How everyone can do their bit to get Carlisle United up to an Elite level
Last updated at 16:24, Tuesday, 22 January 2013
With another home game up ahead, and the debate starting again on how Carlisle United can reconnect with its public, three men are here with an idea. Its principle is beautifully simple.
“In any town or city, not just Carlisle, the main sports club carries so much weight,” says Peter Scholes, one of the brains behind ‘Cumbrians Elite’.
“You would know nothing about Rotherham, or Plymouth, unless Rotherham United or Plymouth Argyle were there. The club is the hub.”
That last line is not trotted out as a catchphrase but as a way of explaining this new business scheme of theirs, whose big aim is to bring United much closer to its community.
In this season of uncertainty, which has seen some of Carlisle’s fanbase lose a little faith, here we have a plan to make the Blues relevant to more people than appears the case, right now.
Not just in Carlisle, the three chaps are keen to add. United, as the area’s only professional club, should be a reference point for the entire county. Loyalty, though tested, still runs deep, they argue. Evidence: the thousands who turn out whenever the Blues reach a cup final, like the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Further evidence: the disconnected many who still log on to fans’ websites, sift through the internet and leaf through the papers to satisfy an inner hunger for info on the goings-on at Brunton Park.
The holy grail is to make more people, businesses and schools link themselves to United on a stronger emotional (and, as a result, financial) level. The results, say Peter and his accomplices, Grant Templeton and Chris Donoghue, will benefit the club in several ways.
The big idea, appropriately for 2013, is a website: a social network called Cumbrians Elite, which asks local people to form teams and join an online game, where United and local firms donate prizes. Surrounding this basic concept will be forums where schools can share information, businesses can promote their wares and fans can feed ideas and grumbles into a sort of massive talking shop, where the club – who are officially backing the scheme – will be listening.
The latter point is the key, say Peter, Grant and Chris. “To start with, when we spoke to the club, they had lots of questions and didn’t understand parts of it,” says 34-year-old Grant. “That was our fault, because we weren’t necessarily adept at getting across what it was. Plus, it wasn’t their most pressing issue.
“Since then we have been able to narrow it down to bullet points and when we met [managing director] John Nixon again, he was very supportive of it. The club have been really helpful and enthusiastic.”
The “bullet points” are summarised thus: One, the club benefits from advertising income that Cumbrians Elite generates. Two, subscriptions to the game, at £5 a year, along with planned social events, offer another income stream. And three, the opening up of a forum enables fans to speak their minds, and pass on ideas to the club on all issues, from ticket ideas, the club shop, marketing plans, the lot.
“This reaching out to the community aspect is something we can do that the club can’t,” says Peter, an Accrington-based teacher who hails from the Great Border City. “The club would love to ask all these questions of fans if they had the resources and time.
“And they have admitted that there are so many shops and business out there that are off the radar. A club this size won’t have the amount of staff needed to continuously go and engage every part of the community. This gives them the chance to do that.”
In this campaign of dwindling crowds and disappointment at much of United’s output in 2012/13, which is also a time of recession, it feels natural to ask whether the appetite will be out there to make one website a big tool for change.
Apathy, which also stalks struggling football clubs, is another mighty foe, but Peter, Grant and Chris believe that argument is too basic. “Apathy tends to come from one fan wondering how he does something that benefits the club,” Grant says. “Unless it’s a grand gesture, there isn’t normally much of a way to do that. But everyone can play their part in this.”
“These days clubs have got to fight harder,” adds Peter, Grant’s cousin. “On a Saturday there are a million and one things people can do. You are competing with football on the telly, just for starters. Clubs have got to market themselves as much as possible. It’s about creating a voice that goes both ways, from the fans to the club and vice-versa.
“Going back a while, I’ve had conversations with Andy Hall [United’s media officer] and he spoke generally about what we can do to get more people involved with the football club. You get the same people coming each week, but what can we do to reach out?
“You know the potential is there. You get the 30,000 at Wembley, the people who read the paper and check the television. Lots of people have got an interest but not everybody comes down to the game.
“So we went away and tried to produce something that would be of benefit not just to those people but the wider community. Those with no interest in football whatsoever can still benefit through a membership card scheme, get discounts on shops and businesses, who will still be supporting the club.”
The c-word keeps leaping at you. Community. In a time when we all -seem more separate than ever, is this idea of a big tent covering Cumbria’s businesses and sports fans not a little unrealistic?
“I don’t know whether it’s right to say the sense of community isn’t as strong as it used to be,” counters Grant, another Carlisle-bred man who now lives in Washington, County Durham. “It’s just markedly different.
“In days gone by, your community was anybody who lived on your street, who you bumped into day-by-day. Now your own network of friends and family don’t stay in any one place any more.
“It is more spread out. The way you communicate with people has changed. But the community is still there.”
Anyone who has ‘Skyped’ or ‘Facebooked’ a distant relative and chatted about the fortunes of the Blues will recognise that argument. Pushing home the theme, Peter adds: “People generally come together in two ways; in times of adversity and times of success. You think of the time when the trust formed, with the club on its bottom, and the time the Sands Centre was full of people who came to rally around an idea.
“At the moment things are a bit of a struggle, not just as a club but as a community, with the recession biting. If people come and play their part with this, it’s something that could save them a few pounds with their day-to-day lives, and also help the club.”
“Without sounding parochial,” Grant continues. “It’s about keeping everything together. Something to rally around, with the club as a community focus.”
A similar concept at Accrington Stanley, Peter claims, has attracted more than a thousand members and even simple ideas like social nights and inter-school quizzes, hosted by the club, have boosted their precarious bottom line.
Its success here, like any new business, naturally depends on whether people can be sold on the idea.
Peter and his colleagues have been pushing it with posts on the CUFC Online messageboard, with leaflets and on United’s official website, and would like to spread the message further and wider.
“There is no risk to the club, no cost to Carlisle United,” stresses Peter. “Any money that has had to be paid out to set this up came from ourselves.
“We will go out of our way to bring people into it, to talk to shops and businesses and schools. Hopefully they will see it as what Carlisle United are trying to do for them, not the three of us sat here.
“The club have been kind enough to lend us their support. If we are perceived as being affiliated to them, we have that responsibility to do a good job, to build goodwill, not to do anything that would harm it.
“There are no pre-conceptions in mind. We just want to make the idea work here and make a success of it, for ourselves and the club, financially. Anyone who wants to come and get involved, or help us, is more than welcome.
“We have been given the tools and the opportunity here, and to see a big involvement of the club in the community would be perfect.”
First published at 16:21, Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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