A United City
The city of Carlisle is home to two football clubs.
However, like Manchester, Carlisle has a United and a City Football Club and today we will be visiting Carlisle’s second team, City, at their Gillford Park ground.
Newcastle to Carlisle is one of those rare things these days, a cheap train journey!
With our train fares costing just £7.90 return for two people, it would be one of the cheaper journeys we make all season.
In fact, our bus fare to Newcastle and back cost us 10p more!
So, let’s get on with it and see how we got on at this fabulous Northern League ground.
Out of bed around 07:00, we were at the bus station in time to catch the 08:13 X1 bus to Newcastle.
Arriving in the Toon around 09:10, we headed for our usual haunt at Greggs and got our breakfast.
From there, a short walk to Newcastle Central train station, arriving in plenty of time for our 09:47 train.
There was industrial action taking place today by several train companies but thankfully, Northern wasn’t one of the companies affected.
A late change of platform later, we boarded the train and set off on what held the potential for a day of sunshine for a change.
Everything went well and we got off the train in Carlisle at 11:20.
Carlisle is a cathedral city in Cumbria, northwest England and is nicknamed the ‘Great Border City’.
It has a population of around 108,000 and lies approximately eight miles to the southeast of the Scottish border.
Its history goes back to the Roman settlement of Britain where it was utilised as a base to serve the forts along Hadrian’s Wall.
It was an important border city for the military for centuries and Carlisle Castle now houses the Border Regiment Museum and the Duke of Lancaster Regiment.
During the Industrial Revolution, Carlisle became a centre of the textile industry as well as being an important railway juncture.
As you leave the train station, the first sight of Carlisle is the station building itself, whilst off to the left is Carlisle Citadel.
Carlisle train station is a grade II listed building that was opened in September of 1847.
The Citadel is an impressive-looking set of buildings which originally served the obvious task of being a city fortress but which later became Carlisle’s courts and a jailhouse until 1992.
The council has submitted plans to the government to turn it into a campus for the University of Cumbria.
As you walk out of Carlisle station and turn right onto Bothchergate, you are spoiled for choice with pubs.
If I said it was a three-minute walk from the station to our first watering hole and we had already passed eleven bars, would you believe me?
Most of these weren’t yet open but we went to the ever-reliable Wetherspoons – of which there were two on Botchergate!
Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States of America.
He served office between 1913 and 1921 and was President during World War One.
His family originated from Carlisle and the man himself visited the city in 1918.
I’m sure he would be delighted to know this all earned him the name of a Wetherspoons pub in Carlisle!
There is rarely anything remarkable about the cut-and-paste style of Wetherspoons pubs. However, due to the opening times and prices, they are usually well-patronised.
We ordered pints of Tennents and Punk IPA for £7.71.
There is little else to say about this place, so we will move on when our pints are supped…
Our next choice was something a bit different and definitely not to everyone’s taste.
Today, we would be in a distinctly ‘East End of Glasgow’ bar, in the heart of Carlisle.
Gallaghers is lined from head to toe with Celtic memorabilia and is definitely a football fan’s establishment.
Unfortunately, the guy who owned it passed away last year but his memory will live on through his family running the pub.
We bought two pints of Fosters which cost £6.91 and took our seats next to the jukebox.
An elderly gentleman was talking to us while he was putting some music on. We had a chat about some of his favourite singers and I think he would have got on well with my mother’s tastes in music.
It was certainly a bit different to my love of heavy metal and punk…
Another little bit of info to know about this place – Celtic captain, Callum McGregor’s dad drinks in here. This is backed up with a signed shirt and photos from the man himself.
A friendly place, although one cretin was giving the barmaid a little grief at one point. Luckily, he left straight afterwards before anyone could escalate the situation.
Time to move on to the next…
Harraby Pub & Kitchen
The Harraby Pub & Kitchen was just over halfway between the station and the ground. It was also the last pub on the route.
This made it an ideal waystation to give my ageing bones a rest before the final section of the two-mile walk.
We bought an Amstel and a Neck Oil IPA from the friendly lady behind the bar and took our seats.
This was by far the most expensive of the three bars and the two drinks cost us £10.45.
A pleasant place but not worth paying the extra for in my humble opinion.
