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INTERVIEW: I wouldn't be surprised if I shed a tear or two

Micheal Bridges looks back, and forward, with the Blues

1 April 2022

The 2005/06 season was memorable for so many reasons, but not least because it saw the Blues rip through League Two to secure their second promotion in the space of two years, courtesy of exciting football and a winning mentality that flowed right the way through the club.

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A big part of that success was striker Michael Bridges, who surprised many when he stepped down into the fourth tier having battled his way back from injury only to find chances limited at Bristol City.

His move up the M6 sparked a love affair that burns bright to this day, and which will be rekindled once more when he takes to the pitch in this season’s black away kit as part of the legends side which takes on their 94/95 title-winning counterparts at the end of the month [Sunday 24 April, kick off 1pm].

“I have some absolutely amazing memories from my time there,” the man himself told us. “When I came back after my injuries and had that spell with Bristol City, under Gary Johnson, it was a tough time, and the move to Carlisle was like a breath of fresh air.

“Paul Simpson and Dennis Booth were the complete opposite in terms of management. There’s tactics in football, and there’s management in football, and with Simmo and Dennis you had the best of both worlds.

“It was a relaxed atmosphere off the pitch, but in training you knew you had to switch on. Inside the dressing room was a fantastic place to be - there were daft pranks and everybody was constantly laughing - but as soon as we got onto the grass we knew it was on and we did things properly.

“To be fair, if we didn’t pull our weight in training or on the pitch it wasn’t just Simmo and Dennis who would tell you about it. You had Kev Gray and Peter Murphy giving you a dressing down, and you didn’t want to go up against either of them two, believe me.”

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“We also had a thing I call player autonomy, where you knew that every player understood that they had to show respect and do the right things,” he added. “We looked after ourselves in terms of most of the off-field stuff that’s needed to make things tick, and what a set of players it was for that.

“If you then get a manager that a group of players like that will run through a brick wall for, and if they’re a genuine person and you can relate to them, so you build a relationship with them, that will take you further than any other type of manager who you have absolutely no connection with.

“That was what we had with Simmo, and just to get back with him, even for a day like this one, is going to be fantastic. To be able to pick his brains and get his thoughts on what coaching and managing is all about is something I’m really looking forward to.”

As for the bond forged and sealed through his two spells at Brunton Park, he commented: “Every team I’ve played for, I’ve always followed their results.

“I had five good years at Sunderland, and I know we had promotion and relegation, but it was all very important in terms of experiences to learn from.

“I then went to Leeds and I got to experience European nights where I was playing at the Camp Nou, and sometimes I found that I was pinching myself to make sure it was actually happening. I was on the same pitch as players like Rivaldo and Kluivert and Maldini, and it was just a dream come true.

“The injury nightmares hit, I went through a very tough spell personally, and it took such a long time for me to rediscover my love for even putting my boots on again.

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“All the way through that spell I knew that I needed to be somewhere where I felt I belonged, and where I could play with confidence again, and it was Carlisle United that gave me that.”

“It can’t be understated how much that meant to me,” he revealed. “The fans embraced me from day one, all of a sudden there were people singing my name, which was out of this world, and I had a complete focus on performing and playing well for the way I’d been welcomed into the club.

“I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t easy for me to play at that level, and I came to Carlisle thinking I’d get far more time on the ball and plenty of space, with having played higher up the pyramid previously, but it was the complete opposite.

“There were actually people who were waiting to kick the crap out of me because they knew I’d played for Leeds, or whoever, and I had to get used to that.

“The important thing was that Simmo believed in me and I started to build my confidence up the more he used me because I knew the backing from him and Dennis was there. They felt I was going to make a difference.

“Along with that you had players with real quality who took me in as well. There was competition for places, of course there was, but the way everybody focused on what needed to be done made it a great place to be.

“That’s why my time with the club is up there with some of my fondest memories in the game.”

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That feeling of being settled and part of it helped him to produce some memorable moments and lasting memories, on a personal level and for the fans he was entertaining.

“It doesn’t matter what level you play at, if you’re with a club that matters to you, because of the way it treats you and because of the way things are around the place, it will always have a special place,” he told us.

