Fished out of water

After a terrible flood, Carlisle United is back in the League

In the smart new reception area at Brunton Park, home of the legendary Carlisle United, where the players and directors come in, sits a goldfish bowl, with goldfish, in pride of place on a table behind the receptionist. Why is this, you ask?

The building is smart because CUFC is a smart club these days, oozing a faint air of affluence, with its newly furnished stands, a new pitch that has cost £250,000, and a renewed sense of pride. Just two years ago, the club suffered the humiliation of dropping to the Conference. Last season, they won League Two. Now they are fifth in League One, feeling a bit dizzy at such heights.

I went to their first home game of this season, against Doncaster Rovers. Beforehand, a Football League official presented them with a flag for being League Two champions. It turned out to be a purely symbolic gesture. Despite all the expensive additions, Carlisle haven't got a flagpole. Perhaps the club's owner, Fred Story, could oblige by carrying it around until Peter Crouch gets signed. They're each 6ft 7in.

In the car park I met Ivor Broadis, now 83, one of my boyhood heroes, an England star, with 14 caps, who played in the World Cup of 1954. He also played for and managed Carlisle. We used to tell a really witty joke about him when I was at primary school in Carlisle. Which player needs a big sofa? Ivor Broadis. (I've a broad arse, gerrit?)

I congratulated him on having part of the main stand named after him. This is a new trend all over the country - remembering past greats, perhaps even throwing in a statue. Ivor seemed pleased, but moaned that he still had to pay £2 for parking.

Another interesting sight was a Spanish flag, fluttering in what is now called the Cumberland Building Society Stand. This was in honour of Carlisle's excitingly leggy left-back, Zigor Aranalde. The only foreigners when I was a lad came from Scotland. Zigor is actually Basque, but they couldn't find a Basque flag in Carlisle. Apparently his children now speak fluent Cumbrian, as well as Basque.

Doncaster, who got beaten 1-0, had brought with them about 2,000 supporters, dominating one end. This was a strange sight. For the past two seasons, in the lower leagues, the away supporters would have filled barely two motor cars. Going up the leagues has brought bigger crowds, more success, more money. Hard to believe now that just two years ago, enormous floods covered the ground and all the surrounding streets, making thousands homeless.

On the pitch, the flood water at one time was higher than the goalposts. When it all subsided, groundsmen found the goldfish swimming around the centre spot, presumably swept out of some nearby house. Hence they are kept on display, a memory of bad times.

You, too, my friends, can be resurrected, be born again, overcome despair. It happens in football, just as it happens in real life. Look at Pompey and Wigan, clubs which have managed to ascend to the Premiership when they appeared doomed for ever. Will West Ham rise to the top, now they have received this God-given gift of two Argies who were like lost sheep, wandering in the wilderness? Consider Peter Crouch and Owen Hargreaves, booed not so long ago. Now, after they demolished the might of Andorra, we all praise and sing their name.

Sorry, I forgot to mention, this was a Thought for the Day. Now back to John and Jim in the studio.

Next Article