An exclusive extract from Bolts From The Blues, a new book featuring interviews with the scorers of memorable Carlisle United goals.

"The memory’s not what it should be, but we’ll do our best,” said Graham “Tot” Winstanley, before confounding that statement with a long and vivid morning’s reminiscence on what, if we are honest, is the result from Carlisle United’s history which will always look the most outrageous on the page.

There is no need to dress up AS Roma 2 Carlisle United 3, since it is a scoreline that sparkles in all conditions. Winstanley’s status as the man who shot the Blues’ third goal in the august Olympic Stadium is also unrivalled: in order to emulate it, it is probably necessary to find a computer game in which a pixellated United can go up against the giants of the Champions League and Serie A.

In real life? Not without some implausible conspiracy of future events and, until then, Winstanley will stand alone as the man, the one man, who got the winner for Carlisle in Rome. “Aye, it has to be the highlight from a goals point of view,” he said. “I didn’t score a great lot, but then again I wasn’t supposed to. I got a few own goals, mind you. Let’s not forget that. I think one day I was on a hat-trick. I never got it thanks to [goalkeeper] Allan Ross, but on another day…”

It was a light-hearted diversion from a path which only a select few at United have trodden. Their away-game adventures in the Anglo-Italian Cup were attended by about a dozen dogged travelling supporters, a one-man reporting contingent and a cluster of Blues players and staff who were participating in a short and not-to-be-repeated summer of continental football.

The competition, an end-of-season notion developed by the Italian football fixer and agent Gigi Peronace, was launched in 1970 and entered two years later by a Blues team in the latest stage of their ascent. Winstanley, a north-easterner, had joined Carlisle from Newcastle United in 1969 as they gradually evolved their defensive line, and he was a fixture in an entertaining side who secured a mid-table Second Division finish in 1971/2.

Their preparations for Italy in early summer were pockmarked by off-field turmoil, because Ian MacFarlane, Bob Stokoe’s flamboyant successor, was sacked by the board. Eventually Alan Ashman returned as manager, but trainer Dick Young took charge in the interim as United headed optimistically into European competition.

News and Star: The United travelling party bound for Italy in the summer of 1972, where they faced Roma and Catanzaro in the Anglo-Italian CupThe United travelling party bound for Italy in the summer of 1972, where they faced Roma and Catanzaro in the Anglo-Italian Cup

The Stadio Olimpico had hosted the 1960 Olympic Games, so the Anglo-Italian Cup was a lesser affair for the arena – but it still presented stimulating opportunities for the Blues, whose application to play in the tournament had been the last from England to be accepted.

“People were saying it was a Mickey Mouse competition, but we didn’t look at it that way,” Winstanley said. “For us it was just another game. We were at Roma, we arrived there without getting too wobbly-kneed about it, and we knew we’d give them a game.”

Winstanley knew this because Carlisle were capable of the sort of passing football which defied the heavy-hooved English stereotype. They had players such as Stan Bowles, Chris Balderstone, Ray Train, Dennis Martin and John Gorman who would be confident in their cohesion and had grown accustomed to playing on significant stages. They were, despite the group game’s grand setting, there to win.

More than 18,000 supporters turned up for the 9pm kick-off in the fading heat. “It was a reasonable gate, but that amount of people was lost in a stadium that size,” Winstanley said. “It’s the only stadium I played at that had a running track around it, too.

“As part of the build-up, they gave you a handful of sweeties and badges, and then balls to kick into the crowd. That was a bit surreal. In those days you normally got one ball and you didn’t kick it into the crowd because it wouldn’t come back.

“As I remember, there was a fence around the pitch. Well, I was used to sending things over the top, so I just volleyed a few balls in, with a few obscenities for the crowd, to get them gannin’ a bit. Threw a few badges into them with a bit of venom. And why not, like? It was all just part of the build-up.”

