Nearly Thirty-Seven Years
Nearly thirty-seven years… that’s how long ago it’s been since my first and only previous visit to Brunton Park. It was a wet and windy day for a clash between Carlisle United and Stoke City, in front of a paltry crowd of 2,813.
The previous year had seen Stoke City relegated from the old First Division (now the Premier League) with a then-record-low number of points. In fact, Stoke broke almost all the wrong records that season with the fewest goals scored (24), fewest wins (3) and lowest points tally (17). We also conceded a whopping 91 goals!
Thank goodness for that 2007/08 Derby County team for taking that points record from us!
Carlisle, on the other hand, had been enjoying a purple patch and were in the second tier of English football and playing some decent stuff. Unfortunately, that’s how it played out on the day, too, with the home side winning 3-0 and we Stoke fans doing the conga while the rain leaked on us through the roof above.
That season would see Carlisle, unfortunately, relegated to the third tier, while Stoke finished in tenth position.
So, fast forward thirty-seven years and it was time to make that journey again.
Carlisle United – Journey and Pre-Game
We caught a bus to Newcastle at 08:39, arriving in the Toon at about 09:30. This left us plenty of time to grab some breakfast before our train at 10:23.
This week we chose to bother Mr McDonald for one of his wonderful bacon and egg McBaps and a McHash Brown (did I get those names right?) and very nice they were too!
Our train arrived on time and the journey went smoothly. I don’t often get to say that about public transport journies of late, so I will enjoy it while I can.
As you leave the train station, the first sights of Carlisle are the station building itself and off to the left is the Carlisle Citadel.
The train station is a grade II listed building and 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 the city’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.
Having asked on Twitter if anyone could recommend a good place for a pub lunch, we were given two alternatives that both sounded good. The Thin White Duke, which is closer to the station and The Beehive, which is on Warwick Road opposite the stadium.
If the Thin White Duke had been on the way to the ground, we would have gone there, as it is a better place for food. As it was off on the roads up behind the citadel, we chose to head to The Beehive instead.
Not because there was anything wrong with The Beehive, but rather the opposite. It was so popular that all the tables were reserved and there was nowhere to sit or stand comfortably. We had a pint of Madri apiece and decided to head to the ground instead and see if there was anything to eat at the fan zone.
I would definitely recommend booking a table ahead of time if you are heading to The Beehive on a match day. Alternatively, head to The Thin White Duke before you set off for the stadium.
A special mention and thank you to the Carlisle United Supporter Liaison Officer on Twitter. He went out of his way to message us and see if we needed any info for our trip and to offer us any help we needed. Thank you, pal.
Stadium – Exterior
We reached Brunton Park and the first thing that greets you is a statue and the club shop.
We went into the club shop and purchased a programme. There are programme seller stalls around the stadium too. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t stock any club crest pin badges, so I have ordered one off eBay to keep my collection going strong.
Walking down to the left of the club shop brings you to the corner where the Warwick Road End meets the main stand. Carrying on around the corner will bring you to the fan zone. This consists of what looks like a converted shipping container that has been sprayed blue and turned into a bar. There are plenty of picnic tables and a ‘Chippie Van’ and this looks like it would be a fantastic place to mingle on a warm sunny day before the game.
This wasn’t a warm, sunny day! (Although there was a little sun.)
We decided to wander around the ground and take some photos before going back to the fan zone for food.
Carlisle United – Outside the Stadium
Having walked around Brunton Park, our minds returned to finding somewhere to get a drink and some food. The obvious answer was the fan zone but with a chill in the air, it didn’t seem as welcoming as Murphy’s Bar. This is an area of the Main Stand accessed by a door leading to some stairs.
I have no idea if this was a member’s area or public access but we went in anyway and there was nobody saying we couldn’t… so we did.
Recently refurbished and renamed, the Sporting Inn became Murphy’s Bar in March of 2022 and was opened by the man himself, Peter Murphy. Murphy is currently the manager of Annan Athletic in Scotland’s League Two but served Carlisle with distinction between 2001 and 2013.
Fans donated memorabilia and these decorate the walls of the bar.
There is also a plaque on the wall from a name some of you may recognise, the Fitba Nomad Club of the Year award for 2019/20. You can read this fellow groundhoppers’ article about why he was so impressed with Carlisle that he chose them as his club of the year here. (After you’ve finished this article, obviously!)
At this point, Mrs Hopper went and fetched us a tray of sausage and chips each from The Chippie Van in the fan zone to go with our pints of Murphy’s. The chips were good and the sausage was huge.
Football, Murphy’s, chips and sausage… who says I don’t know how to look after a lady!?
Carlisle United – The Stadium
With time cracking on and our bellies full, we headed for the turnstiles and the stadium’s interior.
We bought our tickets using Carlisle’s ticketing website and had them sent to us via post. They cost £18.00 each plus an extra 85p for postage.
We entered via the turnstiles at the corner of the ground opposite the Warwick Road End. The tickets couldn’t be scanned because the internet signal at Brunton Park was out of order. This meant our tickets were just glanced at by stewards before waving us in.
