FA Cup: Carlisle 'united' by flooding as Everton await

Brunton Park
Carlisle's Brunton Park home was overcome by floodwater, with the ground, pitch and stands all suffering damage
FA Cup fourth round: Carlisle v Everton
Date: Sunday, 31 January Venue: Brunton Park Kick-off: 13:30 GMT
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio Cumbria, plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Seldom has the name of a football team reflected the spirit of the city it represents than Carlisle United.

The effects of Storm Desmond in December left much of Carlisle under water, with houses, offices, shops and the club's Brunton Park home all heavily damaged.

It brought the community together. The club's players, management and staff did their bit to help with the clean-up.

Sunday's FA Cup fourth-round tie with Everton is their second game back at Brunton Park since the floods.

Captain Danny Grainger and goalkeeper Mark Gillespie spoke to BBC Radio 5 live about how the people of Carlisle united in adversity.

'I had nowhere to go'

Goalkeeper Gillespie found himself marooned in Carlisle while the majority of the first-team squad were at Welling, battling for a place in the FA Cup third round.

Gillespie: "By about midnight the water was at the front door and that's when I realised the seriousness of the situation.

"The police had been to the door saying if I had anywhere else to go but I didn't. It was a case of just going to bed and hoping for the best really.

"When I woke up through the night, the water was getting higher and higher, and when I got up in the morning it was flooded downstairs. Outside you couldn't see cars, the main street was just a river.

"At six o'clock that evening I was able to climb out of the window, down to the guys in the boat and off I went. It was obviously something I will remember, but for the families and people of Cumbria it's still very much the present and they're having to deal with that."

'It's heartbreaking'

Carlisle United players made an effort to help local people
Carlisle United players helped to clear out water-damaged houses

Once the waters had cleared, the debris and devastation was left for clean-up. Staff throughout the football club volunteered to help bring the city back to working order.

While Grainger, a proud Cumbrian, grew up on a farm wearing wellies amongst the mud, some of his team-mates were a little less accustomed to the conditions.

Grainger: "Some of the lads have never done things like that, but everyone was up for it. All of us were in shock when we got to the houses and saw how bad they were.

"Me and Mark got to the first house and tried to lift a sofa; it was like lifting a set of bricks. The weight of it was unbelievable but she said it had sat under water for the last two days.

"I probably look at floods and think once the waters gone that'll be it, things will dry out and it'll be fine.

"I didn't realise how much muck, silt, sand and the smell of everything left behind. It's heartbreaking to see people's houses like that."

Gillespie: "That was a real highlight for me, seeing how much help we managed in one afternoon. I went into about six houses cleared living rooms, carpets and other things.

"Because there were so many of us doing it, we managed to put smiles on peoples' faces when you could see how difficult it was. To be able to do that at that time was unbelievable."

Football comes together

Carlisle United
Carlisle played at Preston, Blackburn and Blackpool during their time away from Brunton Park

Carlisle's plight, evidenced by extensive national news coverage of Cumbria's flooding, brought with it a swell of support from the teams they faced in league and cup.

Welling auctioned the match ball from their tie to raise funds, Plymouth supporters sent a hamper, and other clubs - including Everton's fans - donated funds.

On the field, Blackburn, Preston and Blackpool staged "home" fixtures while Brunton Park recovered from flood damage.

Grainger: "Everyone has been fantastic. Football clubs and fans have looked after us, they really have.

"Obviously we've had the three games away from home, we've trained over at Newcastle's facilities, and we've been down to Champneys for two days down there preparing for games.

"We've been really looked after so hopefully we've repaid them (fans) by getting this glamour tie."

The magic of the FA Cup

Carlisle's run to the fourth round has provided funds that have been put towards repairs required at Brunton Park.

It has also given fans, many of whom were affected by floods, a positive experience, although it took a dramatic penalty shootout win against Yeovil to secure the home tie with Everton.

Grainger: "That's the Carlisle way - we always do things the hard way. We can't just make it easy."

Gillespie: "I just had a feeling that this is meant to be. I managed to save one, the lads stuck their penalties away and here we are. It was just a bit of fate really that it had to happen."

Getting things back to normal

Carlisle return to Brunton Park
Carlisle, on a new pitch, returned to Brunton Park with a draw against York on 23 January

While offices and changing rooms are slowly getting back to normal, the most pressing aspect for Carlisle was to re-lay a pitch to facilitate a return to their "home" as soon as possible.

Football returned to the city on 23 January and Brunton Park is ready for a big cup encounter on Sunday.

Gillespie: "It was different on Saturday [versus York] as we didn't go through the usual entrance. We had to walk along the outside, you see the cabins outside and only really the changing rooms have been fixed so it's there for everyone to see.

"There's still a lot of work still to be done, but credit to the people that have been able to get the games on because I think it would have been devastating not being able to play this Everton match at Brunton Park.

"The fact that we can is a massive boost and everyone should take credit for that."

Giant-killing ambitions

Everton's Ross Barkley
Everton were knocked out of the semi-finals of the League Cup on Wednesday by Manchester City

Under manager Keith Curle, Carlisle United have reached the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1996-97.

Everton will arrive on Sunday having lost their League Cup semi-final to Manchester City, and thus missed out on a Wembley trip.

Grainger: "I think they will be happier coming here than to Yeovil. No Premier League team wants to come to a League Two team in the FA Cup. It's one of those games where shocks can happen.

"There's always one in every round. Why can't it be us? We've taken Liverpool to penalties [in the League Cup] and on another night we would have won that game.

"It's a no-pressure game for us, we get to enjoy it. All the pressure is on Everton. We've been through a lot in the last eight weeks and it prepares you well."

Gillespie: "We're a tight group and we've battled to get here. We've had to play home games at away grounds and training has been difficult just to get on grass, so I think that brings us together. We've all been through it.

"We're playing against a Premier League team. If we don't perform on the day, they will turn us over."