Carlisle News & Star

This is the text of a feature written by Roger Lytollis for the Carlisle News & Star. Thank you, Roger…

By the time you read this, it’s likely that the hundreds of Carlisle United fans travelling to their team’s first match of the season will have arrived in Devon.

For most of them the trek to Exeter – a 693-mile round trip from Carlisle – will have ended in late morning or early afternoon.

The traditional away match experience involves finding a pub for a meal and a drink then walking to the ground.

Watch the game, return to the car or train, and go home.

Carlisle’s season ends at Yeovil next May. Before then there will be many more hours on motorways and trains for 90 minutes of football which may not always seem worth the effort.

David Guest believes there is another way. His new book, Towns of Two Halves, urges football fans to make more of their away days.

Arrive earlier. Leave later. Consider making a weekend of it by visiting local attractions.

“Accidental tourism,” David calls it.

“The idea of the book is quite recent – the last couple of years,” he says. “The idea of treating away days as a tourist goes back to the early years of this century. It began to bother me that I was wasting a lot of my life watching Oldham Athletic in far-flung places.”

A similar concern may possibly have crossed the minds of Carlisle supporters.

David, a journalist for more than 35 years, has visited all 92 clubs in the Football League and Premier League. Most of his visits are recent enough to provide a useful guide to these towns for football fans.

A few are as far back as the 1960s. These chapters are more of a memoir, with up-to-date information about the towns’ attractions available on his book’s website.

David moved from Oldham when he was a child and now lives in Hertfordshire. He came to Carlisle in April 2014 to see Oldham take on United, and was pleasantly surprised by the Border City.

In fact he says Carlisle – along with Exeter – is the place he enjoyed most. He is particularly enthusiastic about Tullie House, the cathedral and Rickerby Park.

“I’d like to blow Carlisle’s trumpet a bit more,” he says. “The variety on offer. The historic buildings. The green spaces. I like places where there’s always something happening. I remember walking back down to the railway station on Sunday morning and seeing people abseiling off the Civic Centre.”

Other largely unsung places which David liked include Burton, Hull, Newport and Grimsby. The latter pair are in League Two along with Carlisle.

“Grimsby surprised me. It was more interesting than I had expected. The same with Newport. I visited some Roman remains there in case there was nothing else to write about. But in the end it was a long chapter.”

Morecambe is among the other towns in Carlisle’s division which David enjoyed. This season United play there on New Year’s Day: perhaps not the best time to stroll along its seafront.

David acknowledges that any away-match tourist’s schedule is likely to be dictated by the time of year the fixture is played.

“A lot of the book might come across as a bit highbrow with visits to museums etc. But it’s a largely winter-based season. You’re going to want to be indoors more often than not. I hope there’s enough variety.

“One of the points I’m trying to make in the book is that anywhere can be a tourist destination. That said, I suppose I’d have to admit that Exeter has a bit more to offer than, say, Nailsworth [home of Forest Green Rovers] or Oldham.

“To spend a full weekend in Oldham you’d be struggling. There are country parks, a good museum at Saddleworth. And Manchester’s on your doorstep.”

David advises anyone attending a match at Milton Keynes Dons to visit nearby Bletchley Park: once the home of World War Two code-breakers.

Some away days include experiences which cannot be planned. A trip to Ipswich in 1991 comes to David’s mind.

He visited the town with his now ex-wife under the guise of a walking holiday. Oh, and Oldham just happened to be playing there. They watched the match and, next day, did the walking part of their weekend. This took them into a field where their path was blocked by a drainage ditch which ‘looked jumpable’.

David writes: ‘I went first and cleared the hazard with feet to spare. L followed; but her approach lacked confidence. Her jump was more vertical than horizontal and she came down in middle of the ditch. I hauled her out to the accompaniment of some plain language. Her feet were soaked, as were her shorts to mid-thigh level, and frantic splashing left its mark elsewhere.’

Perhaps there are football fans whose tribal mentality means they see the homes of all opposing teams as the enemy: merely places for smash and grab raids with three points the booty.

For the sake of his book, and supporters’ wellbeing, David hopes they will set aside rivalries long enough to appreciate more than a pub and a football ground.

“Give yourself an extra few hours,” he says.

It may be harder for Carlisle fans to do this, considering how much time they already invest in following their team to distant towns.

Then again, maybe that means they should try to squeeze more than the match from those epic journeys.

David has been asked if there’s a market for a book treating football fans as tourists. He says: “There’s a trend in football towards gentrification which means the game is making itself more welcoming to families. Families need more to do than go to the pub. I’m hoping the book might be riding the beginning of a small wave.”

Then there’s the consolation, if your team loses, of having enjoyed a different kind of cultural experience.