One of the sadly departed Tony Hopper‘s shirts was on one wall and a large television screen was on another.
The Rest of the Way
After finishing our drinks, we set off on the final stage of the walk to Gillford Park.
We turned off London Road into Eastern Way. This led us to a park area where people were walking their dogs. We confirmed we were going the right way by asking one of the dog walkers and carried on along the path.
This brought us onto Petteril Bank Road, named after Carlisle’s River Petteril, which we crossed along this road. The same river runs by Carlisle United’s Brunton Park, two and a half miles to the north.
Once across the river, we turned right along a small road, just before the railway arch.
This led directly to Gillford Park and the first seat of the day didn’t look too enticing…
Take no notice of the Matchday Parking sign either. Keep following the road to get to the club car park.
Maybe this place is opened up for games that are expected to be busier, I’m not sure.
Carlisle City – Gillford Park
Entry into Gillford Park is via the turnstile in the southwest corner of the ground.
A very reasonable £5.00 per person and cash or card is accepted.
Our card was giving us problems today. First, it had rejected payment in the Woodrow Wilson, saying we had reached our daily limit on contactless payments for the day.
Strange, I certainly didn’t eat THAT much for breakfast!
Even stranger when the same card was accepted in Gallaghers straight afterwards.
Now it chose to play up again and it caused considerable problems for the young girl on the gate…
If we had been at a busy game, there would have been a lot of catcalling by the time we got in. Luckily, the two gentlemen behind us were very patient while we sorted it out and eventually, went inside.
Programmes are also sold at the gate.
Carlisle City produces a twenty-four-page matte paper programme with a full-colour front and back cover.
It costs just £1.00 and is a fantastic effort that raises a middle finger to all the bigger clubs who don’t bother with a programme – well done City!
The turnstile brings you out in the southwest corner, to the right of the main stand.
To keep things simple, we will call the end behind the goal, the west end.
We started our tour by heading to our right.
The south side of Gillford Park contains a seated stand that bridges the halfway line and covers about two-fifths of the pitch’s length.
It is a fully covered stand with a low roof and support pillars that impair the view from the seats.
It is a nice-looking stand though and there is also a partial standing area on the left-hand side of it.
The technical dugouts sit immediately in front of this stand and further block the view of the action.
By my rudimentary calculations, the stand seats 336 people.
The east end of the ground is basically just a path to other parts of the ground, although you can stand here should you wish to.
The wall behind the goals is painted in club colours which immediately gives it a better look.
To the north side is a long, shallow, roofed terrace that stretches from the western end of the pitch to halfway into the eastern half.
The terrace consists of four steps or levels, plus the path that runs around the ground.
Despite just being a set of painted girders and a tin roof and back, it again gives the ground character.
It will offer a very welcome source of refuge on wet days for those who like to stand.
Back at the western end where we came in is the main stand at Gillford Park.
Despite being behind the goal, this is where the players’ tunnel and dressing rooms are located.
It is a fully seated and covered stand that can accommodate around 196 people.
Behind the seating is a glazed area. This is where the club bar and offices are located.
Gillford Park has a total capacity of 3,000.
The playing surface is of natural grass and there are six floodlights, three on each side.
In my search for a pin badge, I was told they ‘may be on sale in the club bar’.
This is located upstairs in the west stand.
We climbed the stairs, where several pieces of club memorabilia and trophies were mounted on the walls.
In the bar itself are several chairs and tables and a fabulous view of the pitch.
I suspect a number of people may have just stayed in here to watch the action with a pint or two.
I asked at the small serving hatch in the far wall about badges and was told they didn’t have any in stock.
Hopefully, I will be able to get one sent to me or scour eBay for one.
Pie? Yes, Please!
Back at the turnstiles, there is a snack bar selling hot food.
Don’t let appearances deceive you, this rickety old van churns out some of the best footy pies in the business.
We both took the ‘chicken and gravy’ option.
When I bit into it, I was convinced he had mistakenly given us a steak pie, as the inside was the same colour as that.
It was indeed chicken, though. Chicken in a rich, peppery gravy that was just lovely.
If you visit Gillford Park in the future, do yourself a favour and give this rickety old, paint-peeled snack bar a visit.
Your taste buds will thank you for it.
