When Carlisle United take on Scunthorpe United, certain memories rush back.

For some, the fixture will forever be linked to the game at Glanford Park in 1994, when Jeff Thorpe scored two late goals in a dramatic turnaround in front of the travelling deckchair army.

Where Brunton Park meetings are concerned, though, one moment clearly stands out: the extraordinary long-rang free-kick sent into Scunny’s net by United’s Dave Symington in 2013.

It remains one of the stadium’s most remarkable set-piece goals. So, as the teams prepare to meet again today, let’s take a fond look back...


It was not a vintage Blues season. The play-off near-miss of 2011/12 had faded into a much less promising campaign.

What hope there was in a declining United squad lay in a cluster of young home-grown players.

Early in the campaign, Mark Beck and Dave Symington had combined to shoot Ipswich Town out of the League Cup. They remained on the fringe of Greg Abbott’s first team as the season went on.

For Symington, then an 18-year-old winger with a rocket shot, it had not been a conventional football journey.

“I didn’t watch any football at all,” he said of his childhood days in Workington. “I couldn’t sit through an hour-and-a-half of watching a game. I just liked going outside with a ball.”

Symington played Sunday football in west Cumbria until he was spotted by the Blues. After a successful trial, he joined their youth set-up.

“I came in as an under-16 and one of the other lads in my year was Brad Potts. I remember him going in the dressing room and saying, ‘Oh my god, there’s Ian Harte!’ I asked him, ‘What? Is he good, like? I don’t watch football’. He laughed and said, ‘Er…aye, he’s unbelievable!’”

News and Star: Symington, front second left, with coach Eric Kinder and United's 2010 intake of new youth team players (photo: Stuart Walker)Symington, front second left, with coach Eric Kinder and United's 2010 intake of new youth team players (photo: Stuart Walker)

Symington earned a two-year youth contract but did not think he’d done enough in Eric Kinder’s side to earn professional terms. He then cried when Abbott, the manager whose boots he had cleaned as part of his scholarship duties, told him he was being awarded a chance in the senior game after all.

The following season, 2012/13, he set about his opportunity. Symington’s hallmark in youth football was his shooting ability and this was not left to chance as he stepped up.

“The four of us who got pro deals were back out at the end of training all the time for another half an hour,” he said. “Greg and Graham Kavanagh [the assistant manager] used to have to tell us to go in all the time.

“Even if we were messing around, we were still practising stuff, ways of striking the ball, pinging the ball.”

Symington liked in particular to hone his technique for striking a dead ball from long distance.

“I tried to replicate players in the Prem,” he said, by now better acquainted with watching football. “I used to watch Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s one of the hardest techniques, I think. You’ve got to hit the valve of the ball, with just the bottom of the foot, where the laces begin: you flick at it with your leg.”


Symington announced himself on United’s first-team with that August winner against Ipswich, and displayed his impressive free-kick skills with consolation strikes against Doncaster and Bournemouth as Abbott introduced him to league action, mainly as a sub.

He was again on the bench on the cold January day when Scunthorpe came to town. United’s more experienced line-up fell behind early in the second half when Karl Hawley, the former Blues striker, slid home a cross.

Symington replaced Jon-Paul McGovern in the 73rd minute, and three minutes later Carlisle earned a free-kick close to 40 yards from goal.

News and Star: United are awarded a free-kick against Scunthorpe as Lee Miller is fouled. Moments later, Dave Symington scored an incredible goal (photo: Louise Porter)United are awarded a free-kick against Scunthorpe as Lee Miller is fouled. Moments later, Dave Symington scored an incredible goal (photo: Louise Porter)

The young winger was still two days from his 19th birthday, but had no qualms about seizing the ball ahead of more established team-mates and taking on the shot from unlikely range.

"If you make a mistake, what’s the worst that’s going to happen?" he said. "Nowt. If I shank it, I shank it. Big deal. If it does in, it’s going to be a worldy.”

As he addressed the ball, Symington went back to that technique: the flick, the valve. He made sweet contact and the ball took off like a rocket.

“It sort of started outside the post at first. I thought it might have a chance..."

Scunthorpe’s keeper, Sam Slocombe, was airborne, clawing at thin air, as the ball flew past him. It bent back towards the net and nestled in the top corner to the astonishment of the 3,829 crowd.

“Honestly, when you see it go in and the stadium erupts like that, it’s unbelievable," Symington said. "I don’t think there’s a feeling that matches it.”

It earned Carlisle a 1-1 draw - and the goal's life-force remained long after the event. In the changing room, Symington remembers striker Lee Miller laughing. "He said, ‘I can’t believe I’ve just seen that!'”

Abbott, in his press interviews, declared it the best goal he had ever seen – while footage was salivated over by Sky Sports’ presenters as they showed the Football League's goals of the day. Presenter Rob Wotton, talking over the video of Symington shooting, was distracted by its brilliance, as he said: “Dave Symington grabbed a poiwwwoooeeeeee…grabbed a point for Carlisle…”

The scorer himself had another post-match motivation. “When I watched it back the first time, I just wanted to show my mam right away. I think I ended up watching it a thousand times.

“It ended up getting goal of the season at Carlisle, and I was the young pro getting up in front of all the older players, getting caned. I picked the trophy up and got back to my seat as fast as I could.

“I think my mam’s got it now. She keeps all my footy stuff. And I still get wound up about it by people. If I ever mention Carlisle, it’s ‘Oh, he’s talking about his free-kick, is he?’…”


Symington’s comet was a brilliant moment in time, but was also a line in the sand. It proved to be the last goal he would score for Carlisle.

He played 36 times that season and 39 more in 2013/14, but often reverted to right-back as Abbott was sacked and the Blues tumbled to League One relegation under Kavanagh.

The following campaign saw Keith Curle brought in to avert the risk of non-league football. United avoided that dark fate, but it was not an enjoyable path for Symington.

“He [Curle] got results for the club, but he wasn’t my cup of tea,” he said. “That’s just part of life. You’ve got to get on with it.”

Symington was out of favour and felt his mood slump. “I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. You’ve just got to pick yourself up, but at the time I didn’t because I didn’t know what to do.

“Out of favour in the thing you love, having to sit at the back. You can go one of two ways – give up, or graft. I tried to graft, but that didn’t get me anywhere either.”

Symington suffered a knee injury and was eventually released by Curle. He joined Barrow, but left after a season and fell out of football. “I had three months off and turned into a car salesman. Worst thing I’ve ever done. I was missing the football. I had to leave that and find a new job, so I came to Workington Reds and started labouring.”

Symington regained his enjoyment for football by playing for his home-town club, where he has been since 2016. He was an important part of Danny Grainger's team and, now 27, remains key to Chris Willcock’s Northern Premier League West side, who take on Widnes today whilst his old club are reacquainted with Scunthorpe.

Traces of the ability that stunned Brunton Park eight years ago, meanwhile, are still perfectly clear.

News and Star: Symington in action for Workington Reds against Marine this season (photo: Ben Challis)Symington in action for Workington Reds against Marine this season (photo: Ben Challis)

For the Reds, he has scored numerous goals from distance, including one from halfway.

And already this season he has punished two further opponents, Clitheroe and Market Drayton Town, with trademark free-kicks.

“Aye,” he said. “I’m still shanking a few…”

* Adapted from the book ‘Bolts From The Blues – iconic goals in the history of Carlisle United by the men who scored them’ (Vertical Editions, £14.99; author’s proceeds go to North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust Covid-19 appeal)