Has football ever been the worst part of David’s away days?

“I still come away from a place feeling good if they’ve won,” he says. “And depressed if they’ve not.”

*Some of David Guest’s thoughts about Carlisle:

‘Carlisle shares its charms with you hesitantly, like a winsome spinster unsure of the effect she’s having. Perhaps the novelty of trying to attract visitors is too recent; Carlisle will have spent most of its history trying to fend them off.’

‘On the other side of the bridge that carries the A7 to Scotland there are more green spaces at Carlisle Cricket Club. A game was in progress and I stopped to have a drink and to enjoy the overlap in the seasons. On a warm, sunny evening, after the last football match of a successful campaign – relegation narrowly avoided once again – it was another fine advertisement for Carlisle.’

 

Carlisle United lost 3-1 at Exeter.

Screen Test

The BBC’s TV programme schedules for Saturday 4 August were depressing for what they omitted. On the first day of the new football season, there was neither Final Score nor Match of the Day. With what by common consent was the conclusion of the most dramatic Test Match since the last most dramatic Test Match, there was of course no cricket at all.
The absence of any football coverage is presumably explained by the fact that the Premier League doesn’t start until next weekend. So that’s a single upright finger from the British Broadcasting Corporation to all fans of English clubs outside the Premier League and of other British clubs outside Wales.
There was one forlorn hope. An inexplicable break in the published BBC1 schedule at 4.45pm separated European Championships 2018 from European Championships 2018. The witching hour for football supporters begins at 4.45pm. In the event, nothing happened at 4.45pm apart from Chris Hoy talking engagingly about his early career. While the football results could have been screened, the BBC showed the Women’s 800 metre Breaststroke Final, 16 lengths, with no British interest, for eight minutes plus. How long does it take to read the football results? Five minutes? Meanwhile on BBC2, Flog It! began on time.
Where cricket is concerned, the BBC threw in the towel a long time ago. It talks a good game. The fetish object that is Test Match Special sits smugly on the pedestal sustained by the rest of the corporation. On Radio 5 Live, the pretence that people might actually prefer their sport without moving pictures is repeated daily, many times, as if that might eventually make it true.
The results are dispiriting. The BBC becomes a cheerleader for events that other broadcasters will screen. In a hole and continuing to dig, it surely drums up interest in subscriptions to BT and Sky. Carried away by its own enthusiasm, it loses a sense of perspective: how can a Test Match be a ‘classic’ when only two of the four possible outcomes are available by tea on the third day? And perversely, in its news bulletins, it subsequently broadcasts spoilers.
Online, by contrast, its sports service is comprehensive. Football scores are automatically refreshed, details of individual games are available and ‘virtual’ league tables are updated to reflect, pointlessly, fluctuating fortunes. (This service may not be entirely reliable: the Oldham v Milton Keynes fixture had apparently not kicked off by 3.11pm. Meanwhile, MK Dons had gone up 0-1 from a penalty.) In the red-ball game, cricket scores are updated ball-by-ball.
Perhaps this is how sport will be ‘consumed’ from now on: live, on television, only for those able to afford the appropriate subscription (or canny enough to find a streaming portal); or verbal/textual, regularly updated and free. If the latter, it’s almost a return to the early days of ‘live’ Ashes Test Match commentaries. In the 1930s, audiences in Australia listened through the night to ‘live’ wireless broadcasts put together ball-by-ball from cables. It’s Teletext all over again. It doesn’t feel like progress. It feels as if supporters of second-class clubs are second-class citizens.

Wrexham

The Arc, a fine piece of public art by David Annand in bronze and stainless steel. The two figures are a miner and a steelworker and the Arc represents the Wrexham area’s industrial heritage.

Towards the end of the 2017/18 season, I planned to have Towns of Two Halves ready for the start of the following season. That timetable presented one significant difficulty: the precise composition of League 2. Although Macclesfield Town looked a good bet to be promoted as champions from the National League, any one of half a dozen other clubs might emerge from the play-offs to join them in League 2. By the time the identity of that successful club was known, the season would be over and there would be no home game for me to attend.

I looked at the National League table and considered journeys to Sutton, Aldershot, Dover and several others. It began to look like a lot of trouble just to preserve the integrity of the project. On the other hand, integrity is not a negligible quality. I made a start. Macclesfield had a home game against Barrow, and on the following day Wrexham played at home to Chester.

In the event luck was with me. Macclesfield duly won the league and Tranmere Rovers drew the winning ticket in the awful post-season lottery – Tranmere was the only ground I’d been to of the six teams involved in the play-offs. The book was duly printed with 92 authentic entries.

