THERE is a poem, printed out on smart, luminous yellow paper and pinned to the wall of Greg Abbott’s desk at Brunton Park.
Titled ‘You Can Do It’, it was written for Abbott and the Carlisle team by a class of nine-year-olds at the local Upperby Primary School. It still resides in pride of place, sharing equal billing with a tactics board and list of players that make up the Cumbrians’ squad for next season.
“It’s not bad, is it?” the effervescent Abbott says when asked about it.
“They gave it to me and I like it, it’s a positive message and I think it’s along the right lines.
“It doesn’t matter to me that’s it’s something a bunch of nine-year-olds wrote. If I feel like I can take inspiration from them, I will.”
After Carlisle’s encouraging season Abbott is in a relaxed mood. Or as relaxed as the restless, energetic former Bradford and Hull defender gets.
Having managed to haul the club out of the League One relegation zone 12 months ago, Carlisle have progressed. Comfortably mid-table on a vastly reduced budget, they played at Wembley in March and crucially, have begun to play the kind of quick, passing football that Abbott always wanted them to.
It will never be enough for some and Abbott knows it. Like most managers in the Football League, the Carlisle boss is plagued by a cyber community that happily throw virtual darts from behind the safety of their computer screen.
It is not the criticism that hurts Carlisle’s manager. It is the lack of respect they afford him and his players by hiding behind assumed names on message boards and forums. Ironically, all they need to do is ask and they can put their points to the man himself.
Remarkably, Abbott has issued an invitation to his office to any Carlisle supporter prepared to talk constructively about the club. His door, he insists, will always be open.
“I think my biggest gripe is the faceless criticism,” he said.
“My door is always open to any fan of Carlisle United to walk through it and offer constructive criticism.
“He or she can come through my door, sit in my office and say ‘Greg – why do you do this?’ and I will answer it as honestly as I can. Hopefully that same person will walk through the door and think ‘Hang on, I had a gripe. He answered it, I don’t necessarily agree with his decision but he’s explained it.’
“The door is always open and what I’d prefer is people criticise or offer advice face to face with balance and some constructiveness to what they’re saying. I can accept that.
“Sometimes I probably do say too much and some fans used it against you. If it was up to me I’d tell the supporters everything that’s going on.
“I had to do it earlier in the season when I was getting a lot of people asking me about 4-4-2 and why we were playing what they thought was a ‘4-5-1’. I had to come out and explain it and when I did I got quite a lot of feedback from the fans.
“All they wanted was an explanation and perhaps we forget that sometimes because we get caught up in our worlds. So I’ll probably do that from now on.”
Abbott knows it is unconventional but he knows no other way. To compromise on his style would be to restrict one of his biggest assets – his wholehearted commitment and determination to succeed.
“My employers have told me to compromise on it. They’ve said don’t talk as much and don’t give as much information but I can’t hold back.
“Every club I played for and now Carlisle who I manage, I’m unbelievably committed to them.
“I hate every other club in League One. Really, honestly detest them. I live in Wetherby and I was there when Leeds went up and I didn’t want to see the celebrations, it should have been us.
“As soon as the final whistle went at Norwich I wanted to get off the pitch, I told the lads to get on the bus as soon as they could. I couldn’t stand it.
“Of course, I congratulated Paul Lambert before the game and gave him a big hug. I think the world of what him and Simon Grayson have done but do I want to be part of their celebrations? Absolutely not.”
Carlisle are closer to those promoted teams than they were before. They beat Norwich twice and bested Leeds over two legs in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy semi-final.
“I think we’ve achieved with resources that aren’t as big as other clubs,” he said.
“But I admit that our season has been full of ups and downs again. But what I would say is that the ups have been higher than last season and the downs haven’t been quite as down.”
One of Carlisle’s highs was coming within the width of a crossbar of beating Everton in the FA Cup fourth round.
The Cumbrians were superb but were denied at the death. At least it offered Abbott the chance to break bread with a manager that he rates as one of his icons.
“He’s fantastic – he’s done something I think a lot of us aspire to,” he said.
Does he dream of Carlisle one day taking on Everton on level footing?
“At the minute getting into the Championship would be a fantastic achievement,” he said.
“I look at Wigan, Burnley – maybe Blackpool – they have gone one step further. The Premier League is not out of sight for Carlisle United. Those clubs give us reason to dream.”
'Our spirit and togetherness sets us apart'
GREG Abbott makes no apologies for staying close to his players.
The Carlisle United boss has made unity and togetherness a key component of his managerial philosophy.
He feels that it sets the club apart – and is part of the reason why people are attracted to the Football League’s most northerly outpost.
“People say ‘You need to start getting some distance from the players’ but why?” he said.
“I think my dressing room would walk over broken glass for me so why do I have to start doing things differently?
“I had Richard Keogh in tears on Monday morning. And I mean proper sobbing wondering whether he’s made the right decision.
“That’s how close we are. It is what sets us apart from other clubs. We need something like that because we’re Carlisle right at the end of the country and that puts us out there on a limb. I know that players can fix themselves up with a club in Manchester so we have to have something that sets us apart and hopefully the spirit, the togetherness does that.
“We need to persuade them to come here and if they do, it means we’ve done something right because we are ‘out in the sticks’ to people who aren’t from this area.
“That extends to when they join us – this is a club has a personality.
“The most important thing is winning them over, convincing the players that you know what you’re doing. If you don’t have that, you can be as close or as distant as you want.
“I’m alright with the closeness I’ve got with the dressing room. It’s my way and I’m not saying it’s the right way, it’s the way that I do it.”