Carlisle United: A Season In The Sun 1974-75

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Carlisle United: A Season In The Sun 1974-75

Post by Scottish » Thu Nov 30, 2006 12:39 pm

This is one of the Desert Islandfootball histories series. Previous titles have included those clubs with one league championship to their name such as Dundee, Dundee United, Kilmarnock, Motherwell (plus a forthcoming one on Third Lanark) as well as reprints of books on the Old Firm and three titles covering Aberdeen. So if you’ve read any of those you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here.

The ‘season in the sun’ concept refers to those clubs that spent one season only in English football’s top flight and includes Leyton Orient & Northampton Town as well as Carlisle. Those with long memories will recall 1973-74 as the first season when three up three down was applied between the top divisions in England. Carlisle were the first beneficiaries. Never having been in a promotion spot all season they grabbed third place and promotion in their final game and after three games in the top flight were league leaders at a time when clubs like Man Utd and Aston Villa were in the Second Division.

Their story is told in detail and with great enthusiasm by David Steele. The author is a lifelong Carlisle fan and was a contributor to the club programme for many years. He has also been a member of the AFS & the ‘groundhoppers.’ David Steele also contributes regularly to publications like ‘Soccer History.’

I should add that he is also a personal friend of mine. Whether this colours my opinion of his book is a matter for the reader to decide.

David starts his book with a brief history of Carlisle United, mentioning along the way some of the characters involved in their development, including that great Scottish football legend Bill Shankly who started his illustrious managerial career at Brunton Park.

The meat of the book is in the account of how they escaped from the Second Division in 1973-74 and their long hard and ultimately unsuccessful battle to survive at the top level in 1974-75. Given their geographical location Carlisle have always had many Scots involved as players, coaches and managers. This – the most successful era in their history – was no exception and many Scots were to the fore, as the little Cumbrian outfit took on the best in the English game. Of the Scots involved the best known are John Gorman, the ex-Celt and long-time management assistant to Glenn Hoddle, and Hugh McIlmoyle the predatory striker who was recently voted Carlisle’s greatest-ever player.

It’s a captivating story even if ultimately one of failure. But for those who like their football romantic the tale of how this little club from one of the game’s outposts came to top the table is enthralling reading. Just looking at how they reached the summit still seems implausible all these years on. They started 1974-75 with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge against a Chelsea side that included Peter Bonetti, David Hay, Charlie Cooke and Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris. The fixture compilers didn’t give them an easy start as their next match was also away, against the Middlesbrough of Graeme Souness, Bobby Murdoch, Willie Maddren & David Armstrong. That was also won 2-0. Their first home game in the top flight was against a Spurs side containing Pat Jennings, Mike England, Steve Perryman and Martin Peters. A goal from Chris Balderstone (also an accomplished county cricketer who had torn sporting loyalties at the start of the season) gave them a 1-0 win and propelled them to the top of the table.

From there on it’s mainly downhill until relegation is assured at Anfield in the third last match of the season when the deadly duo of John Toshack and Kevin Keegan scored the goals which sealed Carlisle’s fate. Their final game in the top flight was away to newly crowned champions Derby. With only pride to play for Carlisle left the Baseball Ground with their honour intact after holding the champions – including Bruce Rioch, Archie Gemmill, Colin Todd and Francis Lee – to a 0-0 draw.

As an account of a ‘wee’ side taking on the big boys it will be familiar to fans of most Scottish clubs. Best of all is the fact that these are eyewitness accounts as David Steele was present at most of the games in Carlisle’s ‘season in the sun.’

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