summer transfer, this time to Premier League Sunderland.
Further names such as Michael Bridges, Ian Harte, Richard Keogh, Danny Graham and Vincent Pericard have seen Carlisle United as the place to try and regenerate their ailing careers. All have managed to excel, to the benefit of both club and player and perhaps with the exception of Pericard (dependant on your view of Swindon Town being a step up from Carlisle United at the time), all have managed to get themselves a move up the footballing pyramid.
The latest addition to this list is Lee Miller. Having accumulated combined transfer fees of over £1million during an eleven year career, Miller joined The Cumbrians with a record of 86 goals in 318 games – roughly translated a goal every three and a half games.
Miller’s transfer to Middlesbrough, in the midst of any Scottish-born player Gordon Strachan could get his hands on making the move marginally south of the border, was largely lost among the names of the likes of Willo Flood and Kris Boyd. Two loan moves, eleven ‘Boro appearances and no goals later, Miller joined Carlisle United for what was reported to be a nominal fee.
An extremely bright start with three goals in three appearances has fans talking about him being the next player to use Carlisle as a stepping stone on the road to getting his career back on track. This shouldn’t be regarded as a problem, in fact, it should be seen as a complement. It should be seen as a complement to the work of the manager, the coaching staff and the club as a whole. Players see Carlisle United as a good place to come and play football – a place to get their careers back on track.
Having a reputation of being able to resurrect the flagging careers of quality players is not something that should be taken lightly. There is an important point to be made here – players are not coming to Carlisle United for one last pay day when they are well past their best. If anything, the pay day is generally for United.
This reputation doesn’t just limit itself to older players, it extends to younger ones too and has gone as far as to create a working relationship with Manchester United. During the 2010/11 season, four Manchester United’s young starlets headed up the M6 to Brunton Park, three of whom are now plying their trade in the Championship. The work of the staff within the club on developing these players even managed to gain a glowing tribute from Sir Alex Ferguson.
There is a gamble when taking players from either of the aforementioned brackets and thrusting them either back into league action, or giving them their first taste. It’s a calculated gamble, or so you’d expect and one United have taken more often than not due to their budget constraints. As long as the fans keep seeing players like Ben Marshall, James Chester, Ian Harte, Keiren Westwood and Michael Bridges at Brunton Park there can’t be too many grumbles. Should they manage to discover or regain their qualities as footballers then the benefits to both club and player could be great.
However – there is always going to be the odd Thomas Cruise in there somewhere..,,.
Written by Mark Nicholson, We Are Going Up’s Carlisle United Blogger
Mark tweets at @fromthepaddock