“I’d overlooked the possibility that the Wrexham v Chester local derby might require special security measures, among them a ban on ticket sales on the day’

Where Wrexham was concerned my luck was out – as was theirs. Wrexham didn’t even reach the play-offs. I’d also overlooked the possibility that the Wrexham v Chester local derby might require special security measures, among them a ban on ticket sales on the day. At other grounds I’d found ways round that sort of obstacle. For Wrexham against Chester I couldn’t be bothered. I had a look round the town and then went to pay a surprise second visit to the old friend whose hospitality I had enjoyed the previous night.

 

It being Sunday, Wrexham south of the railway station was fairly quiet (north of the station a steady stream headed for the football ground, closely watched by the constabulary). The Wrexham County Borough Museum was closed. If recent testimonials on TripAdvisor are any guide, that was a pity: it seems the museum is small but nicely-formed, and with very acceptable catering. Its collections centre has recently added Welsh football to its specialities.

It being Sunday, St Giles Church was very much open and welcoming. A service was finishing as I arrived and the congregation gathered for coffee and chat at the back of the church. I was mistaken for a parishioner. I was aware from another age that “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”, but the congregation was too generous and warm-hearted to let that stand in their way and I was shown round a church of which everyone was clearly proud.

St Giles dominates the landscape and is the largest medieval parish church in Wales. Size tends to draw the eye upward, and the angels in the roof of the nave may be the first remarkable feature you’ll notice. There are 16 of them, deployed like a mobile or some sort of dream-catcher, playing instruments or, so it is said, singing.

Above the chancel arch at the eastern end of the nave is another St Giles Special – an early 16th century wall-painting of the Day of Judgement, with souls rising from their coffins to present themselves to Christ, attended by the Virgin Mary and St John. This is called the Doom Painting.

Its position makes it difficult to see clearly. Closer to ground level, its subject is reproduced in another startling piece of art – the Myddleton Memorial, by Louis-François Roubiliac. Roubiliac worked in England and is variously known as a late Baroque or rococo sculptor. His memorial to Mary Myddleton, daughter of the lord of Chirk Castle, dates from the 18th century – Mary died in 1742. Elements of the piece are strictly classical: Mary, struggling to free herself from a shroud, is summoned from her coffin by a cherub with a trumpet. But the coffin is austerely geometric – it looks like a black skip. The device to the right might be an explosion of flames or a member of the lily family; similarly, the angelic brass-player may rest on clouds or smoke. Behind, fractured masonry resolves itself into a squat form of obelisk, providing an unsettling backdrop. You would have to imagine that the grieving father thought it was wonderful; it is, after all, still there.

St Giles has many other points of distinction: stained glass, a pre-Reformation lectern, a chapel for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It is acknowledged to be among Wales’ finest where ecclesiastical architecture is concerned.

And it sounds one more unexpected historical echo. Outside the church, below the tower, is the grave of Elihu Yale. This Yale, though born in Boston in the North American colonies in 1649, was brought up in London and made his fortune (apparently through profiteering) with the East India Company. He returned to Britain in 1699 and retired to a mansion near Wrexham, in the land of his maternal forebears.

One of the things he spent his money on was a college in Connecticut, where money was needed for a new building. The building – and, later, the whole college – became known as Yale.

The verse Elihu Yale prepared for his memorial in Wrexham refers to “much good, some ill, he did”. The “ill” probably refers to an eastern branch of the slave trade in which, according to Wikipedia, Yale was active; then there was his association with Cotton Mather, bane of ‘witches’ in Salem but also a fundraiser for the aforementioned college. The verse goes on to hope that “all’s even, and that his soul thro’ mercy’s gone to Heaven”. Indeed.

In the church you’ll find a Wrexham Town Heritage Trail, which gives a brief history of the town and takes you around its points of interest. It is particularly well done, drawing attention to architectural and historical features. The Wynnstay Arms Hotel, for example, was by turns the home of a Jacobite secret society, a venue for bear-baiting and the birthplace of the Football Association of Wales.

The Heritage Trail includes the outlying Acton Park, former home of the infamous Judge Jeffreys and now a public park with a modern stone circle.

A minute’s walk from the south-western margin of the Heritage Trail’s map is Bellevue Park. This Edwardian park, refurbished for the millennium, is also well worth a look. The statue of Queen Victoria replaced an earlier memorial – a WWI tank – that was sold for scrap.

I did watch one sporting event while I was in Wrexham. The Wrexham Running Festival took place that day, and Martin Green won the marathon in just under 2hrs 39mins. The first woman home was Lindy-Lee Folscher in 3hrs 12mins.

Wrexham 2 Chester 0
Racecourse Ground, 11 March 2018