The fan - Hunter Davies reports sheep celebrating all over Cumbria
Carlisle win a point, and the sheep celebrate all over Cumbria
I went to Carlisle United's first game of the season, which was at home against York City. Our lads were two down in ten minutes and the York supporters, who must have numbered at least two carloads, started shouting: "Going down, going down." Cheeky beggars. But then that's how it's been for the past five seasons, with CUFC only ever escaping the ultimate drop at the last moment. After nine games, they're bottom again. I prefer to stand on my head to look at the table. It looks so much better.
Why do so many still turn up? Even stranger, why would anyone want to be a director? In the Premiership, the perks are obvious, pride enormous, civic and social influence tremendous. Down in the Third Division, it must be like doing third-world charity work.
As it happened, I sat with the directors for that York game, and had tea and buns at half-time in their lounge where, I could hardly believe it, there was air-conditioning. Well, it was 90 degrees that day. Which is now even harder to believe.
I was a guest of Lord Clark of Windermere, David Clark as was, MP for South Shields for many years and a member of Blair's first cabinet as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He's an active life peer, chairman of the Forestry Commission, so why bother being a director of a potty little football club? He doesn't even live in Carlisle, but 40-odd miles away. Ah, but he's always supported them. His dad, who lived in Penrith, boasted that he was there for CUFC's first ever league game in 1928. (Against Accrington Stanley - Carlisle won 3-2; crowd: 6,714.) David, despite living in Windermere, has supported them for more than 40 years.
He was invited last year to join the new board, when the dreaded Michael Knighton eventually withdrew. He helped broker the new deal, though he has no money himself to put in. He reckoned he would be going to every home game anyway, and most of the northern ones, so it wouldn't take up too much more time, being a director. He likes travelling away in the team coach, getting to know the players. "That's when you discover their personalities. Some are so shy, others abrasive. They each need handling differently."
He didn't make it to Yeovil, now the longest journey in English football since Yeovil got promoted - but some directors did. The team took two days just to get there. So three days out of your life, just to watch Carlisle being stuffed again. I wouldn't do it if I was paid.
"We aren't, of course. None of the CUFC directors even charges expenses, though the team coach, of course, is free; and, if you stay with the team, so is the hotel." Such as it is. The club can afford only the cheapest Holiday Inn-type rooms, £40 max. He says the Third Division is full of equally dedicated directors, who spend a lot in time and money and take nothing.
In fact, he has put some money in. He sponsors the strip of striker Richie Foran, which cost him £400. "In return, Richie gave me one of his shirts, autographed. My daughter has it hanging on her wall in her home in Cockermouth." He also gets his name in the programme, plus two seats in the directors' box, with his own name on. Wow. So there are perks, even if it's not like being a Man Utd director.
"I want Carlisle to continue having a league team, now it's the last league club left in Cumbria. That's my main object. People do come from miles away, from all over the county, as far as Barrow. I think it matters to the community, for CUFC to survive.
"Being a director has turned out a bit like being an MP again, with my own constituency. For half an hour before every home match, I make a point of standing outside and talking to the fans, hearing their views and grievances, even if I can't tell them about everything going on." Such as happened a couple of weeks ago, when the board decided to sack the manager.
But last Saturday, CUFC did manage a point against Southend. Dancing round the old town hall. Sheep celebrating all over the county. Some time soon, this season, we might even manage a second win. Directors, like ordinary fans, live in hope . . .