An eventful start on the green side of the fences led to Roma’s twice-capped Italy striker Renato Cappellini sandwiching a penalty by Balderstone with two goals. Carlisle, though, continued to proceed with promising invention. At the back, Winstanley saw that they could make their mark against hosts prepared by the decorated Argentinian Helenio Herrera, who had refined the Italian defensive art of catenaccio.

“They were typical Italians – played it about short and sharp,” he said. “They didn’t have big players, but they were strong and quick. They liked playing with their back to you because it’s what they did: keep-ball. If we broke their attacks up, they would just run past you – not put any challenge in, just get back into their formation, which was unusual for us to play against.

News and Star: Tot Winstanley pictured in 1974 (photo: PA)Tot Winstanley pictured in 1974 (photo: PA)

“Having said that, it was tailor-made for us. They got a bit of a shock to the system when they stood off us and saw how well we could use it. We could play and everybody wanted to play. It was preached into you. And, let’s be honest, any time you got the ball, looked up and saw Baldy free, then you just gave him it. Don’t complicate it. Whether two yards away or 20, just give him it. He was then liable to play it into somebody 50 yards away without any problem at all. Left foot, right foot, head it – he could do the lot.

"Don’t underestimate him at all. A lot of people thought he was tough mentally and physically, and I think that came from cricket. He would take the knocks and get on with it. Just a great player. We had other lads with pedigree too. There was no need for us to panic against Roma.”

Dick Young’s decision to rearrange some things in the second half meant that Balderstone moved to the left, Bowles came deeper, Bobby Owen pushed on to the Italian defence and Martin tucked into midfield to accompany Frank Barton. It enabled Martin and Barton to get through effective, unending work in a contest whose pattern was stretched by an experiment with the laws, which ruled that a player could be offside only if he were 18 yards or less from goal.

As the Cumbrians’ confidence grew, Martin equalised in the 78th minute and five minutes later Winstanley found himself in the sort of position that, the more you sit and think of it, seems barely credible for any player even with the slightest pretension of doing something special in a Carlisle jersey.

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He remembered making his way to the far post. “My usual thing,” Winstanley said. “I’ve gone up hoping for a header, not a grass-cutter, but it came to me just inside the box. I suppose nobody else thought I’d be picked out with all the other lads there. Fortunately it came my way and I never thought anything of: ‘What am I going to do with this?’ I didn’t take a touch. I just stepped onto it, got my strike right and hit it. Hard and low, bottom corner, how’s that, pick it out.

“Put that one down to Dick Young’s training. We used to do that every week – everybody joined in the shooting practice, including the nuggets in the back four, so, when it came to you on the match day and it wanted hitting, you would just hit it. Most of the time it would gan wide or over the top, but on this occasion I hit it sweet as a nut.”

Winstanley’s shot past goalkeeper Alberto Ginulfi meant that by the 83rd minute Carlisle were improbably ahead and the Italians, who were seldom on friendly terms with the idea of losing at home, let alone to a little-known team from the north of England, were given cause to darken further before full-time.

“Aye,” Winstanley said, “they got a little bit tetchy when Stan Bowles started keeping the ball up on the halfway line. When he started doing that, you were thinking, ‘Jesus, Stan, you’ve made the game stop. We’re winning, just play it!’ But that was typical of Stan. He had the ability to do that. And the nerve, don’t worry about that.

News and Star: Stan Bowles, whose ball-juggling antics were a memorable feature of Carlisle's victory in RomeStan Bowles, whose ball-juggling antics were a memorable feature of Carlisle's victory in Rome

“In all fairness to the Italians, they take their stuff very seriously, to a point that you don’t have to wind them up – they crank themselves up. At the end of it there were handshakes all round, but we were the ones who were laughing, not them – and certainly not their manager, because they’d been turned over by somebody they’d never heard of. It was totally unexpected, wasn’t it? With their reputation Roma just expected to win. But we just went and played, simple as that.”

Although Roma’s president Aldo Stacchi acknowledged Carlisle’s “true and deserved” victory, Winstanley remembered sitting on United’s bus and watching Herrera receive “almighty stick” from his supporters before he sped away in his car. Later, in their hotel, Carlisle’s players toasted their triumph. “We had a few beers. It was 1,500 lira to the pound, which Stan Bowles wasn’t very pleased with.

