Part 19 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

The idea of football people making front page headlines being a modern media phenomenon is contested by events at Carlisle in early December 1973.

There was, after all, an unwanted appearance on page one of the Evening News & Star by the top man at Brunton Park.

George Sheffield, the club’s chairman, was landed with a court appearance over a drink-driving charge. The 60-year-old forestry businessman pleaded guilty to driving with more than three times the permitted amount of alcohol in his blood.

“I don’t intend to make any stupid excuses,” said Sheffield in Cumberland Ward magistrates’ court. Having declined to provide a breath test when stopped on the hard shoulder of the M6, he was arrested and gave a test, and a blood sample, at the police station, the court heard.

News and Star: The Evening News & Star from Carlisle United chairman George Sheffield's drink-drive court appearance in 1973The Evening News & Star from Carlisle United chairman George Sheffield's drink-drive court appearance in 1973 (Image: News & Star)

The Blues chairman’s punishment was a two-year driving disqualification and a £100 fine. “He finds a car essential for travelling to forests,” said his solicitor. “He will feel a deprivation most severely.”

This was not the only occasion of United happenings making the wrong kind of headlines in the final month of the year. Off-field incidents involving fans were also under scrutiny, although some of those involved away supporters.

Carlisle’s recent victory over Bristol City, for instance, had seen 22 hooligans arrested in the city, mostly travelling fans, and the apparent leniency of their punishment by Carlisle magistrates brought criticism from the Robins chairman Harry Dolman.

Accusing local justices of being “too soft on these louts,” he added: “A fine of between £20 and £30 is no good. They should have been punished more severely.

“I believe these hooligans deserve the cat. But as that is not possible now, they should receive jail sentences.”

It was not, alas, the final time the courts would hear of such behaviour in Carlisle in short order. In the meantime, the on-field business saw Alan Ashman’s promotion-chasing side preparing for the visit of a dangerous Blackpool team.

News and Star: Alan Ashman's side faced Blackpool in December 1973Alan Ashman's side faced Blackpool in December 1973 (Image: PA)

United’s manager, having seen the weather put paid to the trip to Aston Villa, had more time to assess the return to fitness of defenders Brian Tiler and Bill Green, while the energy crisis gripping the country led to a 2pm kick-off in order to save on floodlighting costs.

“If it is a dark afternoon then it will get murky about 3.40pm,” said Carlisle secretary David Dent. “But kicking off any earlier makes things difficult for everybody concerned.”

In the event, the game against the Seasiders sparkled – but not, ultimately, to Carlisle’s benefit. The Blues showed character in remaining in the contest but they were not secure enough against Harry Potts’ visitors.

In front of 6,641 fans, it was Blackpool who were the better of two enterprising and ambitious sides, taking the lead three times, the final occasion proving enough.

United began in a 4-3-3 system which incorporated the fit-again Ray Train in midfield and a front three of Bobby Owen, Dennis Martin and Joe Laidlaw in an attack which was without the injured Frank Clarke.

Yet Blackpool were bright, Micky Burns testing Allan Ross in the opening minutes and Glyn James hooking a shot over the bar. In goal, meanwhile, the west Cumbrian John Burridge was well protected, though on one occasion he did have to dash forward to thwart Les O’Neill.

Both teams attacked with gusto but it was Blackpool who struck first, Bill Bentley pouncing on a clearance and rifling a shot past Ross from fully 35 yards.

United’s reply was immediate and they went in at half-time level thanks to Train, who pulled down a cross and fired impressively through a crowd of players.

News and Star: Les O'Neill scores an instinctive header against BlackpoolLes O'Neill scores an instinctive header against Blackpool (Image: News & Star)

It left supporters highly engaged in the contest and the second half produced more end-to-end entertainment. The 69th minute saw Blackpool restore their lead through Alan Suddick, who finished calmly past the advancing Ross.

Yet United reacted swiftly again, O’Neill gracing the game with an unorthodox, instinctive equaliser, the midfielder thrusting himself forward whilst on the ground to head past Burridge after his initial shot had hit the woodwork.

O’Neill’s quick-thinking urged supporters to imagine a United victory but their hopes were dashed five minutes from time. The final, decisive act came when Terry Alcock ran onto Keith Dyson’s through-ball and his finish past Ross settled the contest.

United were left in 11th after the epic match, Blackpool rising to fifth in a tight Division Two table. Ashman’s response was to say: “It was a very good game – but you can’t expect to win matches at home by conceding three goals.”

News and Star: John Burridge, middle row third left, was in the Blackpool side that won at Brunton ParkJohn Burridge, middle row third left, was in the Blackpool side that won at Brunton Park (Image: PA)

The manager was also thinking of the longer-term as, in the interests of refreshing his players, he then gave the squad several days off before the trip to Leyton Orient.

“We haven’t had a real break this season, and the prospects are that the players will be involved in the game right over the usual holiday periods,” said Ashman.

As United rested up, the focus returned to the more regrettable side of football given that 18 people, it transpired, had been arrested during and after the Blackpool game, 11 from the Carlisle area and the rest Blackpool followers.

The charges ranged from breaches of the peace, being drunk and disorderly and assaulting police, with some of the accused removed from Brunton Park during the game. The city’s magistrates would be kept busy by 1970s hooliganism for some time yet.