Part five of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

Having begun their Division Two campaign with a draw with Cardiff City, Carlisle’s 1973/74 season immediately progressed into eventful and even volatile times.

In the subsequent seven days, after all, they had a local derby cup tie accompanied by stern police warnings, a six-goal thumping in their first away league game and fresh controversy regarding their exiled former skipper.

Not, you might imagine, the circumstances that would lead to the First Division a few months down the line. But little was calm about the Blues some 50 years ago.

The first full week of term brought a League Cup first round tie with Workington Reds, the game at Brunton Park and the mood somewhat tense after crowd violence had scarred a pre-season friendly at Borough Park a couple of weeks before.

Police announced that they were ready for any hooligan behaviour. A spokesman said: “We are trying to check on how many Workington supporters are coming to the game and, as usual for matches at Brunton Park, extra men will be on duty.

News and Star: Our headline before Carlisle United v Workington Reds in the League CupOur headline before Carlisle United v Workington Reds in the League Cup (Image: News & Star)

“If there is any trouble, it will be dealt with.”

On the pitch, a recall for Bobby Owen was on the cards for Carlisle after he had been left out to accommodate the arrival of debut goalscorer Frank Clarke against Cardiff. He came in for Les O’Neill as manager Alan Ashman opted for an adventurous attacking line-up which also included Clarke and Joe Laidlaw.

Clarke had made an instant impact and Ashman said: “He was the last in the line of forwards I tried to sign during the close-season, but he could turn out to be the best.”

Workington, who had started with a goalless Division Four draw at Darlington, were eager for the derby contest. “It’s a big field at Brunton Park and that should suit our style,” said manager George Aitken.

Things this time turned out more eventful on the pitch than off it. There was no trouble on the terraces, and a lively cup encounter saw Workington give their higher-division hosts some troubles.

Indeed, the Reds stunned Brunton Park twice midway through the first half. After an innocuous start, during which Carlisle appeared comfortable, the visitors pounced to open the scoring when a Stan Ternent ball to Ray Train was intercepted, Dave Helliwell nipping in to slide a shot past Allan Ross after Ian McDonald’s shot had deflected.

News and Star: Bobby Owen, far right, scores the equaliser for Carlisle against WorkingtonBobby Owen, far right, scores the equaliser for Carlisle against Workington (Image: News & Star)

A second came soon after – a 30-yard special by McDonald after good work by Tony Geidmintis and Alan Tyrer – and Carlisle had little option but to respond with gusto. Workington were affected by an injury to Helliwell and the Blues’ first reply came in a purple patch shortly after half-time.

It was provided by Owen, who stole in at the far post to convert a Clarke header which broke across the six-yard box.

And it was Owen who swiftly brought things level, again with a piece of smart opportunism as he deceived the Reds defence and keeper Mike Rogan.

The goals came in the 52nd and 57th minutes and Carlisle seemed set to go on and win the game, but a third goal would not come. Workington extended themselves in defence to good effect and United’s shortcomings in terms of the final ball cost them.

An absorbing tie, in front of 7,040 fans, finished 2-2, requiring a replay the following week for the right to face Gillingham. Ashman looked for the positives, one of which was clearly Owen. “He’s a most productive type of player – the sort you don’t have to tell how to play,” said the manager.

Owen, he said, had made himself undroppable for Carlisle’s trip to Luton in the league – yet things, to say the least, did not work out for the Blues in their first away game of the Division Two season that weekend.

News and Star: The headline tells the story of Carlisle's 6-1 hammering at LutonThe headline tells the story of Carlisle's 6-1 hammering at Luton (Image: News & Star)

The Blues had a good recent record at Kenilworth Road but this time it was obliterated by six Luton goals in the space of 34 minutes. The salvo came in the first half as the Hatters bewildered Carlisle with goals from the gloriously-named Northern Irish midfielder Tom Finney (two), Peter Anderson (two), John Aston and Barry Butlin. After midfielder Train was carried off, sub Bob Delgado restored a belated degree of authority to United's defence and Owen scrambled a consolation.

But a 6-1 defeat was a hollow return on a day which, before kick-off, had also seen a bomb scare. Police were told there was a bomb in the ground but no supporters took up the invitation to leave their places – and, in the event, things began on time with no disruption.

The latter word still applied to Carlisle in other respects. Chris Balderstone, their classy former skipper, was still unavailable as a result of a suspension imposed by the club over his late return from cricket duties with Leicestershire.

A further 14 days were duly added to this exile and the midfielder, who was due for talks with chairman George Sheffield, spoke of his frustration to the Evening News & Star during a solitary training session at the Sheepmount.

News and Star: Coverage of Chris Balderstone training in exile at the Sheepmount amid his club suspensionCoverage of Chris Balderstone training in exile at the Sheepmount amid his club suspension (Image: News & Star)

“I certainly didn’t want it blowing up like this,” he said. “I hoped that my viewpoint would be appreciated and that I would be able to come back quietly and get on with playing football.”

The matter rumbled on, Balderstone as keen to return to Carlisle availability as he was to stay in the England selectors’ thoughts for their winter tour of West Indies. United, after a hectic week, had to get back to playing their shots in the right way…