Saturday 20 October – Carlisle United 2 – 0 Gills
- 04.50 Alarm.
- 05.50 Canterbury East.
- 07.17 London Victoria.
- 08.30 London King’s Cross.
- 13.03 Carlisle.
- 13.10 turned away from Beehive pub, now “home only”.
- 13.20 Get most disgusting pint of beer of the season so far.
- 13.23 take it back.
- 14.50 Hang Gills flag up, Brunton Park.
- 15.01 Kick-off Gills vs. Carlisle.
- 15.15 Gills score 1st goal away since 25th August at Luton. Damn you Cox, in wrong net!
- 15.30 Dickson scores with header, cheer loudly.
- 15.31 mysteriously ruled out by referee Foster.
- 15.48 Half-time pie.
- 16.05 Second half.
- 16.14 Hackney scores from 25 yards, 2-0 – game over.
- 16.50 Take down Gills flag.
- 16.54 Final whistle.
- 16.55 Walk briskly towards Carlisle station.
- 17.14 Arrive Carlisle station.
- 17.19 Catch last London-bound train.
- 17.20 Open first beer.
- 18.40 Stuck outside Newcastle, train terminating.
- 18.50 New train bound for London, no buffet except emergency rations of water, tea & crisps.
- 19.00 Buffet raided by excitable chavs from Darlington. Food fight.
- 21.50 England lose rugby World Cup Final. Cancel trip to Trafalgar Square.
- 22.17 King’s Cross on time (!).
- 22.45 Pint at Charing Cross.
- 23.10 Drunk old man brings big green pole into packed pub, causes chaos, drunk rugby fans try to climb up it.
- 23.30 Last train back to Canterbury (West).
- 01.18 Arrive Canterbury West.
- 01.40 Home! Marvellous.
Oh, so you want the full version do you? Well I’ll try to do it without swearing, should be easy enough though, a fairly routine trip really, lose, don’t score etc etc. To be honest if we hadn’t have booked the train tickets months ago I don’t know whether I’d have bothered really. I was still hoping mad over the late decision to move the Swansea game to a Friday night, (I’m trying really hard not to swear now…) plus all the usual moans and groans, i.e. our ludicrously poor away record, the fact that we had been to Carlisle back in the spring and caved 5-0, the fact that we had lost each League game away by 1,2,3,4 and 5 before the trip, the fact we had the second worst away record in the whole country and still no manger, plus the practical problem of engineering works on the West Coast line (same old Virgin) which necessitated a lengthy diversion via King’s Cross and Newcastle on GNER.
The mood on board was one of weary resignation, we could cling to the precedent, 93-94 and all that when we ended eighteen months without an away League win at the 29th attempt at Carlisle in epic circumstance, but to be honest we haven’t got anyone in the class of Nicky Forster circa ’93 and United had clumped Millwall 4-0 in their previous home game. The omens were not good. We were right.
The first leg of the journey up as far as Newcastle flew by, the bit across to Carlisle dragged horribly, with little to see except hill sheep farms after the excitement of the views over the Tyne. We arrived in the border city thirsty and a bit jaded and the game hadn’t even begun. The fact that the Beehive (near the ground, plenty of Gills fans in colours their last season) wouldn’t let us in hardly helped our mood, neither did the disgusting pint of filth I was served in the Suede Bar near the station. The only thing to lighten the mood was the comical own goal Liverpool contrived on the television.
On arrival at the ground I was a little surprised to see quite so many Gills had made the trip (the official tally being 175) given our, ahem, form. The team as ever led by Iffy had been shuffled a bit, but without the quality it is a bit like the Captain on the Titanic rearranging the deckchairs. Pointless. To be fair to the team we actually played the best we have done away all season. That isn’t saying much, we were at best average, which admittedly isn’t shambolic but it still wasn’t great. Nevertheless we looked more solid and matched Carlisle. We certainly deserved to go in at the break level in an ordinary contest lacking in decent chances.
The half was defined by just two moments; they probably settled the course of the game too. Neither went our way. It has to be said referee Foster didn’t exactly do us many favours during the game which is bad enough when you’re any good, but at the moment we need all the help we can muster. Fifteen minutes in and Carlisle won a corner. The ball was routinely swung over, Royce got lost in the melee at the near post and with a United player lurking at his shoulder at the back post the unfortunate Cox turned the ball horribly into his own net. A bit harsh certainly, a bit against the run of play perhaps, a foul on Royce according to Iffy, well yes looking at it again on television, but then that just about sums up our season thus far.
