Carlisle United: The First and Last

I have a memory related to Carlisle, which is my own personal Mandela Effect memory. I remember watching George Oghani play for Hereford and us beating them 2-0; I sat in the Stacey West stand away from my family (they had free tickets through Wragby Boys). 

Only when researching this article, did I realise it couldn’t possibly be that game I recall – it was, in fact, against Carlisle. We won 2-1 in January 1993, and Oghani scored. When Oghani (who features as a lyric in a Chumbawumba song) played for Hereford in 1989, the Stacey West wasn’t even built. I’m a little frustrated with myself for my memory mixing itself up. Must do better.

I do have two distinct memories about Carlisle United that I cannot possibly mix up: two matches that will remain ingrained in my mind until the day they put the lid on my box and drop me into the ground. They are curious matches, a first and a last of sorts, that anyone present at Sincil Bank will be sure to remember as well.

Seeing as I’ve found an hour this afternoon with a bit of time to write, I thought I’d bring you the pair of them in a super-special double header of ‘Looking Back’ Imps action. I hope you enjoy it, even if there is a notable absence of anything George Oghani related.

The 1990/91 season was not one to remember fondly. Allan Clarke’s arrival, and swift removal, left us playing catch-up for much of the campaign, and fans saw us change from his failed passing game to Thommo’s rather more straightforward direct ball over the course of the season. Thommo was pragmatic, and his approach did help steer us away from the dreaded drop zone, even threatening the play-off in Late March after a remarkable run of seven wins in eight matches, starting away at Torquay (1-0) and finishing at home against the same opposition (3-2). Due to the expansion of the league, we weren’t in relegation danger even under Clarke, but support had tailed off a little. Wrexham finished bottom of the league, and we failed to beat them home or away. That says a lot about the season as a whole.

Indeed, going into the final game of the season, entertainment was scarce. Our leading scorer, Tony Lormor, had eight goals. We had gone eight games without a win but had lost just three in 16. We hadn’t won at home since the end of March, and we’d only scored once at home in the same period. The season fizzled out, but there was one last firework to be lit; Carlisle at home. Just 2333 supporters felt the need to attend, and they’ll be delighted they did.

City had scored 26 goals at home all season, and fans wanted something, anything to give them some hope for the summer. We’d become hard to beat, but football fans often want more than that – much more. We lined up 4-3-3 with Matt Dickins in goal and a back four of Paul Smith, Dean West (making his debut), Grant Brown, and Matt Carmichael. Paul Ward, John Schofield and Steve Stoutt made up the midfield, with Jason Lee, David Puttnam and Tony Lormor up top. There were only two subs back in the day, Keith Alexander and Dean Crombie, neither of whom got a game.

Thommo had recently penned a two-year deal as Imps boss, and he too wanted to go out on a high. He must have wondered if it was a futile wish when Paul Proudlock put them 1-0 up after just 15 minutes. The home fans surely feared the worst. They’d only seen one goal in 270 minutes of football (a penalty by Shane Nicholson) – could it get any worse?

No. Within 60 seconds, Tony Lormor collected the ball with his back to goal, twisted, and fired past the hapless Jason Priestley. Just past the 20-minute mark, Imps fans had another to celebrate – Matt Carmichael, a man known for final-day goals at Sincil Bank, directed a smart header past the Cumbrians stopper. From 1-0 down to 2-1 up in the space of six minutes, and a breathless Bank still had seventy to play.

City began to press forward, John Schofield firing over the bar and a long-range effort from Ward warming Preistley’s gloves. The game had gone off like a firework should, but had begun to fizzle out, and at half time, as Chris Ashton warmed up his Foreigner records, City led 2-1.

The threat of a damp squib emerged in the second half, Carmichael turning villain and hauling down Richard Sendall for a spot-kick. It looked dubious, not the first given against the Imps in the weeks before either. Nicholson’s penalty against Scunthorpe, the only goal at the Bank by the home side in April, had been cancelled out by an Andy Flounders effort from 12-yards that incensed Thommo so much he had to be restrained from going on the pitch. With nothing at stake, Thommo wasn’t as angry as Tony Shepherd made it 2-2.

For seven minutes, the Imps remained level, and perhaps some of the crowd wondered if it might be worth getting into the pubs before the final whistle. However, on 68 minutes, the flood began, and one man started the flood. Maybe, Apres Moi, Le Deluge was a good motto for Mr Lormor, celebrating being crowned Young Player of the Season.

He hit a 13-minute hattrick in front of the brand new Stacey West stand, described as being scored by a man ‘roaming round and through’ the Carlisle defence at will. On 68 minutes, he finished from close range coolly, and six minutes later made it four, the first such tally the Imps had seen at the Bank all season. He took his season total to 12 with nine minutes remaining, meeting John Schofield’s corner with a powerful header that gave Presitley no chance.

The final goal is often overshadowed in history by the four that Lormor scored, but it shouldn’t be. Dean West, a player who appeared regularly in the Championship with Burnley, scored a wonderful individual effort, perhaps the best of the bunch, to see City hit six in a game for the first time since beating Bournemouth 9-0 in 1982.

“Without taking anything away from ourselves, Carlisle did look quite lively up front for a while,” said Thommo. He wasn’t wrong – they had six efforts on target compared to our eight. “But we seemed to score at will, and 11 or 12 wouldn’t have been out of the realms of possibility,” he added, rather optimistically.

So, that was the ‘last’ that I made reference to, but what of the first? What first have I picked up on for today’s article that will invoke a major memory?