As I was logging off for the day, this beauty caught my eye, reminding me of a game that took place 20 years ago today.
Carlisle visited the Bank on the first Saturday home game of the season after a summer of turmoil at the Bank. We’d almost gone out of existence and had seemingly settled for a raft of cheap options; Keith Alexander stepped up as manager, having been the assistant, and players such as Dene Cropper, Simon Yeo, Scott Willis and Simon Weaver came climbing out of non-league to try to keep us in the Football League. If NTT20 did their podcast back then, we were nailed on relegation fodder.
Still, we surprised everyone with a decent start. We’d got four points from two games, with an opening day draw against Kidderminster followed up by a 2-0 victory against Rochdale. Carlisle, who would go on to avoid relegation by a single point, were one of the teams we felt we’d need to beat to stay in the Third Division. In the crowd, there was a youthful-looking me, still sweaty from doing Poacher on a warm afternoon, and as you’ll see from this cracking picture, an even young Ben Ward.
I remember the game exploding into life in the opening few minutes when Richie Foran and Simon Weaver got involved in a bit of what might be termed an altercation. The then-Carlisle chairman John Courtenay said of the incident: “Early on, there was some girly stuff between Richie Foran and one of their lads. The referee didn’t see it, but the linesman did and he called the referee over. The referee sent the two of them off.” Probably not words that have aged particularly well.
The second half is where all the fun started. Firstly, Peter Gain handled in the box, and Trevor Molloy netted from the spot, much to his delight. Ten minutes later, Brian Shelley claimed to have been elbowed by Simon Yeo, but he kicked out and got a red for his troubles. The atmosphere ramped up, and as the game wound down towards a defeat, City were handed a lifeline. Firstly, Molloy was sent off for foul and abusive language, and then Yeo was fouled in the area, or as Courtenay put it, “I knew he’d give them a peno and right enough, on cue, two or three minutes to go, a fella runs into the box, falls over with nobody near him and he gives them the penalty.”
Yeo stepped up to level for City and hit the post. Up in the director’s box, where Courtenay had brought his dismissed players, all hell broke loose. “This guy went berserk and claimed that we were spitting,” claimed Courtenay. “Richie Foran, whose mouth was dry after playing, had put his head down and spat on the ground – as you would in a stand at a football match.” The players were asked to leave the area, and their chairman accompanied them down the tunnel, where a fight broke out between them and our stewards.
On the field, Carlisle hung on for the win, but it was still kicking off behind the scenes. witnesses claimed the Carlisle chairman was drunk, but his own recollection was somewhat different. A witness who said Courtenay’s eyes were glazed was the subject of his ire ahead of the court case, which came on the back of the event. “The referee’s inspector, who was sitting way behind the directors’ box, says my eyes were glazed, and he was sure that I had intoxicating liquor. The fucking referees’ inspector! What’s he looking at me for? The referee is sending people off to beat the band, and he’s able to tell that the chairman has been drinking. Man, it’s frustrating. So they’ve charged me. It’s not even a breach of the fucking peace. I didn’t get round to that. All my mates from Crumlin are disappointed, ‘You mean, John, you didn’t even have a breach of the peace?'”
As amusing as it sound from the interview, it really wasn’t. Good stewards were caught up in the unpleasantness, and it carried on into the FA Cup, where we went in the first round later that year. They beat us 2-1 but had another man sent off. The league tie brought us more joy; we won 4-1.
As for Courtenay and Foran, they appeared at Gainsborough Magistrates Court, where the former was given 150 hours of community service and a £50 fine, with £200 costs. Foran, who had previous convictions for violence, got 200 hours. City got to the play-offs for the first of five successive appearances in the end-of-season lottery, and a year later, Carlisle got relegated.