Date: 1st April 2011 at 6:35pm
Written by:
Michael Knighton

A sight both United and Carlisle fans have had to endure

Sunday sees the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final take place at Wembley between Brentford and Carlisle United.

The match is practically a home tie for the London-based Bees but, for their League One rivals, the journey will be one of the longest of the season.

Those fans travelling down from Cumbria could be forgiven a sense of trepidation, but that might not solely be related to the distance involved; Carlisle are no strangers to Wembley or the final of the Football League Trophy, whoever is sponsoring it, but three previous visits to Wembley and two to the Millennium Stadium have resulted in only one success.

Sympathy for their poor record in finals aside, from the perspective of this Manchester United fan a win for Carlisle at the weekend would be most welcome. During a conversation with a London-based Blues fan during the week, the subject of the close ties between the two Uniteds came up. Here, then, are four reasons why Reds should root for Carlisle on Sunday:

1.    United loanees are welcome in Cumbria

James Chester began the season on loan at Carlisle and impressed so much during his eighteen league appearances that in January Hull City were moved to pay United £300,000 to bring the defender to the Championship club. Oliver Norwood and Corry Evans both spent time in Cumbria earlier this season too, although they had their spells curtailed by injury. Left back Joe Dudgeon has only featured twice for Carlisle since he joined up in January but remains part of the squad as they prepare for Wembley.

2.    Brunton Park is to portray Old Trafford on camera

A film about the Busby Babes and the Munich tragedy, simply entitled United, is currently in post-production. It will star Dougray Scott as Matt Busby and David Tennant as his assistant, Jimmy Murphy, who guided the club through the immediate aftermath of the terrible crash while Busby fought for his life in hospital. Brunton Park, Carlisle’s home ground, which holds 18,000 people and still features terracing, has been chosen to double as Old Trafford for the purpose of the film. The makers have clearly taken on a very sensitive subject in the events of 1958 but they have sought the cooperation of survivors and family members in bringing the story to the big screen.

3.    Carlisle kept United’s place in the First Division warm

When United were relegated to the Second Division in 1974, one of the sides that passed them going the other way was Carlisle. Alan Ashman’s team famously topped the table after three matches but it was ultimately to prove a disappointing first and only season in the top flight for the Cumbrians. They finished bottom and were relegated along with Luton and Chelsea. A 3-0 home win over eventual champions Derby was a highpoint, though, and Carlisle remained competitive throughout the season, with 16 of their 25 league defeats being by just a single goal. United were back in the First Division for the 1975/76 season as Carlisle returned to the lower leagues. The two sides have, in fact, only ever faced each other in cup competition (a 1978 FA Cup tie that Carlisle took to a replay at Old Trafford).

4.    United probably owe Carlisle an apology over Michael Knighton

Valuations of United tend to float around the £1.5bn mark now, at least in the Glazers’ eyes, but in 1989 the businessman Michael Knighton looked to have bought the club for just £20m. Notoriously, he appeared on the Old Trafford pitch at a game, in football kit, to celebrate what looked to be a done deal. Knighton’s investors got cold feet, however, and the transaction fell through, so instead he set his sights on Carlisle. Acquiring the Blues in 1992, the man who had made his money in property trading oversaw a turbulent ten-year period in the club’s history that took in promotion, relegation, and cup finals. Knighton even made himself manager during the 1997/98 season, which resulted in the drop to the bottom division, and did not relinquish the role until into the following campaign, which saw Carlisle avoid falling out of the Football League entirely thanks only to goalkeeper Jimmy Glass’ famous goal on the last day of the season. It wasn’t until the club entered administration in 2002 that control of Carlisle was finally wrested from Knighton following years of fan unrest.

Let’s hope things don’t get that drastic before there’s an ownership change at Old Trafford. In the meantime, good luck to Carlisle on Sunday from us.

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