Part 14 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

While Carlisle United were making progress on the field in the autumn of 1973/74, the club were seeking to make strides off it too.

The Blues were advertising for their first commercial manager at a time they were aiming to broaden their reach in the community - and plug a financial gap.

“Our new post has been set up because of long-term thinking,” said secretary David Dent. “The gap between income and expenditure is ever-widening and there is simply not sufficient money coming through the turnstiles to bridge the gap.

“It is no sudden crisis point, but we are trying to safeguard the future by taking action now.”

Carlisle were at pains to point out that their new ventures in this department were not intended to cut across the work being done by their own proactive supporters’ club.

News and Star: United, having opened a new social club in Brunton Park in the early 1970s, were now advertising for a commercial manager come 1973United, having opened a new social club in Brunton Park in the early 1970s, were now advertising for a commercial manager come 1973 (Image: News & Star)

CUSC’s fundraising was long-established, and new figures revealed how they had donated more than £17,000 to the club in the last year. “It is a tribute to our agents and all the people connected with the club because, let’s face it, we have to operate in a scattered area,” said supporters' club secretary Colin Barton. “And you can’t sell bingo tickets to sheep!”

Progress in league and cup remained the orthodox ways of keeping the coffers replenished and, in the latter, the prospect of a boost came when Manchester City finally got the better of Walsall after two replays in the League Cup to set up a third round trip to Brunton Park.

Alan Ashman, the Carlisle boss, made the trip to Manchester United’s Old Trafford to watch the Citizens, under caretaker manager Tony Book, make it through. The clash with the Blues would bring stars such as Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee to Carlisle, and news of the tie brought a flurry of ticket applications at Brunton Park.

“Practically all our stand seats have now been sold out,” said Dent. Yet Ashman’s team had a Division Two trip to Swindon Town before then, and the manager’s focus was openly applied.

News and Star: United's manager lays down the priorities despite a mouthwatering League Cup tie facing the Blues in November 1973United's manager lays down the priorities despite a mouthwatering League Cup tie facing the Blues in November 1973 (Image: News & Star)

“It’s the league which comes foremost because that is our bread and butter week in, week out,” said the Blues’ leader. The cup’s fourth round draw handed Carlisle or Man City a potential trip to Leyton Orient or York City, but first it was the trip to Wiltshire, and a bid to build on United’s recent, encouraging second-tier progress.

Swindon were at the wrong end of Division Two yet their County Ground had not been a particularly happy venue for the Blues over the years. Ashman, at least, had Chris Balderstone and Mike Barry back after injury and suspension and, before the long trip south, the duo joined some of their team-mates for extra training as they looked to get back up to speed.

They also set off having had their annual flu jabs at the club along with their team-mates, yet events at Swindon led to some suggestions that the virus of complacency had entered the system. Ashman’s rising team scored twice in the opening ten minutes yet failed to leave the County Ground with maximum points.

With Barry back in the side and Balderstone on the bench, United began in vibrant style and, come the fifth minute, were ahead. Joe Laidlaw, from the right, unleashed a powerful shot which home keeper Jimmy Allan could only parry, and Frank Clarke was there to convert from close range.

News and Star: Frank Clarke grabbed two goals for United at SwindonFrank Clarke grabbed two goals for United at Swindon (Image: PA)

Swindon almost replied through a swirling corner which forced Peter Carr to clear from under his own crossbar, and then they did swiftly equalise when Peter Eastoe, making his debut on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, shot through a crowd of players and beyond Allan Ross.

Carlisle, though, then issued their own riposte, and a few minutes later regained their lead when Clarke pounced on a Rod Thomas mistake to score.

It ought to have been the Blues’ cue to lay down some dominance but Swindon were trickier opponents than that. Goalkeeper Ross was called into action more than once to preserve United’s lead, which remained 2-1 at the interval after Laidlaw failed to convert a difficult headed chance amid an entertaining contest.

Yet the lead dissolved within seconds of the second half. David Syrett’s cross deceived Ross and United’s No1 could only push it into the path of Eastoe for a simple finish.

News and Star: Allan Ross was in the thick of the action during United's 2-2 draw at SwindonAllan Ross was in the thick of the action during United's 2-2 draw at Swindon (Image: News & Star)

That was not the end of the to-and-fro, but it did mark the end of the scoring. Laidlaw was denied a penalty while Barry was often involved in enterprising United play. At the other end, Brian Tiler shaved the woodwork, narrowly escaping an own-goal, while Balderstone arrived for the last 20 minutes to offer extra stability in midfield.

At the last, Clarke’s hat-trick goal was chalked off because the referee ruled Martin had dribbled out of play before crossing, and Bobby Owen missed a late chance. It ended 2-2 – not the Blues at their most convincing, but still a useful point to tack onto their total, and an unbeaten run now totalling eight games.

From there, it was a case of anticipating the big cup tie to the full. As Man City’s visit loomed, a grandstand sell-out was announced, and a message for fans to “get down early” was issued. Another tantalising occasion, in a gradually flourishing Blues season, was on the way…