Part 21 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

It’s hardly a headline you’d expect nowadays, yet in the winter of 1973 there was indeed cause for Carlisle United to ‘turn down Match of the Day'.

The BBC’s flagship football programme wished to televise United’s mouthwatering FA Cup third round tie against holders Sunderland at Brunton Park early in the new year. Yet their offer received short shrift from officials at the club.

“There has been a good deal of local speculation about the match being televised, but I can say that this definitely won’t happen,” said secretary David Dent.

Match of the Day wanted United’s game to be one of their three chosen matches on their FA Cup special edition, but United went on to explain that the financial offer from the BBC from a previous televised game – against Arsenal the previous season – had been “ridiculously small”.

News and Star: Thanks but no thanks...the Blues rejected the BBC camerasThanks but no thanks...the Blues rejected the BBC cameras (Image: News & Star)

The same offer, a reported £250, was understood to have been made this time, and the potential impact of the cameras on the attendance was a deciding factor in its rejection. The BBC were not available for comment, the Evening News & Star reported.

Another initiative knocked back by the Blues in a 1973/74 season continuing at promising pace was the idea of Sunday football.

This notion had been aired by the Football Association, who had asked the Home Office for special dispensation to waive the Sunday Observance Act to allow the game to be played on the sabbath day during the power crisis.

It came during a ban on floodlighting and the three-day working week. “If we could play on Sundays it would solve a lot of problems,” said FA secretary Ted Croker. Yet his counterpart at Brunton Park was firm.

“The directors have considered the position and wish it to be known that they will not stage Sunday matches at Brunton Park in the foreseeable future,” said Dent, as United aligned themselves with other objectors, such as Arsenal.

News and Star: The FA wanted Sunday football...but United didn'tThe FA wanted Sunday football...but United didn't (Image: News & Star)

On the pitch, meanwhile, the need was for focus on Carlisle’s Division Two challenge to remain in spite of the looming cup thriller. Alan Ashman stressed this point as he prepared his charges for a home clash with Millwall in the league.

“I know that we can expect a big crowd for the Sunderland tie, but we are playing primarily for the hard core 6,500 supporters who come and watch us week in and week out,” the manager said.

Ashman said consistency on the league was the lasting priority, and it was not as if that campaign lacked excitement given the fact United remained very much part of a very tightly-packed promotion race.

Extra incentive was on offer at Brunton Park for the Millwall game with vouchers for FA Cup ticket priority being handed out to the first 15,000 people through the turnstiles.

This did not result in a bumper gate, but the best league crowd at the ground for two months – 8,306 – was still achieved, and it was followed by a start to the game which appeared to be in keeping with United’s general mood.

It took Ashman’s side just four minutes to get in front against Benny Fenton’s Lions. Frank Clarke, back in the attack after injury, broke clear down the left and a well-aimed cross picked out Bobby Owen, who scored with a superb header.

News and Star: Bobby Owen buries a clinical header for Carlisle against Millwall in December 1973Bobby Owen buries a clinical header for Carlisle against Millwall in December 1973 (Image: News & Star)

It was the perfect opening and looked to have heralded a clinical afternoon. Yet United struggled to build on their bright beginnings. Owen came close again, as did Brian Tiler, while Clarke was just off target with a first-half chip.

Millwall looked to counter this with some speedy play on the break, Alf Wood and Brian Clark regular dangers, keeper Allan Ross denying the latter with an agile save.

United held their lead to the break and tried to build on it in the second half with Clarke, Joe Laidlaw, Chris Balderstone and Owen again threatening, but the killer second would not come…and then came a deflating equaliser.

Millwall found their way back into the game in the 70th minute when Bill Green, celebrating his 23rd birthday, was beaten at the byline by Gordon Hill, whose cross into the box found Carlisle outnumbered.

It was Wood, in the end, who got the finishing touch, a downward header beating Ross, and it was enough for the Londoners to escape with a point, Carlisle’s hopes of a late winner dashed when Owen met John Gorman’s cross but was denied by keeper Bryan King.

Frustration, then, for Ashman’s aspirants as they moved further into winter following the 1-1 draw. They did so without defender Bob Delgado, whose departure from Brunton Park became permanent before Christmas.

Delgado – United’s first black player – had been on loan with Workington Reds, but was now sold to one of Reds’ Fourth Division opponents, Rotherham United, for a £7,000 fee. The players he left behind at Carlisle were now facing a festive run in league and cup which would send them into the historic year of 1974 full of festivity and hope…