This could be the end of civilisation as we know it

This is the time of the year that is heartbreak for some, the end of civilisation and Saturdays as they knew it, weeping of weeps, gnashing of gnashers, poignant outpourings by fans who have supported the Reds, Blues, Stripes, Pinks, Pansies through thin and thin, who stood on the terraces when they were knee-high to FC Grasshoppers, in the days when you could buy two full-backs for a fiver and still have change for a glass of Woodbine and a packet of Bovril.

I see these outpourings. Take in the first paragraph. Understand the pain. Recognise the agony. Then I turn the page, sharpish, thinking boring, boring. What does relegation to Notts Forest, Blackburn, Charlton or Southampton mean to me? Or Bristol City, Oxford or Crewe? Lincoln or Macclesfield? Bugger all.

I happen to be sitting here worrying about Carlisle United. Now that I've told you, do feel free to go straight to Laurie Taylor. I will understand. No hard feelings.

Being chucked out totally from the Football League, which has looked more than likely for most of the season, would be tragic for Carlisle. I take that back. Very sad. OK, let's get it in proportion. A pity. Cumbria, the second largest county in England, would then be without a league team. Workington dropped out in 1977. Barrow departed in 1972. All Michael Knighton's boasts and promises, wheeling and dealing, will have been in vain. That lovely new stand will be a mockery.

He has done a good job keeping the club solvent, when you think of all the clubs, much bigger, much more famous, that have ended bankrupt or near bankrupt. He was quoted recently in the Cumberland News as saying that it would be better to be demoted and solvent than stay up and be bankrupt. Discuss. Morally, intellectually, financially, you could chew the cud on that for ages, but emotionally, no fan will give it one second. Staying up, that's all that matters.

The other team, in an equally dodgy position at the bottom of Division Three, has been Scarborough. It's noticeable how often remote teams - ie, stuck in remote towns - tend to do badly. You might imagine that teams like Walsall, Bradford, Tranmere and Brentford, who are in the middle of big conurbations, surrounded by much bigger clubs, would have it harder than Carlisle or Scarborough. Yet if they show the slightest bit of success, they have it easier. They get the fans who can't get tickets for Man Utd, Liverpool or Chelsea, and they get the players who haven't quite made it with the local big teams, but don't want to move away from the area. Or at least their wives don't. Carlisle, like Scarborough or Torquay, are always going to find it hard to tempt stars at the end of their career, or youngsters still hoping to make it. Carlisle has always employed players who refuse to live in Carlisle, commuting instead from Lancashire, Tyneside or Scotland. Which doesn't help dressing-room bonding.

Long-distance fans like, well, me and Melv, who mouth support for our home-town team, hardly help much, either. Don't you find, friends, that many of us have a Carlisle in the corner of our lives? How often, I wonder, has Alastair Campbell seen Burnley this season?

I've seen Carlisle four times. And got the programmes. But I've also got Spurs to support, while dear Melv follows Arsenal. I do have a friend, Charlie, who has also lived in London for many years, yet who manages to be a True Blue, resolutely refusing to acquire a London club. He travels to Carlisle matches as often as he can. His kids wear CUFC kit. Well done, Charlie.

We have had our Glory Days. If you blinked, you probably missed them in the First Division, but they were there for one season in 1974. I have the front page of the Evening News, on the day they went up, framed on my wall. It's growing a bit yellow at the edges. But then aren't we all. They even topped the league after three matches - beating Chelsea, Spurs and Middlesbrough. I've also seen them at Wembley twice in the past four years for the Auto Windscreen. Winning once.

So we've done good, for a small, remote club. Which leads me to think well, if you have winners, you have to have losers. Going up means going down. Must be far worse for Blackburn if they go down, after spending all those millions.

And what about poor old Scarborough or Hartlepool? They must have thousands of equally passionate supporters, who have followed the club all their lives. They will be just as upset, just as worried about what is likely to happen. Come on, Hunt, be fair.

It's also good that clubs like Cheltenham now have their chance to play in the football league. Good for football, not just Cheltenham. Be fair.

Cheltenham? From the affluent bloody deep South-west? I never knew they played football in Cheltenham. Isn't it all Georgian houses and horse racing down there? Why do they want a football club anyway? What do they think they're doing, taking away our football from us?

In fact it's not fair at all. Bloody Cheltenham poshos. Don't they know how much it means to a remote town like Carlisle?

As for Scarborough, they're johnny-come-latelies. They didn't get into the Football League until 1987. Absolute newcomers. What does it matter if they go down? Carlisle have been in the Football League since 1928.

So no, I'm not going to be fair and sensible. It will be a bloody disaster if Carlisle go down, the end of the civilisation, etc. So come on you blues . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - This country is not so special