Former-captain Steve Soley looks forward to coming home
Former-United captain Steve Soley, a crowd favourite through his three-year stay with the club between 1999 and 2002, spoke to us this week about his love for both of tomorrow’s combatants as he prepares for a return to his old stomping ground to watch the Cumbrians take on Premier League giants Everton in the fourth round of this season’s Emirates FA Cup.
And he admitted that his much-anticipated return to Brunton Park will bring the fond memories flooding back as he meets old friends before taking to his seat to watch the game.
“I think it’s going to be one of those days where I’ll sit there wishing I could get my boots back on,” he said. “Mind you, I’m like that when I watch my lad training. I find myself itching to get out there, so it’s always part of you.
“I can’t stress enough how much my three years with United meant to me, so it will be a little bit strange to look at the pitch and see other players out there. It’s going to bring back some nice memories and I’m really looking forward to it.”
“As soon as the draw was made I knew I couldn’t wait to get back up here,” he continued. “It’s been a while since I played there now but I still keep in touch with so many people. I went to the Brentford game two seasons ago with the London Branch and it’ll be good to see the fans who have kept in touch with me through social media again.
“I’ve always been a player who has been mindful of what the supporters want and need from their club. When it comes down to it, that’s only because I’m a fan as well. I’ve been critical in the past, rightly or wrongly, but it’s always been done for the love of the club.
“I have to say that social media has been brilliant because it’s allowed me to really keep in touch. I enjoy Twitter and being on there has meant I’ve been able to chat about the team, results and the goings on behind the scenes, and I do like following the commentary feed from the club through each game.
“I tend to put my opinion across, like every other fan, and it sparks debate and gets people talking. That’s fantastic as far as I’m concerned. I wear my heart on my sleeve with Everton and Carlisle and I don’t think that will change in a hurry.”
Looking back at his time with United, where his rapport with the fan-base was first forged, he said: “I had quite a few highlights here and I completely fell in love with the place. There were some tough times but I felt extremely proud every time I pulled the shirt on, because this is a great club.
“In terms of the FA Cup, the Arsenal game is obviously the biggest highlight. That was a wonderful day for the club because we went up against players who had played in the World Cup. It made for a special weekend and we gave them a few scares along the way as well.
“Another great memory was when we went to Lincoln at the end of the season in 2001. We needed to get something and Carl Heggs equalised for us in the second half. I hadn’t played for a while, because of an injury, but I was thrown into it and it was a really committed team performance.
“At the end of the game you could tell the fans were going to run onto the pitch so the ref warned us all that he was going to blow up. He told us we should start heading for the tunnel as quickly as possible. As soon as the whistle went everyone started heading for the changing rooms, but I was caught up in the emotion of it all and I went the other way, straight at our fans.
“It was about 15 minutes later that I finally managed to break free again but I was left in just my underpants and socks. When I got back through our dressing room door the lads just burst out laughing, because I must have looked ridiculous, but it summed up the passion our fans have for the club as far as I’m concerned.”
Speaking about this weekend’s big game, he said: “This was a top draw for me because it just feels like it’s a massive reward for what the club and the people of Cumbria and the region have been through recently. I do support both clubs but I was obviously born an Everton fan. They’re going through a bit of a ropey spell at the moment and I think it’s going to be tricky for them on Sunday.
“I think we’ll see a more full strength team than we would have if they’d beaten Man City on Wednesday. There’s a little bit of pressure there for them to perform and get a result now. They’ve got a great squad and there are really good players who can come in, but who haven’t played as much recently, so it all comes down to how they perform. If they’re at it then it will be a tough day for United, but I honestly think it’s going to be tight.
“It’s even harder for Everton at the moment because they’re struggling for confidence and the manager is under a bit of pressure. The Carlisle lads will know that and I’m sure they’ll be telling each other to get out there and have a go.
“The lads will say they’re trying to prepare in the same way they always do but the fact is that games like this do feel different. There’s a real buzz and a high level of interest and the players will feed off that. I always found that players at any level can play as well as the Premier League teams on their day. The difference is - and it’s the reason why they’re at the top level - that the Premier League lads do it week in and week out.
“On a one-off occasion you find that if the top club is off their usual pace, even by 5%, then it evens things up. It’s exciting and different because you just don’t know what you’re going to get. For Carlisle the biggest thing they can take into it is that there is absolutely nothing for them to lose on Sunday.
“The best result as far as I’m concerned is that it will be a draw. I think that’s the best result for Carlisle United. That means we go back to Goodison and there’s a bit more money to be made from the away tie. It would be another full house so my fingers are crossed that we’ll be able to do it.”
And on the advice he would give to the players ahead of kick off on Sunday, he said: “I think the only thing you can say is that they just have to enjoy it. I’ve been on both sides of it in the past, where I’ve been a favourite and an underdog, and I have to say it’s miles better being an underdog. Anything can happen, especially if you do everything you can to make it happen, so just give it absolutely everything you’ve got.”
News also emerged this week that a pair of Leon Osman’s signed boots has been give to the Everton Fans’ Forum to help with their push to raise vital funds for United’s three official charity partners.
“I was given a pair of Leon Osman’s boots when I went to see the London Branch after the Brentford game a couple of seasons ago,” he explained. “I was fundraising and doing a lot of charity work for a friend of mine who had a son who was extremely ill at the time.
“The Wish Upon A Star Foundation sent him to Paris so I started doing a bit of work for that. Unfortunately he passed away before we got the chance to auction the boots off and, as you can imagine, that was a really tough time for his family. We’ve spoken since and we decided the best thing to do with the boots now was to support these charities, particularly with the clubs now playing each other in such a high profile game.
“We’ve managed to link in with the Everton Fans’ Forum, who are doing some great work centred around this weekend, and in basic terms we’re making it so that anyone who donates money will be in with a chance of winning these boots. Hopefully it will help to boost the fund just a little bit more.”