Fifteen minutes later and we all began to think it would be the same old story. This time the crucial moment occurred in the Carlisle half, a high hanging cross was aimed at the head of Dickson by the otherwise hapless Brown, he leapt bravely with the keeper and headed home. A perfectly good goal in the eyes of everyone except the moronic referee. We might have still gone on to lose the game but it would have been interesting to see the impact a goal would have had on morale and confidence of the team. Dickson certainly looked lively during the half, it was just a shame the likes of Brown, Sodje and Clohessy didn’t follow suit. Bentley and Facey also fashioned chances of a sort before the break but they came to nothing. For the first time away from home since April the Gills went in at the break not deserving to be behind.
The second half saw a similar pattern of play, nip and tuck without a cutting edge before Carlisle finished the game as a contest nine minutes in. There appeared to be no real danger when Hackney moved into space nearly thirty yards out, he simply then took aim and launched a dipping drive over the motionless Royce who remained so flat-footed and apparently bemused by this sudden unfortunate turn of events that we assumed there had been a deflection although I didn’t see one at the time.
It would be harsh to pick out Royce for that much criticism in the second half because he was the only Gills player to shine as Carlisle coasted through the final thirty-five minutes. It was back to the same old story really, no cutting edge, no pace, no creativity going forward, incapable of keeping a clean sheet at the back. The 175 Gills fans slumped in the seats as the game petered out deserve better. The final straw for many was the substitution of our only danger man Dickson (as part of a triple change on 71 minutes) whilst the wretched Brown stayed on the pitch. Iffy was not a popular chap at that moment!
United could have stolen an undeserved third when the referee and linesman erred in allowing the miles offside Carlisle player to run through, Royce tipped his drive superbly onto the bar. The final whistle saw us off out and gone before the players had even caught their breath, it was crucial we made our train, the only alternative being an unscheduled overnight stay in Carlisle. We made it with five minutes to spare, grabbed some beer from the buffet and settled down for our five-hour odyssey home.
The train crawled across to Newcastle and the sat just outside as it was announced our train would be terminating and that we would all have to change onto a replacement which would be stopping at “all stations”. The switch also meant the buffet would be unstocked for the duration save for emergency provisions. The announcement proclaiming free water, biscuits and peanuts was too much for a mob of teenage chavs in our carriage who proceeded to storm the buffet next door, steal everything that wasn’t nailed down despite the hysterical protestations of the buffet staff and then when they’d had their fill have a food fight with the remainder. I’m glad to say the little darlings all got off at Darlington and left us to it.
The later stages of our return saw us searching for internet updates of the rugby world cup final, the score ticked along, gradually getting less and less promising until confirmation came through of a narrow-ish defeat for the egg-chasers. Bizarrely the last time England lost a rugby world cup final in 1991, we also played at Carlisle, drawing 0-0 in the old 4th Division in front of 1,672 lost souls, the attendance figure hit by a direct clash with the “big game”.
Any attempt to salvage anything from the day by joining in the celebrations with happy people (what are they?) back in London was well and truly stuffed by the final score. I awaited my train home from Charing Cross surrounded by a mixture of subdued rugby fans, regular Londoners that had watched the spectacle to support “England” but didn’t really give a stuff and a scattering of delirious white South Africans. The long night at the end of a long day took one final surreal turn when an old bloke in fancy dress staggered into the crowded pub carrying a long green pole (15 ft?) causing bemused drinkers to duck out of the way as he flailed around before clearing a space and inviting people to shin up to the top of it whilst others held it steady and people egged them on. Had the England football team just lost THE World Cup final people would have been a little less blasé and a tad more emotional… I was glad to slump wearily on the seat of the slow train back home. It hadn’t been a disastrous day but the fact remained that we now had the worst away record in the country, Derby having drawn 0-0 a Fulham. I had virtually been to Scotland for the privilege, we still hadn’t scored, let alone avoided defeat and we were now back in the drop zone, still managerless and looking more like genuine relegation candidates by the week. Happy days.
Champagne Moment:- The stunt sheep on the way back. We were crawling across from Carlisle to Newcastle, admiring the view when we spotted a sheep not as you’d assume in a field like other more conventional sheep munching grass, but proudly standing on top of a stone wall that usually divides the fields cocking a snook to the world… I just wish some of our players would show the same amount of bloody single-mindedness away from home.