Part 28 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

It would be wrong to say Carlisle United’s promotion push of 1974 occurred at a time of total and utter harmony. That was not quite the case at club level and it certainly wasn’t the situation when it came to the state of the nation either.

Britain’s position of economic and industrial unrest appeared to be coming to a head early into the year. The Evening News & Star’s front page on February 7 led with the news that the Prime Minister, Ted Heath, had called a General Election for February 28.

It came amid a miners’ strike and in the wake of further energy troubles which had reduced the country to a three-day working week and led to curbs on energy use which had inevitably had consequences on football, with limits on floodlighting, morning kick-offs and Sunday football among the ramifications.

United fans looking towards Brunton Park for calmer and more certain times had the positive distraction of Carlisle’s bright Division Two results...but not everything behind the scenes was settled there either.

Come early February, for instance, there was renewed unease involving their experienced line-leader Frank Clarke and his relationship with the club.

News and Star: Our report of a dispute between Frank Clarke and Carlisle United in February 1974Our report of a dispute between Frank Clarke and Carlisle United in February 1974 (Image: News & Star)

The centre-forward was encountering fresh accommodation problems given he had been told by United to move out of the local motel where he had been staying since his summer move from Ipswich Town.

Clarke had three weeks to move, and the situation was worsened by the fact his attempt to sell his house near Ipswich had fallen through.

The striker said: “In the meantime, the club doesn’t seem to be helping at all. I’ve given them loads of suggestions, but nothing has been done.”

Clarke went on to say that he’d had a “barney” with manager Alan Ashman, with further talks planned. “It’s not as though I haven’t run my heart out for the team on the field,” he added.

The player said he did not want to move into a club house because it would mean his daughter would have to move schools. Clarke was due to return to Ipswich for a couple of weeks after Carlisle’s scheduled trip to Oxford United in the hope that things could be cleared up.

On the pitch, meanwhile, Ashman had further issues given that goalkeeper Allan Ross was a serious doubt for the visit to the Manor Ground. United’s emphatic win over promotion rivals Leyton Orient had come at a cost, with Ross suffering damaged ribs against the Londoners.

News and Star: Allan Ross: rib damageAllan Ross: rib damage (Image: PA)

“He has been up at the hospital for further X-Rays – we don’t think there is anything broken, but there is some damage to cartilage and the ribs are rather sore,” said Ashman.

That saw deputy Tom Clarke placed on standby for what would be just his second appearance of the season, while another Clarke – Derek, brother of United’s Frank – was a contender for the Oxford squad.

Les O’Neill’s availability at least seemed a boost for United, a hearing over his suspension appeal delayed because of administrative problems at the Football Association, while the midfield dynamo had also been declared fit for the Oxford game despite some eye trouble.

In the event, it proved academic. Carlisle’s visit to the Varsity city proved a prolonged but futile one. Heavy rain had affected the Manor Ground pitch and a morning inspection by a local referee quickly ruled out the chances of any Saturday action.

Surface water had been allowed to gather as a result of the sloping Oxford pitch, their groundsman said, despite the good quality of the ground otherwise. It was among ten games called off by Saturday lunchtime, including those involving some of United’s near rivals in the push for second-tier glory.

There were suggestions that the decision had been made prematurely given that, come 3pm, the rain had abated. “Carlisle supporters who were down there could hardly believe their eyes when they were told the match had been called off,” said Blues secretary David Dent.

News and Star: Oxford awaited United...but the weather dashed their hopesOxford awaited United...but the weather dashed their hopes (Image: PA)

Yet Carlisle and their opponents did not give up hope of staging the game. Talks immediately started with the idea of playing on Sunday instead. “We are going to try again tomorrow at 3pm – but first there will be a pitch inspection at 10am,” said Ashman.

Further rain was forecast although hopes were that it would ease overnight. Again, though, United’s plans were thwarted, a fresh downpour on Sunday lunchtime leading to the call at 2pm, just as the Blues players were boarding the coach from their hotel to the ground, to say it was off again.

Carlisle star Chris Balderstone, after checking the pitch with his team-mates, conceded that the game would have been farcical had it gone ahead. “If we tried to play, the ball would just stick in the water,” he said. A surface the great Balderstone couldn’t master was hardly going to be under the command of most other players.

United, then, weighed up a fixture headache and looked to secure a rearranged date as soon as possible. As they awaited a return to action, meanwhile, there were outgoing transfer developments at Brunton Park.

Kenny Wilson, the £36,000 signing from Dumbarton who had failed to live up to expectations, was now the subject of serious interest from Hamilton Academical. “There could be something definite soon,” said Ashman, who was ready to give Wilson a free transfer.

United’s prospects, and indeed, those of the nation, were not quite so clear. At least one of those situations, though, would soon take impressive shape.