“Funnily enough I did an article over here in Australia recently where I talked about Leeds and Carlisle in the same breath, and somebody said that there was simply no comparison.

“I told them straight away that maybe they can’t compare them, but I certainly can because I’ve been there and experienced what both clubs mean.

“The way the fans responded to me at Carlisle was crazy, when I think about it, and it’s still the same.

“Social media can be a horrible place, but it can also be a great place, and I’ve always been one of those lads that’s approachable on and off the field, but if anybody gets nasty I’ll block them. Everybody is entitled to an opinion but there’s no need to be malicious or vindictive.

“A lot of messages do come from Carlisle fans, sometimes just to see what I’m up to, and I don’t mind replying at all.

“It’s nice to have interaction about goals, or people talking about one of the shirts they see in the background of my pictures, and there’s certainly no arrogance when something like that crops up. It’s nice to be able to look back and talk about good times.

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“I know if I tried to tweet one of my heroes, Chris Waddle for example, and I got a reply back I was excited, so I know how people feel. We’re all fans and I hope people think positively of my time with the club.”

Some of those positives inevitably include goals, what with him being prolific through his time here, and you can’t mention the name Michael Bridges without following it up with the word ‘Northampton.’

“That’s a goal people talk about as their favourite that I scored, but it’s not mine - is that bad?” he asked.

“My favourite was in a home game against Chester, when we won 5-0. I danced around about four or five defenders from the halfway line - and that didn’t happen often - so it’s a goal I loved.

“For me it was just a bit more intricate and it had more to it. The Northampton one was just pure instinct, and I scored a couple like that for Leeds as well, during my first season there.

“One was against Everton and one was a against Southampton, and they were enjoyable. Sometimes they go in, on other occasions they sail into the stands.

“At Northampton, Lummy won a header and he actually got knocked out. He didn’t even realise I’d scored because he was quite badly dazed.

“When he started to get his senses back he was asking what had happened, and he wasn’t even sure what the score was. He had concussion, to be honest, and he was still suffering from it on the bus on the way home.

“I had to explain to him that he’d headed it, I got it on my knee and then I’d put it into the top corner. He was like, yeah, whatever, so we had to wait for the footage to come on Sky Sports so he could see it wasn’t a wind up.

“I think that goal meant more because we were on a fantastic run and it signalled that it really was a push for promotion, because they were up at the top with us. I think that’s maybe why the fans singled it out more than I perhaps did.

“The Chester one feels more personal because they were at the other end of the table, and it was a win that set us up to get on with the job we needed to do. But all goals are good, it’s what I was in the game to do.”

Fast-forwarding to the present day, and his next appearance on the hallowed turf is now just over three weeks away.

“There’ll be a few nerves, and I’m sure that’ll be the same for all of the lads,” he admitted. “I’ve actually being going to the gym, and I’ve just had myself a Lemon Tea as I start my detox to get ready for it. The preparations start now!

“My big fear … I’m just hoping the shirts fit. That’s the thing most of us are worried about because it’s all slimfit these days and that could be horrendous.

“Seriously though, being in the dressing room again, with the lads as we get ready for a game, it’s going to bring back a lot of memories.

“Once we start to hear the fans it’ll be into game mode and I wouldn’t be surprised if I shed a tear or two.

“If the emotions take over I’ll try and make sure it’s in the dressing room, or the tunnel, rather than let the fans see it on the pitch. We’re all there to have a good time and I’m sure that’s what it’ll be.”

And, as he run over that white line, have a quick look at the boots.

“I’m actually going to be wearing the same Umbro boots that I wore when I scored that Northampton goal,” he said.

“I’m about to find them, get them cleaned up, and hopefully they can help after the game to possibly raise a bit more cash.”

Kick off is at 1pm on Sunday 24 April, right here at Brunton Park.

The Sunset Suite and Murphy’s Bar will be open from 12pm on the day.

Tickets are on-sale now priced at £6 for those over the age of 16 and £4 for those under the age of 16.

Purchase your tickets online HERE, in-person at the ticket office or by calling 0330 094 5930.


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