Carlisle can take a huge step towards the Championship with victory over Swansea tonight. Mark Douglas talks to Danny Livesey, who has played a unique part in the club’s fall and rise.
FROM Crawley to the Championship in just four years, Carlisle skipper Danny Livesey stands on the verge of achieving history with the buoyant Cumbrians.
Livesey and Carlisle welcome League One leaders Swansea to Brunton Park tonight sniffing a place alongside famous names like Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday – and with genuine hopes of catching their opponents after Saturday’s dramatic late win against Yeovil.
Even for a club where keeper Jimmy Glass became one of the most unlikely heroes for his part in keeping them in the Football League with that famous 95th-minute goal, it is quite a story. And for Livesey, a veteran of the traumatic relegation to the Conference in 2004 and both the subsequent promotions, it is hard to comprehend.
The affable Mancunian was one of the youngest players in Premiership history when he made his bow for Bolton against Liverpool at the tender age of 17. But that accolade was of little comfort when Carlisle – seemingly in free-fall before he joined on Christmas Eve in 2004 – slipped into the Conference alongside the likes of Salisbury, Crawley Town and Forest Green Rovers.
The turnaround since has been breathtaking, even more so considering Livesey is one of five squad members who suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Football League.
Promotion this season, he believes, would be all the sweeter for the quintet who played a part in every promotion so far. “It’s unbelievable what has happened at this football club since I’ve been here,” he admitted. “When we were down there we had some pretty dark days. We were out of the League and when the floods came it sort of devastated the club a bit. That’s probably why getting over the finishing line and getting into the Championship would mean so much to the lads who remember what it was like back then.
“No offence to the Forest Greens and Crawleys of this world, but it feels like a different game now. I remember travelling to some of those places and struggling to all fit in the dressing rooms and playing in front of 300. You’d go to places where there was no running water and it was a bit of a culture shock having come from a Football League background. Everyone wanted to beat us because we still got pretty good gates and had a better stadium than most.
“To be honest, we should never have been down at that level in the first place. The club is far too big not to be in the league but we didn’t have a divine right to playing at a higher level and we had to earn our place back. I think that toughened us up and it’s probably one of the reasons why there is no nervousness in this squad and why there is the kind of resilience that you saw on Saturday when we went 1-0 down.”
Having won back-to-back promotions, Carlisle surprised the pundits again by finishing eighth in their first season in League One last season. It was an impressive achievement but that progress went unnoticed by many, with Carlisle’s promotion claims mostly ignored behind the division’s marquee names like Nottingham Forest.
“I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise that we’re doing so well because it’s a tough division with some big names in it. But there was plenty of confidence in the squad before the season started,” he said.
“We only just missed out on the play-offs last year and it was in our minds all summer that we’d perhaps let ourselves down a bit by not getting into the top six. We knew we were good enough and had the foundations of a decent side here – we were determined and had that belief.”
Inevitably, the Cumbrians’ unexpected success has brought scouts flocking to the Football League’s most northerly outpost, but so far Carlisle, who would need just five more points to clinch automatic promotion should they win tonight, have been able to ward off the vultures.
They straight-batted Bristol City’s offer for teenage striker Joe Garner and would have done the same if the interest in top scorer Danny Graham and goalkeeper Kieran Westwood had been firmed up during the January transfer window. Holding on to a squad full of ambitious young players will be a tough task again in the summer, but Livesey is confident that the group will stay together if the club continue to take strides forward.
“Of course there is going to be interest – it’s inevitable when you’ve got young players who are doing well,” he said. “We have had clubs coming in for Joe Garner and I’m sure some of the other lads are being talked about and looked at too. But I can honestly say none of the lads are looking for a way out.
“The spirit in the dressing room is phenomenal and I’m sure that will keep us together. We all want to play at a higher level but we want to achieve it together because this does feel like a football club on the up. We’re the only club for miles around and we should be getting five figures for every game really. There is tremendous potential and it does feel like these are exciting times.
“If we could go up then it will be a fantastic boost for us and I suppose we’d see. We’re not taking a single thing for granted because there are still plenty of games to go.”
League leaders Swansea are the latest club to try to check that upward momentum, and they arrive at Brunton Park knowing three points will clinch promotion.
Stung by a late and, by all accounts, undeserved defeat against relegation-threatened Bournemouth at the weekend, Roberto Martinez’s side will offer a stern examination of Carlisle’s promotion credentials.
Their biggest threat is bruising top scorer Jason Scotland, who has 23 goals so far this season – but Livesey is relishing the prospect of containing the Trinidad and Tobago forward.
“I’ve not studied his game too closely – all I know is I keep seeing his name among the scorers in the paper, and that’s all that counts. He’s a big lad and I’m sure he’ll try to make his presence felt very early on, but I’m looking forward to it.”