"We were buying a round each and, when Bowlesy gave them the money to pay for his, he was given a handful of sweeties for change. He wasn’t impressed at all. And I don’t think the waiter was impressed when Stan hoyed them back at him.”

Elsewhere in the hotel, journalist Ross Brewster eventually secured a telephone line to Carlisle, waking his editor Bill Duckworth at 3am with news of the sensational result for that day’s newspaper. Also in United’s lodgings was a wedding party – “We were uninvited, but we gave the lad a send-off,” Winstanley said – and a cluster of ardent Blues supporters, among them the remarkably dedicated Geoff Thomlinson. “There were about four lads in the hotel and they slept where they could,” Winstanley said. “Mainly that was on the floor in our rooms. They had a train to catch at six in the morning, so they stopped with us until whatever time and then caught the train, which was unbelievable.”

News and Star: Ross Brewster's report from Rome after Carlisle's amazing victory in the Stadio OlimpicoRoss Brewster's report from Rome after Carlisle's amazing victory in the Stadio Olimpico

They and Carlisle were eventually bound south for Catanzaro, where Bowles scored in a 1-0 win. A week later they welcomed Roma to Brunton Park, drawing 3-3, before dispatching Catanzaro 4-1 in Cumbria. It was the intrepid Blues’ unfortunate fate to be usurped for a place in the final by Blackpool, whose 10-0 annihilation of Vicenza helped to take them forward. The climax came at the Stadio Olimpico. Roma, unbeaten other than in their Carlisle mishap, prevailed 3-1.

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Winstanley remained with Carlisle until 1974 and returned for a second stint after a spell with Brighton and Hove Albion. He settled in the area with his wife Joan and, while retirement might have felt a long way down from that treasured day in Italy, he did not consider it beneath him to find later footballing pleasure on the humbler parks and fields of his adopted city.

“Those days,” he said of Rome, “were certainly a little bit different from playing on a Sunday morning on Briar Bank and the Sheepmount. But that brings you down to earth. Joan and I used to go to St Augustine’s, the club. I knew a lot of people there, had a milk round in that area for a while, and, when a few of the lads I knew asked if I wanted a game, I thought, ‘Well, why not?’

“You checked for dog muck on the pitch before you kicked off. You didn’t check for broken glass, but I encountered a bit of that one day. It didn’t make you think of Italy, that’s for sure. There was no fence around it, no running track either. But in my era you just played for the love of the game. At the end of the day those lads who played Sunday morning football would shake your hand, good game, you’d go back in and then you’d have a couple of pints with them in the boozer.”

At no point in our conversation did Winstanley, who turned 72 in January, seem the sort of man to brag about what he did in a famous continental stadium 48 years earlier. He was aware that a national newspaper had once named his among the top goals by English clubs in Europe, yet in a way it was more special still that such a down-to-earth fellow should be the one to lay down so radiant an achievement.

“It’s only the likes of yourself that will bring it up these days,” said Winstanley, when I asked how often the feat cropped up in conversation. “On reflection, aye, I suppose it was a great moment, the icing on the cake. I certainly never thought my lasting memory of Carlisle would be scoring the winner in Roma. But really – and I’ve always said this – the lads who deserve the credit are the poor supporters who went all that way.”

Those supporters, it is probably safe to suggest, would willingly share the acclaim with the players who allowed them to say that they watched the Blues triumph in the Stadio Olimpico. Winstanley paused, as if he were taking the full weight of this legacy for the first time in a little while. Then he said: “When you think about it, I suppose you’ve got to stick your chest out a bit and say, ‘That’s clever. That will not be matched again’. You certainly won’t forget it.”

* Bolts From The Blues, a book by Jon Colman about 40 memorable Carlisle United goals, is published by Vertical Editions, priced £14.99. The author's royalties are being donated to the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust's Covid-19 appeal.

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