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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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You’re watching the World Cup from Cumbria – the home of international football...

England may be out of the World Cup, but Cumbria's connections with the tournament go back years. Indeed the first international match was probably played here.

Sift through all the statistics you can find and you will struggle to unearth any Cumbrian links with the 2010 World Cup – apart from the thousands of Cumbrians who cheered on England, of course.

But over the years – over the centuries – this remote corner of the country has had numerous connections with international football.

In fact, Carlisle may have been the site of the world’s first international football match.

This was played in 1568 between English, Scots, French, and possibly other nationalities.

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Carlisle Castle. The game in question was recorded by her guardian, Sir Francis Knollys, who wrote:

“About 20 of her retinue played at football very strongly, nimbly and skilfully, without any foul play offered.”

The game is likely to have been played at Kingmoor, which was then an area of common land.

Mary’s retinue included Scots, English and French, and possibly other men from continental Europe.

In more recent times, several men who have played for Carlisle United – and two Workington Reds players – have represented their countries.

The only man to have played international football while at a Cumbrian club is Eric Welsh. The Carlisle United right winger played four times for Northern Ireland in 1966-67.

Carlisle United legend Ivor Broadis won 14 caps for England while playing for Manchester City and Newcastle. Broadis played in all three of England’s games at the 1954 World Cup, scoring twice in a 4-4 draw with Belgium.

Peter Beardsley launched his professional career at Carlisle and went on to play for England 59 times, including starring roles at two World Cups: Mexico in 1986 and Italy four years later.

The most-capped player ever to wear a Carlisle shirt is currently at the club. Defender Ian Harte made 64 appearances for the Republic of Ireland, including four games in the 2002 World Cup.

And the history books show a former Workington Reds player with World Cup pedigree.

Australian Maxwell ‘Max’ Tolson was a forward who played for Reds between 1965-1967. He was a member of Australia’s 1974 World Cup squad in West Germany.

Reds’ other international is Edwin Holliday. In 1959, while playing for Middlesbrough, Holliday played three times for England. He arrived at Borough Park in 1967 and stayed for two years.

Very few Cumbrians have played international football, and Carlisle United have just released one of them.

Workington-born forward Scott Dobie played six times for Scotland in 2002-03 while a West Bromwich Albion player.

No Carlisle-born player has ever appeared at a World Cup, but two have come agonisingly close.

During the 1960s winger Peter Thompson was a star of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool team. Thompson played 16 times for England.

In 1966 and 1970 he was named in Alf Ramsey’s initial World Cup squads of 28 players, before losing out both times when the final squad was cut to 22.

A similar fate befell another winger, Matt Jansen, eight years ago. Jansen, who was then 24 and playing for Blackburn, had never played for England but was strongly tipped to make Sven Goran Eriksson’s World Cup squad for the tournament in Japan and South Korea.

But at the last minute Eriksson decided to take Arsenal defender Martin Keown instead.

Jansen went on holiday to Italy and suffered head injuries after falling off a moped. The psychological effects stayed with him and his career slowly declined. Eriksson’s snub was the beginning of the end for arguably Cumbria’s most gifted footballer.

When England played Algeria, millions of Scots suddenly discovered an allegiance with their ‘Auld Enemy’s’ African opponents.

There’s nothing new about Scottish football fans not wanting England to do well. This is, after all, the oldest rivalry in international football.

But many feel the dislike is intensifying and that football has become a vehicle for more general anti-English feeling.

There is now an unofficial movement among some Scots known as Anyone But England. Those words started as an answer to the question “Who do you want to win the World Cup?”

T-shirts with ‘Anyone But England’ and the ‘ABE’ slogan have been sold in Scotland.

Many England supporters see it as a sad example of bitterness by fans of an inferior team.

And they tend to find it rather annoying. A good example is the angry reaction to Andy Murray’s comment four years ago when he claimed he would support “anyone but England” at the 2006 World Cup.

Murray claimed he was joking but many English people were not amused.

The ‘ABE’ Scots – and some fans from Wales and Northern Ireland – insist it is a backlash against the perceived arrogance of an English-dominated media.

Hamish Husband has a foot in both camps. Hamish is spokesman for the Association of Tartan Army Clubs – and a Carlisle United supporter.

Hamish, 50, lived in Carlisle between 1971 and 1978, moving to the city when his Glaswegian father began work at Cavaghan & Gray.

Hamish attended Stanwix and Trinity schools, becoming a Carlisle fan and watching many of the club’s matches during their 1974/5 First Division season.

Hamish now lives in Ayr but still follows Carlisle, watching them several times a season.

He denies there is any political dimension to ABE and claims that the vast majority of the Tartan Army have no animosity towards England.

Indeed, a recent poll suggested that while 24 per cent of Scots would support any opponent of England, the same proportion wanted England to win.

“‘Anyone But England’ is a bit of a joke,” says Hamish. “There was always a rivalry between England and Scotland but it’s less intense now because we don’t play each other any more.

“When we have played each other, like at Euro 96 and in the play-off for the European Championships in 1999, the atmosphere was friendly. England’s rivals are Germany, not Scotland.”

Hamish supports England – up to a point. Many of his Scottish friends will always support... anyone but England.

“I’m a Scot – how could I live with England winning the World Cup? One day it will happen and, my God, what will we do when it does?

“I’ve got friends who were desperate to see England lose every match. I’ve got friends who dressed as John Wayne When England played the USA.

“I don’t know how you dress as a Slovenian, but they’ll have had a go. That's part of the fun. 

“Some of these people who would never support England at football go to watch England play cricket, which I think is bizarre.

“But it’s the three lions they don’t like. The national news is hijacked by England. The start of the national news isn’t President Obama and BP, it’s England and the World Cup. They use words like ‘we’ and ‘us’ when it’s not we and us. I’m not convinced English people understand this.”

Hamish certainly feels there’s nothing unusual in a Scotland supporter also following an English team.

“Scotland and Carlisle are my teams. And supporting either isn’t particularly easy.”

Not many Cumbrians have played for England. But many of England’s finest footballers have played on a piece of Cumbria.

Solway turf from Burgh Marsh is prized for its quality and has been used in many prestigious sporting locations, including Wembley Stadium.

Details of when the turf was first used and when it stopped being used are sketchy.

But some things are certain. The new Wembley has been open for three years. Its pitch has already been relaid 10 times. And this much maligned surface was definitely not made in Cumbria.

The earliest reference to a mass participation ball game in England is by William Fitzstephen, a Canterbury monk, who in 1174 described a Shrovetide gathering of apprentices and schoolboys in London for “the famous game of ball”.

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