Can Fresh Breath Of Youth Help United Become “Strong And Sustainable?

Carlisle United

Words by Ross Brewster Photos by Mark Fuller

There’s little doubt that, no matter how much tighter the purse strings have been on playing costs at Carlisle United this season, next season could be even more challenging.

“Strong and sustainable.” No, not another of Theresa May’s political mantras. These are words attributed to the club’s chief executive, Nigel Clibbens, when looking to the future. Clibbens told the annual meeting that losses being made by United in the recent past were “not sustainable” hence the change in financial approach since 2017-18 and the reduction in playing costs.

Money may be tight, but least there won’t be another summer of similar uncertainty to the one Carlisle were precipitated into last time round, following the delayed announcement of manager Keith Curle’s departure, the wait for a successor to be appointed and the consequent impact on player recruitment and pre-season preparation.

With all that, I suspect many United followers feared the worst. In fact what many forecast would be a season of struggle at the danger end of League Two turned into a prolonged flirtation with the play-off places lasting right to the end of the campaign.

But for the decision by John Sheridan to move to Chesterfield, and the loss of a trio of valued loan players in January, all recalled by their parent clubs, who knows what the ultimate outcome of the season might have been.

Whereas Sheridan was a firefighting type of manager, the sort to shake up any complacency in the dressing room, his successor Steven Pressley came in with a more considered approach and immediately had the task of finding new blood to replace players who had just gone. The Sowerby, Nadesan, Yates trio were just clicking, showing their true worth to United and Pressley had mixed results with the batch of new faces he brought in.

Director of Football David Holdsworth, referring to the “turmoil” at this time last year, believes there will be no repeat of that frustration. “This year is different,” he says. “We are aware of where we want to be and everything is in hand.”

Confirmation that Pressley will be at Brunton Park for a further year at least means he can start making plans, working out who among the present playing staff will be staying and who will be going, and putting pre-season training in hand so that United can hit the ground running.

You need to be either a United nerd like me, or have a long memory to link the names of Michael Green and Peter Nicholson with the club, but both were young players who had lengthy Football League careers that started at Carlisle but flourished elsewhere.

Cleator Moor lad Nicholson, captain of Workington schoolboys in the same team with John Burridge and David Irving, both of whom played at the top level, spent a couple of seasons in Carlisle’s reserves, was let go, and played hundreds of games for Bolton between 1971 and 1982. He played one single game for Carlisle at the tail end of his career.

Green was Carlisle’s first apprentice professional back in the sixties. He too had to make it elsewhere, playing over 400 games for clubs in the south west.

One must fervently hope that Liam McCarron and Jarrad Branthwaite, plus the two other youth team players awarded contracts, unlike Green and Nicholson, benefit the club where it started for them. McCarron has already figured in the senior side while Branthwaite has been on the bench and Pressley says of him: “We see a young boy who has big potential.”

The manager is quoted as saying that bringing through United’s young players “Is a pivotal part of how I see this club moving forward.” Holdsworth similarly agrees that the club’s DNA and identity rests to some extent in bringing players forward from the academy.

Think of youth and you think of Delap, Jansen, Dobie, Thorpe, Peacock, Boertein and more recently Potts and Dempsey. But in reality more promising youngsters fall by the wayside for a variety of reasons. If youth is seen as one of the ways to go in future, then Steven Pressley seems enthusiastic to provide opportunity. The young ones may hold one of the important keys to that Nigel Clibbens statement: “We continue to look to the future and build a stronger, more sustainable club.”

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