LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Carlisle United

The Cumbrians of Brunton Park remain in local hands

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Famously top of the First Division for the first three matches of 1974-75, Carlisle United have survived flood and non-league football to get back on their feet.

Still based at basic Brunton Park, buried under water after nearby rivers burst their banks in 2005 and 2015, the Cumbrians represent one of the most isolated towns in the Football League.

Carlisle sits on the edge of the Lake District, close to the border with Scotland. Attracting players here has never been easy, although some of the best loved figures in the game – Bill Shankly, Stan Bowles, Bob Stokoe – have run out in the club’s blue shirt or manned the bench.

Brunton Park/Tony Dawber

Formed in 1904, Carlisle reached the Football League in 1928, springing to life in the late 1940s thanks to two fiery characters. First, East End wag and later England international Ivor Broadis became the youngest ever player-manager when he joined Carlisle at 23, scoring a goal every other game. He transferred himself to Sunderland when Bill Shankly came, the later Liverpool legend starting his managerial career where he had begun his playing days, at Brunton Park.

With Shankly’s infectious psychology, United came close to promotion out of Division Three North and crowds regularly ran into five figures.

Though Shankly had just departed for Grimsby, his voice was still echoing around Brunton Park when a young centre-forward arrived from Nottingham Forest, Alan Ashman. His goals kept Carlisle afloat – but not high enough up the table to gain a Third Division spot when the Fourth was created in 1958.

With Ashman as manager, United’s fortunes changed in the 1960s. Promoted two seasons running, the second time as champions of the Third Division, Ashman’s Carlisle were spearheaded by the prolific Hughie McIlmoyle. The Scot had failed to ignite at Leicester but was dynamite at Brunton Park, where he had three spells, the last in the seminal season of 1974-75. His likeness can be seen leaping into action outside the club shop.

Brunton Park/Rob Proud

With Allan Ross between the sticks and George McVitie flying down the wing, Carlisle finished one place from First Division promotion in 1967 – which is when Ashman was poached by WBA. Staying in Second Division contention under Bob Stokoe, United claimed Ashman back in 1972.

His return proved dramatic. Stretching for the tape on the last day of the season, Ashman’s Carlisle snuck in for a third-place promotion to the First Division in 1974. Ashman couldn’t have hoped for a better debut week, United winning away at Chelsea and Middlesbrough then home to Spurs, putting them top of the league.

Later, visiting Match of the Day cameras panned to images of sheep grazing in a nearby field, the industrious midfield of England cricketer Chris Balderstone and Ray ‘Puffer’ Train destroyed Brian Clough’s Derby 3-0. It couldn’t last and didn’t. Carlisle slid down the division to finish bottom.

Brunton Park/Rob Proud

As 15 minutes of fame go, it was memorable if suitably brief. It was bettered a quarter of a century later by a blink-and-you-missed-it event at the opposite end of the league pyramid. United had continued a downward spiral, arrested by a young Peter Beardsley and promotion back to the Second Division in 1982. 

Occasional cash injections from the later discredited owner Michael Knighton had only brought the club to the foot of the Football League. Needing to beat Plymouth at home on the last day of 1998-99, Carlisle were being held 1-1 with seconds of stoppage time left. Jimmy Glass, an on-loan keeper in his third game for the club, had abandoned his posts to charge up for one very last corner. Hacking at a loose ball, Glass sent Brunton Park doolally by hitting the net, inciting complete chaos. Carlisle were saved.

Glass returned to a journeyman career, retiring at 27 to run taxis and give occasional interviews. For Carlisle, the inevitable relegation came in 2004.

Brunton Park/Tony Dawber

Carlisle-born player-manager Paul Simpson had had to struggle with the after-effects of the Knighton era, and a transfer ban. Once in the Conference, Simpson brought in striker Karl Hawley, whose goals helped Carlisle reach the play-offs. With a solitary final winner from Irish international Peter Murphy, United were straight back up, the same year that floods had forced home games to be played in Morecambe.

Signing Michael Bridges to partner Hawley, Simpson’s Carlisle set League Two alight in 2005-06, winning a back-to-back promotion and the league title.

The upward surge continued under Neil McDonald then John Ward, who took United to a play-off semi-final, an opening goal from top scorer Danny Graham not enough to overcome Leeds despite a first-leg win at Elland Road.

Hughie McIlmoyle statue/Tony Dawber

League form then dipped, though Carlisle fans enjoyed consecutive visits to Wembley for Football League Trophy finals. Another goal from Peter Murphy, on his way to making a record number of outfield appearances, brought the 2011 trophy to Brunton Park.

Relegated to League Two in 2014, United sprang back under Keith Curle. In 2016-17, goals from ex-Middlesbrough pair Charlie Wyke and Jason Kennedy spurred United on an unbeaten run in the league until November – though Wyke missed a penalty in the epic 14-13 shoot-out defeat at Derby in the League Cup.