Carlisle City – Gillford Park Gallery
Carlisle City Tidbits
The Sky Blues of Carlisle City were founded in 1975.
They were formed by two ex-Carlisle United players (George Walker and Ron Thompson) who were keen to give local lads a place to play football.
The Sky Blues originally played in the Northern Alliance League, leaving that league in 1988 after finishing bottom. City subsequently joined the Northern Combination, though the following season, this league merged back into the Northern Alliance, with Carlisle placed in Division One.
Promotion to the Premier Division was secured after clinching the Division One title in 1991/92.
City finished as runners-up on five separate occasions. Ironically, they were promoted to the North West Counties League after finishing third in 2015/16.
This was due to their acquisition of Gillford Park in 2015.
They purchased the ground from its former tenants, Celtic Nation after they had resigned from the Northern League with financial difficulties.
City won promotion to its current position in the Northern Football League Division One after winning the Division Two title in the 2021/22 season.
The club’s record gate, not surprisingly, came when they faced off against city neighbours, United.
This was back in July 2017 when 708 spectators were in attendance at Gillford Park.
Carlisle City – Pre-Game View of Gillford Park
Carlisle City v Newcastle Benfield – The Game
Remarkably, given the recent weather, City has managed to play five league games in January.
With most of the Northern League having postponements due to frozen and or waterlogged pitches, that’s quite an achievement.
They won all three of those home games against West Allotment Celtic (5-3), Heaton Stannington (1-0) and most recently, Tow Law Town (3-1) on the 30th.
Excellent form, which has seen them rise to the top six in the division.
Visitors, Newcastle Benfield have been more in keeping with the rest of the Northern League, playing just twice in January.
On the 12th, they had a fine 2-1 win at North Shields, before losing 3-0 at Whickham on the 26th.
They currently occupy thirteenth place in the league.
With all this in mind, my pre-match prediction was for a 2-1 home win.
The home side got proceedings underway.
Romeo Jack, on loan from neighbours, Carlisle United made his debut for City.
A closeness exists between the two Carlisle clubs and it makes a lot of sense to blood some of the younger United players in men’s football at Gillford Park.
The first half was largely full of endeavour but there was little in the way of skill.
Both sides were kicking it long and hopeful far too often, as the below video highlights.
The one real moment of skill in the first period led to the game’s first goal.
Fantastic wing play by Callum Birdsall saw him put in a fabulous cross that was headed home by Rob McCartney at close range.
Superb stuff, deserving of a goal.
Goal – 1-0 Carlisle City!
Half Time – Carlisle City 1 Newcastle Benfield 0
Time for the dreaded phone check…
A 5-0 defeat, even to the league leaders is just not good enough and Steven Schumacher has a real fight on his hands if he is to turn the Potters into a contender next season.
As of right now, he has a battle on his hands just keeping them in the Championship.
This is one of the reasons I’m happier to be Hopping on a Saturday.
As a neutral, the result can’t spoil your day and my deepest sympathies go to those loyal Stokies who have gone home and away every week for the last six years or so.
The second half started with a bang with two goals in two minutes.
In the 51st minute, another headed goal for City by Jack Dickinson made it 2-0.
Goal – 2-0 Carlisle City!
Benfield quickly replied as Jay Errington made it 2-1 a minute later. Already this promised to be a much better half of football.
Benfield Goal – 2-1!
There followed a period of drama in the 70th minute that culminated in two red cards and a 75th-minute penalty for Carlisle.
I managed to capture most of the drama in the following video although I’m not sure what started it on the touchline near the benches.
Drop a comment if you know what it was all about.
Goal for Carlisle City 3-1!
Benfield were now down 3-1 and reduced to ten men with a member of the coaching staff behind the fence. He was now a good one foot further back than before his red card.
One further action of note again involved Birdsall.
A tremendous volleyed shot from just inside the box was matched only by the save from Benfield’s ‘keeper, Andrew Grainger.
Fantastic football from both players.
For that shot and the fantastic cross that led to the opening goal, my Man of the Match award goes to Callum Birdsall of Carlisle City.
Full-Time – Carlisle City 3 v Newcastle Benfield 1
Attendance – 130
Entrance Fee – £5.00
Programme – £1.00
You can read a more detailed Match Report here, if and when one becomes available.
