Mark Gillespie on 150 appearances for Carlisle UnitedKeeper Mark Gillespie made appearance number 150 for the club last Saturday and, having made the number one shirt his own, we spoke to him about his time at Brunton Park which has seen him develop from a 16-year-old youth hopeful into the club’s current longest serving player.
“To get to this number of appearances for the club is nice,” he said. “I was happy when I got to 100, because that was always my target when I first got into the team as a young lad. Now I just want to keep it going and I suppose the 50s are the next targets to aim for. To get to 150 on the back of another positive result made it even better.
“Only one of those appearances has been as a substitute and that little number one next to my appearances will always bring back memories of my debut at Carrow Road. Looking back, they were celebrating winning the title that day so, ever since my first game in professional football, I’ve always had that feeling of wondering what that’s like.
“Now we’re top of the league that has to be the aim, but like I’ve said there’s a really long way to go. We’ve got a professional and focused group of players, and I’m no different, so we’ll keep looking at each game and see how far it takes us.”
“Thinking about that Norwich game, I wasn’t really a footballer when I was thrown on back then,” he commented. “I suppose I was just a youth team player with a bit of potential. It felt like it was a little reward for the two years I’d put in as a scholar.
“It meant a lot because I was told from the moment I joined the club that there was a pathway to the first team if you worked hard. Keiren Westwood was the keeper at the time and watching him join from Man City to make a career was the motivation for me to come here in the first place. I feel proud to have played 150 games since then, but there’s still a long way for me to go.”
Having joined the Cumbrians from Newcastle United in 2008 he set about proving that he was ready to forge a career in the game and just four years later, still only 20, he found himself competing with then number one choice Adam Collin for the right to wear the starting jersey.
“I’ve felt myself develop as a player and a person over the years,” he told us. “The injuries tested my mental strength a lot, but I’ve came through that. In terms of maturing, I’m obviously a totally different person to the 15-year old I was when I first came.
“I’ve got a lot of people at the club to thank for that – all of the manager’s I’ve had, Eric [Kinder] for bringing me in, the goalkeeping coaches I’ve worked with, as well as the board for sticking by me through all of that time.
“I’ve taken a lot from every manager and coach I’ve worked with. I’m enjoying it with Simon [Tracey] at the moment and I feel like I’m getting a lot out of him. We’re just looking to continue what we’ve started this season.
“In terms of highlights, Liverpool at Anfield obviously sticks out. I enjoyed the Tottenham game as well, even though we lost, because it was quite early on in my career and it was fantastic to play in front of a big crowd at Brunton Park. I think the cup runs will always stand out, but we’ve had some pretty good league results thrown in there as well.
“I got man of the match in my league debut, which was a highlight. Portsmouth this season also stands out after I had a bit of a lowlight there last time out - I think that’s been one of my better performances this season.
“Burton away also stands out, it was probably one of my best games and I felt I helped towards just about keeping us up in the gaffer’s first season. Off the top of my head they’re the ones that stand out, but there have been plenty of ups and downs. Hopefully we can carry on with the ups we’re having this season.”
Off the pitch, it comes as no surprise to learn that Storm Desmond, and his rescue from the top floor of the club house on Warwick Road as the floods rushed in, will always stand out for both positive and negative reasons.
“It’s a year to the week since that happened and that’s another experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “To see the devastation in a city you live in, and on a road you drive up and down every day, was unbelievable.
“It was remarkable to see how everyone pulled together and I thought it was fantastic the way the club helped, led by Danny [Grainger] and the manager. That’s something we can all look back to with pride. We’ve managed to build off it as a club and it shows what the region is like that we’re all recovering and moving on.”
Top of the wish list looking forward for the big stopper is to experience a bit of that success he witnessed first hand at the end of his first appearance against Norwich City back in 2010.
“It would be brilliant to have that with this club,” he admitted. “You try not to think about it too much, but it’s difficult not to when you’re up there, as we are at the moment.
“The only way we’ll get the reward at the end of it is by working hard every day. That means you’ve got to keep your focus short-term and we’ve done that really well so far. We kept that level of concentration right through the unbeaten run and, even with the blip at Newport, we managed to bounce back.
“There is real belief within the squad and I think that comes with results and performances. If you go back to the start of the season, and some of the draws we were picking up, we knew with the way we were playing we were always on the right side of the performance level.
“We probably should have won a few of those early draws but we’ve kept up the standards and seen it through to November. Now we obviously need to continue it into December and beyond.”
And as for the contract talks, revealed to be taking place by manager Keith Curle at last week’s press conference, he said: “It’s all in the very early stages. I think we all want to focus on the football at the moment, but I’m sure it’ll get sorted out when the time is right.
“It’s nice that the club has made it clear they want to do something but I just want to carry on with doing well on the pitch. It all takes care of itself after that.”
We’ll have more from Mark Gillespie on the official website on Friday morning.