Go Away: Carlisle United

The front cover of an AtoZ of Carlisle on a red background

It can’t be much of a confidence boost for any city when you find yourselves the subject of one of those Royal Navy adverts telling you how much more fulfilling and enriching life could be getting shot at thousands of miles from land.

Not that this seems to have impacted on Carlisle’s self belief. Back when I was a student I was given the task of taking down the names of freshers attending the university football team trials. When I asked one kid his name he told me it was ‘Maverick’. Really? First name or surname? ‘No, nickname’. As if you get to choose to be known as something that sounds much better than anything anyone else would ever dream of calling you. Anyway, I digress; so these days Carlisle is apparently nicknamed ‘The Great Border City’, make of that what you will.

Known in the Middle Ages as Cair Ligualid, the city has actually only been known as Carlisle since 1987 when an under-pressure tourism manager at the local council made a desperate bid to cash in on Belinda’s smash hit ‘Heaven on Earth’. There are some accounts of the Arthurian legends which  believe Carlisle to be none other than Camelot – the mythical seat of King Arthur’s court, and operator of the National Lottery – and the nearby Isle of Aval to be the mythical island of Avalon. And we thought the Belinda stuff at the start of this paragraph was a wild claim.

The city’s location, just eight miles south of the Scottish border, means that much of Carlisle’s existence has been spent as a garrison town. In 1539 Henry VIII, employed the engineer Stefan von Haschenperg to modernise the defences of Carlisle. However von Haschenperg was sacked in 1543 for having ‘spent great treasures to no purpose,’ very much the Harry Redknapp of his day. In subsequent years, on the last day of August and January, von Haschenperg was often called upon to give his thoughts on the latest moves in castle strengthening through the open window of his carriage.

Also in the 16th century, the Archbishop Dunbar of Glasgow is said to have invoked ‘The Curse of Carlisle’ against the cattle-stealing and pillaging Border Reivers. For the 2,000 millennium celebration, the local council commissioned a 14-tonne granite artwork inscribed with all 1,069 words of the curse. But following its installation Carlisle suffered floods, foot-and-mouth disease, job losses and United went a particularly long time without a goal (– inspiration there for Gary McSheffrey of an unexplored excuse avenue for Rovers defeats). Apparently the local council considered even destroying the stone to end the curse… in 2005! As in 2005 AD. It’s a wonder the place hasn’t since been overrun by confidence tricksters looking for an easy payday.

What’s it famous for?

Eddie Stobart; the truck haulage firm that puts women’s names on the front of its cabs is what most people think of when they think of Carlisle. I’m starting to see why the Royal Navy picked the place for their ads now, I mean it hardly shouts ‘cosmopolitan’ does it? But then get this, you know Kangol, the company with the kangaroo logo? The people who make those hats that only irrepressibly cool people can actually pull off, whilst for anyone else they just scream mi-dlife crisis? Yeah them. They’re from Carlisle too. Who knew?

In terms of famous people from Carlisle it’s a somewhat eclectic bunch that includes long throw-in merchant Rory Delap, the food critic Grace Dent, arts broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg and Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton. That they all very quickly left Carlisle behind to find fame is of course by the by.

How to blend in

Put your trust in fables and myths over fact and coincidence; only eat sausages that are coiled in on themselves, and when you’re done hurl your plate two-handed into a penalty area. Oh, and dress like Samuel L Jackson, apparently.

What’s the stadium like?

Brunton Park is the football ground equivalent of that evolution of man sketch. Open terrace, evolving to terrace with peculiar barn-like roof at the opposite end, evolving to big old Main Stand with terrace in front down one touchline, graduating finally to a new cantilevered all-seater effort along the opposite side. 

This last structure, the East Stand, is where away supporters are housed. Oddly it is also positioned off centre, with one end short of the byline and the other 20 yards beyond it. It’s said this is due to money for future ground adjustments running out, whereas the truth is that the architects felt the nearby allotments offered much better entertainment than the football on offer.

On The Football Ground Guide website, Steve Ellis, a visiting Exeter City fan, describes getting a pint at half-time as being ‘a bit like a theatre,’ where you can ‘pay and pre-order half time drinks before the game starts’. So, yeah, see you all in the bar amongst the lovies decrying the fact that Kieran Agard isn’t half the Hamlet that Ben Whishaw was at The Old Vic, and have you seen Lyndsey Turner’s Crucible at The National, yet? Oh darling you simply must, you must.

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