Two unsung heroes of Carlisle United are stepping down this summer: John Mavis and Barrie Mossop, who have been organising the Blues’ ballboys for 22 and 21 years respectively.

Last Saturday’s game against Stevenage was their last. I caught up with John, 58, and Barrie, 60, as they shared their memories from a unique Brunton Park role.

JOHN My first involvement in helping was when I got a phonecall off Jenny [Anderson] at the club. She said, ‘Any chance you could dress up as the mascot, Olga the Fox, and go with Scott Dobie to Stainburn School?’ I went with Paul Devlin, and after that I ended going down to the academy to help out. Paul used to look after the ballboys, and that’s when I started. 

BARRIE That was 22 years ago, and 21 years ago John invited me to come down and help. 

JOHN We’d actually met in the Paddock. Barrie’s dad worked with my brother-in-law, and we stood on the terrace when it had the old wicker fencing. We must have been seven or eight years old. Years later, through local football, John got asked to help with the academy, I went in to help too, and we’ve been mates ever since.

BARRIE How would you sum up the last 20-odd years of doing this? An absolute rollercoaster.

JOHN The time Simmo [Paul Simpson] was here first time was probably the pinnacle. He made sure we were involved in everything.

News and Star: Barrie and John say Paul Simpson always made them feel involved - while John Ward asked the ball boys to be 'cuter' in what they did (photo: Louise Porter)Barrie and John say Paul Simpson always made them feel involved - while John Ward asked the ball boys to be 'cuter' in what they did (photo: Louise Porter)

BARRIE I coached his son, Dominic. I found it quite strange sitting across the table telling him how his son’s doing, and he’s the first team manager… 

JOHN Last week, we were just standing on the side and he [Simpson] came out of the tunnel, looked round, had a double glance and then came right to us for a crack. It gives you such a lift. 

BARRIE John Ward changed it a bit [in 2007] – he said to us, ‘I want the same ballboys every week, and I want them to be a little bit cuter [in what they do]’. We knew what that meant. To be invited in by the manager like that…you felt part of it. Steven Pressley asked us in for a chat too, when they were looking at the multiball system...

JOHN We’ve had some interesting…interactions with opposition teams over the years. What’s been the worst? You couldn’t put it in your paper… 

BARRIE I got spat on once by a player. He was coming off, we were stood at the tunnel side, and he actually spat – horrible white spit, all down my front. It was frustration, I think. 

JOHN You wouldn’t have been saying anything, Barrie, would you… 

BARRIE Oh, no… [winks] 

JOHN One of the Bristol Rovers fans had a real go at both of us the other week. One of our lads got the ball and one of their players ran round for it – but the ballboy kept hold of it and pointed to the corner flag, as if to say, ‘Go to the corner and then I’ll give you it’. We’d never tell them to do that. Some of the lads take it a bit too far. They want us to win as well.

News and Star: A ball boy retrieves the ball from the East StandA ball boy retrieves the ball from the East Stand

BARRIE We tell them always to give the ball back in a timely manner; don’t kick it back to players, pick it up and throw into their hands. Listen to the Carlisle players and they’ll tell you what to do. And don’t give the other team an advantage in the final third. If they’re screaming for the ball, give them it back, but don’t give them it back in a hurry.

JOHN You often interact with the goalkeepers. Jordan Pickford was good, Mark Howard’s good. Keiren Westwood was brilliant with us. And my boy’s still got Matty Glennon’s gloves. Another game that sticks in my mind was that play-off match against Aldershot [in 2005]. I passed Lummy [Chris Lumsdon] as they were warming up. I told him I was bricking it, but he said, ‘We’ll be alright…’ 

BARRIE I got into their goalkeeper’s head that night. He [Nikki Bull] was standing over the touchline trying to put our keeper off in the shoot-out. So I started shouting at him. And he started looking over, telling us to…go away. And remember towelgate, with Steve Evans, when he was with Mansfield? 

JOHN [laughing] He nearly got me banned.

News and Star: The ballboy organisers had a run-in with Steve Evans over the use of towelsThe ballboy organisers had a run-in with Steve Evans over the use of towels

BARRIE One of the hardest moments was the day we went out of the Football League [in 2004]. Both our sons were ballboys, in our arms in tears. You still had to stay professional, because you had all the ballboys around you, but I was there still trying to console my own son.

JOHN What’s the most enjoyable part? Every match you come to. I was never going to play for the club, so to be involved this way is a dream come true. On the academy side, too – we both coached Dean Henderson. I changed him into a goalkeeper when he was under-nine. He’d been playing centre-half. I threatened to release him as a nine-year-old boy, and he always reminds me of that 

BARRIE We’ve coached lads like Patrick Brough, Kyle Dempsey, Jarrad Branthwaite… 

JOHN To have a small part in their development is a massive. If Deano does get his move and it helps this club get some money in, I’d be absolutely chuffed. 

BARRIE With the ballboys, there has been the odd occasion when the club’s given a one-match ban if they’ve overstepped the mark, but overall they’ve been absolutely fantastic.

News and Star: Last Saturday's game was the last organising the ballboys for John, left, and Barrie, right, after 22 and 21 years respectively (photo: Ben Holmes)Last Saturday's game was the last organising the ballboys for John, left, and Barrie, right, after 22 and 21 years respectively (photo: Ben Holmes)

JOHN This is probably the biggest turnover we’ve had during a season. With the Warwick Road End taking off with the young boys, at that age they want to be involved. Not complaining about that, it’s good for the atmosphere. We’re always well subscribed, though. It’s word of mouth. We thought about putting emails out and things on the website, but we’d have been inundated. 

BARRIE The only season we’ve missed was during Covid. We offered our services, but the club wanted to stay within the guidelines so you’ve got to respect that.

JOHN The number of games we’ve done in 20-years plus is quite something. It’s going to be strange next year. But I have two granddaughters who are football daft, and I want to sit with them. 

BARRIE I’ve been coming since I was three years old. I’ve supported the club for 57 years. I want to stand with my mates in the Paddock now. 

JOHN That’ll be strange. We’ve sat together in the [Pioneer Stand] for 21 years. We’ve had some fair old laughs. 

BARRIE John keeps me right with the players… 

JOHN I’m just glad our [Football League] safety wasn’t riding on our last game. I had a bit of a knot in my stomach as it was. I think it would have been too hard. 

BARRIE The club have invited us to the awards night on Sunday. I’m looking forward to that. To be fair, we’ve only done this for so long for the love of the club. At the end of the day, we are fans.