Three-parts owned by a triumvirate of local businessmen, balanced out by the quarter share overseen by a supporters’ trust, Carlisle soldiered on at Brunton Park, with measures put in place to make the ground less vulnerable to the weather. All the same, in 2020-21, still mired in League Two, United put together a promising run of results under Chris Beech, even topping the division towards Christmas. Progress was then halted by a string of postponed games and a pile-up of rearranged fixtures which saw the club sink back to mid-table.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

One of the largest grounds in League Two, Brunton Park is also one of the least modernised. Its capacity of 18,000 is a mix of standing and seating, best illustrated by the open terracing fronting the covered seats that comprise the main West Stand. Wings at either end illustrate the ad-hoc expansions over the years, without the funds for a complete rebuild. Even the floodlight pylons look half-finished.

Opposite, the East Stand is the newest, and all-seated, one third given over to away support, usually section 3. If needed, visiting fans can be allocated the open terracing (remember that?) of the Waterworks End. Warwick Road has been the home end for generations, a roofed terrace.

Many visiting fans, used to faceless, out-of-town new-builds, are charmed by the old-school appearance of Brunton Park, with rolling hills and the river Eden to one side. Carlisle United, meanwhile, have long been looking at relocating, though construction of a contemporary stadium still seems a long way off.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Warwick Road runs from the centre of town all the way to the ground. It’s just the wrong side of a nice stroll, but the bus service isn’t great.

Brunton Park has its own bus stop – the one before, Brunton Avenue, is handier for the Carlisle Rugby Club bar and The Beehive pub.

If you’re coming from Carlisle station, Reays buses 74 and 75 leave every hour (Mon-Sat daytime only) from the Bowie-themed Thin White Duke bar on nearby Devonshire Street (Stand F), just past the Court Square bus terminus.

From English Street (Stand C) outside Carlisle stationStagecoach bus 76 leaves every 20-30mins, hourly Sun, calling at Brunton Park. From Carlisle bus station where Lowther and Lonsdale Streets meet, Stagecoach bus 685 leaves hourly, every 2hrs Sun.

The walk is at least 25mins – a taxi from the station shouldn’t be more than £5.

The sat nav code for Brunton Park is CA1 1LL. The car park (£3) on the east side of the stadium opens from 12.30pm of a Saturday match day. If full by the time you get there, Carlisle Rugby Club next door (CA1 1LW) also offers parking spaces for £3. Alternatively, there are two council-run car parks (£2.80/up to 3hrs, £3.40/3-4hrs, free after 6pm) on the stadium side of town, at the Civic Centre (CA3 8XP) and Lowther Street (CA3 8DP) alongside, each a 10min walk from the ground.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets go on sale two weeks before each home game – availability is very rarely a problem. For all enquiries, email ticket.printing@carlisleunited.co.uk.

The ticket office (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, match-day Sat/Sun 10am-5.15pm) is on the first floor of the East Stand. For phone sales (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, match days until 1pm) on (UK only) 0330 094 5930, option 1, you can pick up your tickets from 1.30pm on match-day Saturday.  Online sales have a print-at-home option – you can also pick up them on the day for a 50p fee.

On match days, another ticket office (10am-5.15pm) also operates behind the West Stand. From 2.30pm on weekend match days, sales are for the upcoming game at 3pm only. After the final whistle, general sales resume. There’s also a ticket outlet for visiting supporters behind the East Stand.

Advance sales are £3 cheaper per ticket in most categories. A seat costs £19 (£22 on the day), £16/£19 for over-65s, 18-22s £13/£16. For 11-17s (£10) and under-11s (£7), the price is the same in advance and on the day. 

To stand, it’s £16 (£19 on the day), £13/£16 for over-65s, 18-22s £10/£13. For 11-17s (£7) and under-11s (£4), advance and match-day prices are the same. Under-7s are admitted free anywhere in the ground.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

By the McIlmoyle statue, the Blues Store (Mon-Tue, Thur-Fri 10am-5pm, match-day Sat 10am-5.30pm, non-match day Sat 10am-3pm, weekday match eve 10am-kick off) stocks home shirts of blue with one thick, red-edged white stripe down the middle, and away tops of black with a single stripe of red, white and blue down the right-hand side.

Everything else is charmingly retro, from the bobble hats to the frilly pennants. Cuddly toys, sadly, are bears and not Olga the Foxes. Branded rucksacks should be ideal for fell-walking.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The classic pre-match pub, diagonally across Warwick Road from the stadium, The Beehive is a CUFC favourite but sensible away fans without colours can usually get served – if they can find a space at the bar. Ales include Wadworth and Wainwright, there’s plenty of pub grub and TV football, too. 

If you’re with kids in tow, Lakeland Gate, on Warwick Road but just past the ground from town, is a family-friendly chain with indoor and outdoor play areas. BrewDog beers can be found among the bottled choices.

Away fans are perhaps more easily accommodated at the Carlisle Rugby Club bar. On the same side of the road as Brunton Park, a short walk across a field, it’s also open on weekday evenings. At the ground, Foxy’s and Murphy’s Bar open on match days, and are usually happy to serve away fans.

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