Carlisle City v Newcastle Benfield – Match Highlights
Next up for the Sky Blues is another home game, against Whitley Bay on February 6th.
They follow this up with a trip to Shildon‘s Dean Street on the 10th before returning home to face North Shields on the 13th.
They will be looking to continue their rise up the table but should find it tricky with these three fixtures.
Newcastle Benfield face another tricky away trip on the 6th, as they travel to third-placed West Auckland.
This is followed by two home games at Sam Smith’s Park.
First, Whitley Bay visit on the 10th, followed by Sunderland RCA on the 13th.
Carlisle City – Thoughts
What a fantastic little ground Gillford Park is!
This is one I would thoroughly recommend to any Hopper out there who hasn’t been yet.
A ground that is full of character and friendly locals. A less friendly crowd might easily have had something to say to the young Benfield fans who were quite obnoxious at times during the game.
I have nothing against young kids calling themselves ultras and following their local team. We sat next to a bunch of them at The Spartans last week (Hopper Tales #92) and they were fine.
We are talking about a group of six kids around eleven years of age (estimated) who were letting out a string of abuse and foul language. Not to mention intimidating Carlisle City’s four youngsters with a drum behind the goal after Carlisle’s penalty goal.
I would like to see Benfield as a club, have a word with them and thank them for their support but remind them that the Northern League is a friendly place to watch football.
It costs a fiver to get in, a printed programme is available for just one pound and the pies are fantastic.
What more could you ask for from a club?
My biggest gripe would probably be the road on the way out of the ground. (See ‘After the Game’.)
If there is any way to improve the safety of pedestrians, then it should probably be discussed and actioned if possible.
All in all, a fantastic little club and I would urge Carlisle United supporters to get behind the city’s ‘other’ team when they aren’t watching United.
Oh! Maybe a lick of paint for the snack bar… 😉
Carlisle – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we made our way out of the ground.
On the way here, the road hadn’t been a problem but with everyone leaving, traffic and pedestrians were all on the same narrow road with no footpath.
We tried walking on the grass at the side to make way for cars but after Mrs Hopper nearly turned her ankle, we went back down to the road.
It feels like there should be a way to make this safer for everyone.
I’m not sure if the road is private or public. If it is public, maybe the council would agree to fund it in the interests of public safety.
If it’s a private road, could funds be found to alleviate the danger by all parties?
I’m not sure but we found our way safely back to Petteril Bank Road and turned right, under the rail bridge.
After the bridge, the road changed its name to St. Ninians Road. We carried on to where this became a T-junction, crossed over and took the adjacent right turn into Lamb Street.
Following this to its end leads to Scalegate Road. We turned left into Scalegate and the bus stop was just along here.
The #67 bus arrived on schedule at 17:12 and deposited us at the railway station at 17:25.
The train back to Newcastle pulled into Platform 5 at 17:45 and departed eight minutes later.
A quiet journey back where much of it was spent sleeping got us back into the Toon at 19:17.
As we crossed the River Tyne, the train briefly halted on the bridge, allowing my camera’s night vision to take this photo.
We walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus home.
North Americans United
We boarded the bus at 19:35 and were greeted with “Someone has just been sick at the back of the bus, so you might be better upstairs. I like your hat by the way.”
I was wearing my old Washington Redskins hat, from before the team’s name change.
Ah! Newcastle on a Saturday night.
We got into our town about an hour later. As we got off, Mrs Hopper realised she had dropped her gloves upstairs and asked if the driver minded while she went to get them.
He didn’t and instead asked about my wife’s accent. He was happy to hear a fellow North American twang again and it turned out the driver was from Vancouver, Canada.
A very nice man and I hope we run into him again at some point.
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
Next week, we will once again be voyaging into Scotland.
This time we will be heading for West Scotland, for Dumbarton’s ‘The Rock’ stadium.
Forfar Athletic will be the visitors on the day. The last time we saw Forfar, they were also the visitors for Stirling Albion’s promotion party the previous season – Hopper Tales #69.
Dumbarton’s ground has a very scenic look about it when seen from the right angle.
I hope I manage to do it justice, as I fancy the best angle may be obtained with a drone…
Looking forward to this one – Onto the next!