Once inside, this was our first glimpse of Brunton Park, a wonderful-looking old-school ground.
The Petteril End or Waterworks End
To our left is an open terrace known as The Petteril End or Waterworks End. It has a capacity of 3,000 and is commonly left unused unless an exceptionally large crowd is expected. The small electronic scoreboard is located at this end of the ground as well as one of Brunton Park’s unique floodlights.
West Stand and Paddock
Our tickets were for the paddock, which is a terrace running along the length of the pitch under the Main Stand, AKA the West Stand. This side of the ground is the focal point of the club and houses the offices, hospitality, dressing rooms and players’ tunnel etc.
The seating area is covered with a roof but the paddock below is mostly open to the elements, of which, Carlisle sees plenty…
The seating above the Paddock is a higgledy-piggledy jumble of three separate structures joined together. The largest section is the Main Stand and there are smaller roofed sections on either side of it. All three segments have their own separate roof giving the stand as a whole, a disjointed, yet not unpleasant, look.
The coaching dugouts and technical areas are located in front of the Paddock.
Combined, the West Stand and Paddock have a capacity of 9,000.
East Stand or Pioneer Foods Stand
The East Stand lies directly opposite the Main Stand/Paddock and is a replacement for that big side terrace I mentioned earlier. Remember, the roof that leaked and the conga-dancing Stoke fans…
It’s hardly new, as it was opened in 1996 but that was ten years after my last visit, so I’m claiming it’s new!
With a capacity of 7,000, this stand usually houses the away fans in the section nearest the Peteril End and segregation is a mixture of a gate in the concourse and netting over the seats. When a large crowd is expected, visiting fans are moved to the open terracing of the Peteril End.
One oddity about this stand is that it seems to be out of kilter with the pitch. This is because the stand was erected with the intention of moving the playing surface twenty yards further north so that a new stand could be erected at the Warwick Road End.
Personally (and don’t shoot me for this Carlisle fans) I would have done it the other way around and built a new stand at the Peteril End, to preserve the wonderfully unique Warwick Road End. Either way, the new stand never got built, leaving the East Stand looking odd and… wrong, for want of a better word.
Warwick Road End
The Warwick Road end is a covered terrace used by home fans. It has a capacity of 8,500 and is the area where Carlisle’s more vocal fans tend to congregate. It has three very distinctive triangles in the roof that covers it and looks far more photographic from inside the ground than the austere-looking exterior.
A special mention for Carlisle’s floodlights, too. There may only be three of them (I presume one was lost during the construction of the East Stand? Leave a comment below Carlisle fans if you can confirm that.) but they are unlike any others I have seen at football grounds.
Carlisle United – Stadium Gallery
Carlisle United – Pre-Game Video of Brunton Park
Carlisle United v Newport County – The Game
Partick Thistle Fans
One thing that made today’s fixture a little different was the addition of a number of Partick Thistle fans at the game. Their Championship match at Dens Park against fellow promotion contenders Dundee had been called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
So, with a group of fans ready to travel and no match to go to, what do you do? “I know! Let’s travel down to Carlisle and support the Welsh team against the English team!”
Sounds like a great idea and that’s what they did and fair play to them. I’m sure some good friendships were made in the away end between the Jags fans and the South Wales folk. They also added to the vocals coming from the away end, which always helps a game and let’s be honest, this first half we were about to watch needed all the help it could get!
Coming into this game, Carlisle were in fourth position in League Two with 39 points from their twenty-four games played. They have two wins, two losses and a draw in their last five matches.
Their Welsh opponents, Newport County, meanwhile, lay in eighteenth position with one loss and an amazing four consecutive draws in their last five matches.
The home side got proceedings underway in the blustery conditions and it was a half of football that is best put quickly behind us.
One of our Twitter followers let me know that he had said to someone in the toilets that the game was “pretty boring so far” to which he received the reply “it’s not as good as that”.
I have to agree and I’m just going to say Newport were the better of the two teams in that period and had a couple of half-decent chances to take the lead. The best of these was a shot from a narrow-angle that was beaten away at the near post by the home keeper, Tomáš Holý.
However, we will fast forward to injury time of the first half and a scrappy goal that was the highlight of the first forty-five minutes. It fell to the home side as time was ticking out in this half’s dying gasps.
In fact, it was Carlisle’s first shot at goal!
The ball was sprayed out to the right flank, where Jordan Gibson latched onto it. He took the ball to the edge of the penalty area and put it low into the mixer. There followed a couple of half-hearted attempts to clear the ball before some poor defending saw it first kicked backwards up in the air and then headed backwards again, straight to the feet of Carlisle’s Kristian Dennis.
Dennis caught the ball on the volley and sent it to the back post where it bobbled off the inside of the upright and into the net. His fifteenth goal of the season for The Blues.
A scrappy goal, to end a scrappy but hard-fought half.
