Carlisle club now struggling for players
5 August ~ The Carlisle area seems to attract ambitious businessmen seeking to launch a footballing fairytale – Michael Knighton and John Courtenay each tried at Carlisle United, and a few miles north Brooks Mileson took Gretna into the SPL and a short European campaign. The latest episode in this seemingly ongoing series has been the rise and fall of Celtic Nation, the Carlisle based Northern League Division One club whose very existence now hangs by a thread a few days before the start of the season in which they should have been favourites for the title.
Both their rise and fall are shrouded in mystery. Gillford Park were Carlisle's most successful non-League club, making it further up the pyramid than their city rivals and had happily settled into life playing in front of a few dozen locals in their eponymous ground, previously home to Carlisle's now defunct professional rugby league team.
Then, according to legend, a stranger stopped the team bus to ask for directions. The stranger was Frank Lynch, who having made his fortune in Glasgow's 1970s nightlife scene, now ran a carwash empire in the US. This reportedly chance encounter resulted in Lynch buying the club, renaming it to attract support from Scotland and the Irish diaspora. Theories quickly emerged that the club was becoming a Trojan horse for the entry of the “real” Celtic into the English pyramid, which both clubs denied.
If this was a movie, what happened next would be shown as a montage as Nation painted the ground green, upped the wage budget and attracted experienced pros from the Scottish and English leagues. A mixture of success starved locals and Celtic fans having a day out made up increasingly large crowds as they surged up the division, and replica tops became a common sight around town.
And then the montage ended. Despite the substantial financial outlay promotion to the Northern League Premier was missed by one place at the end of last season, and after initially maintaining that he would continue to support the club's push for promotion, Lynch pulled out and sold up to long-serving player Steven Skinner. The manager left, players quietly and quickly found other clubs and at the last count three contracted players remained, including the new manager and his assistant. Skinner himself cannot play for the club he now owns, as he signed a contract with division rivals West Auckland during the uncertain summer.
Sunday league players from the area are being recruited to ensure the club can fulfil their fixtures, forcing the club back to their local, less ambitious roots. The future remains unclear, but what is certain is that Celtic will not be entering the gates of Troy inside this particular horse. Paul Todd