All we like sheep have gone astray . . .
I ran round the house looking for my sheep. "Who's stolen it?" I cried, which is what I always say when I lose anything. "Think, where did you last put it?" asks my wife, in that irritating manner. As if I would be rushing round like a madman if I knew where I'd put it.
When: that's easier. How could I not remember when I last had it? In 1997, of course, when Carlisle United last went to Wemburlee. It was
an inflatable sheep, in CUFC colours, which I bought to show loyalty to the cause.
The sheep is one of Carlisle's symbols, for reasons too rude to go into. It was part of some abuse aimed at Carlisle fans and, as with Millwall, who turned a phrase thrown at them into their own anthem, "No One Likes Us, We Don't Care", CUFC adopted a sheep as their leitmotif. In 1997, some clever manufacturer produced thousands of them in plastic. I was a bit disappointed to find they had been made in Taiwan. Not as disappointed, though, as when I eventually found mine. It was flat, the sides stuck together, crumpled, crumbled, knackered.
It is amazing, really, that in my recent lifetime, this was Carlisle's third visit to Wembley for a Cup Final. In 1995, we got jammily beaten by Birmingham City in extra time, then in 1997 we won, beating Colchester. I didn't make it to the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, in 2003 and 2006, when we also got to the final. OK, it's only the Mickey Mouse Cup, the one for the third and fourth tiers of Football League clubs, but five finals in 15 years is excellent, considering Carlisle's size and status. The Johnstone's Paint Trophy, that's what it was called this year. No, I haven't heard of them either.
When you come from a small town like Carlisle, up against a much more bigger one like Southampton, you do feel an extra pride. There were 20,000 CUFC supporters there last Sunday, compared to 44,000 from Southampton. They were mostly in families, stopping to take photographs of each other.
Walking down Olympic Way, I saw Lord Henley and the Hon Philip Howard and their families. Each lives in a castle near Carlisle. Robin Burgess, recently Cumbria's high sheriff, was wearing a very silly blue-and-white jester's hat. Who says football doesn't attract all classes?
I bought a programme, price £5, and was a bit disappointed by the advert for Eddie Stobart, Carlisle's sponsors: "Delivering sustainable intermodal transport solutions." Dear God, I know Eddie never got any O-levels, but this is pure gibberish - unless it was ironic, taking the piss out of modern business-speak.
Shame about the quality of Carlisle's football. When it was 3-0 to Southampton, their supporters started a Mexican wave, but it stopped abruptly each time it reached the Carlisle section. The Southampton fans then started booing us. We did get a goal back to make it 1-4, and several rows in front of me I saw a plastic sheep get thrown ten feet up into the air. Tried to catch it. No luck.