Half-time – Carlisle United 1 Newport County 0
The half-time interval saw a lottery draw for a £560 prize and a crossbar challenge taking place on the pitch. From memory, there were five people taking part in the challenge and two of them managed to hit the bar with a maximum of two attempts each.
I’d like to say I won the prize draw, but I didn’t buy a ticket, so it would be a lie if I said I did…
The Second Half
With the teams back out for the second period, we could only hope that the players would serve up a little more entertainment than the first half.
They did! I don’t think this match will ever be labelled as a classic, or one that will stay in the minds of fans for a long time but it did get better in the second half.
There was a half chance for both sides early on in the half with the first falling to Newport as a cross-cum-shot from a free-kick was dealt with by Holý.
Carlisle were next up as an inswinging corner from Owen Moxon was met by Paul Huntington and kept out well by Joseph Day in The Exiles’ goal after taking a deflection off a Newport player. Huntington made an appeal for a penalty after suggesting the ball had hit the defender’s arm but the official waved play on.
During the week, I noticed Carlisle had signed a promising youngster from Crystal Palace and it was he who put this game to bed with a nicely taken goal in front of the Warwick Road End.
John-Kymani Gordon is a 19-year-old forward who has been sent out to Carlisle to gain some first-team experience and as debuts go, a man-of-the-match performance and a goal is a great way to start that learning journey.
A long ball hoofed up the pitch by Joel Senior was again poorly dealt with by Newport’s defence. The header went straight up in the air and fell to the feet of the first goalscorer, Dennis. He played the ball to his forward partner, Gordon, who took the ball towards the goal from the mid-point of the County half.
As he got to the edge of the area, he dropped a shoulder and pushed it to the left to create some shooting space and put the ball past Day, low into the centre of the goal. The goalkeeper will be disappointed not to have had that covered when he looks back on it but it was a nice finish by Gordon nonetheless.
He ran to the joyful Blues fans on the Warwick Road terrace who were quick to come down and celebrate with their new hero.
Cameron Norman almost got a goal back for Newport after flicking the ball between two defenders. He rushed his shot at goal though and it ended up being kicked way over the bar and out of the ground at The Peteril End.
Both sides had further chances to score, the best of which saw the woodwork rattled at both ends.
First, Carlisle’s Jordan Gibson received the ball on the left of centre, outside the box. From here he cut back onto his right foot before unleashing a shot from 25 yards that hit the base of the far post before being cleared by the visitors’ defence.
Next, it was Newport’s turn to go close with a cross from the right-hand side of the pitch by Aaron Lewis. This was met by the head of Adam Lewis at the far corner of the six-yard area. He headed it back across the goal and was unlucky to see his effort bounce off the back stick and cleared by Carlisle.
All-in-all, this was a much-improved half of football and there could easily have been more goals by the end. Carlisle will be more than happy with this result though and it keeps them on the brink of the automatic promotion spots in League Two. The mood at Brunton Park seems to be one of intent and when you win a game playing ‘not your best’ football, that is a good sign for the Blues’ support.
For Newport, they will look back on a first half where they failed to capitalise on their dominance and a second half where they again had chances to score but couldn’t put the ball in the net. They won’t be the only team heading to Brunton Park and coming away with nothing in the remainder of the season and they should take away the positives from this performance.
You can read a full Match Report here taken from the Carlisle United website.
Full-time – Carlisle United 2 Newport County 0
Attendance – 5,603 (168 Newport County/Partick Thistle fans)
Entrance Fee – £18.00
Programme – £3.00
Next up for Carlisle United is a tough away trip to Bradford City, managed by ex-Stoke City boss, Mark Hughes. That will take place at Valley Parade on Saturday, January 21st.
Meanwhile, Newport County will play a home game against AFC Wimbledon at Rodney Parade on the same day.
Carlisle United – Match Highlights
Carlisle United – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we made our way out of Brunton Park and with the nearly one-mile walk to the station ahead of us and our train due at 17:25, we didn’t hang about.
We arrived at the station with nearly ten minutes to spare and our train was already at the station. We got on board and made ourselves comfortable. So comfortable that we were both snoozing by the time we reached Haltwhistle and a few heavy Zzzz’s ‘may’ have been exchanged between myself and Mrs Hopper.
We arrived back in Newcastle around 18:45 and caught our bus home at 19:10, arriving in our home town around 20:00.
All in all, a good day for travel and with no more strikes currently called, let’s hope we can start putting it all behind us and move on with an improved service.
Next week should be a good test of that as we are travelling back down to the Midlands to see my family. This gives me a good opportunity to check out Pride Park, the ‘new’ home of Derby County.
Incidentally, this ties in nicely with Saturday’s game as Carlisle’s manager, Paul Simpson is an old Derby favourite, having spent five seasons at the club between 1992 and 1997.
I have been to their old Baseball Ground on many occasions and it was a ‘proper’ football ground with great noise generated from the Popside terrace. Has that noise carried on to Pride Park? We will find out on Saturday…
Onto the next!