The meeting of legends teams here at Brunton Park on Sunday 24 April is already a mouth-watering list of United favourites, and we’re delighted to confirm that another has been added with striker Michael Bridges quite literally dusting off the boots (more on that later) to join his teammates in the 2005/06 line-up on the day.
Bridges, now based in Newcastle, Australia, became a club hero when he first joined the Blues on-loan from Bristol City in November 2005, with a haul of three goals from seven appearances that led to a permanent move up north.
His overall tally became 23 strikes in 63 games as he played a huge part in the title-winning campaign that took the club into League One.
Never having hidden his affection for the Cumbrians, it comes as absolutely no surprise to hear that he’s answered the call from friend and colleague Chris Lumsdon to take part in a fixture that has slightly more significance than being just another kickabout with a few old mates.
“I’m going to be honest, anything to do with Carlisle United and Brunton Park is always important as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “And, with this, it’s part of what I think is a wonderful idea with a few of the lads putting their heads together to find ways to help former players who perhaps aren’t having the best of times.
“It was really nice when Lummy got in touch to see if I wanted to be involved because I knew straight away that it was something I wanted to be part of.
“Knowing that lads connected to Carlisle United are putting something together that means we can all help each other, should somebody find themselves struggling mentally, physically, financially, or whatever, then I think that’s just a great initiative.”
“As well as that, what you find with football is that there aren’t many lads who actually get together or see each other that much once they’ve finished playing,” he added. “You keep in touch and possibly talk or text every now and again, but it’s the same as everybody else, they all have different things going on in their lives and it’s really easy to lose contact with others.
“As an example, I got a bit jealous when I saw a photo of Karl Hawley, Chris Billy, Dennis Booth and Lummy having a drink together a short while ago, and they sent me a message to say hello while they were out.
“I was absolutely gutted that I couldn’t be there with them. I think I’d have flown over just to have a drink with them, because they’re from a group of people who mean so much.
“Knowing that we can all see each other for this game, and also knowing that it’s for such a great reason makes it a no-brainer for me to be there, it really is as simple as that.
“My time at the club was very special for me, it gave me the love of the game back, and it was with a group of players who clicked and worked so well together. The management team of Simmo and Dennis were part of that, so coming to play in this game is something I feel I have to do.”
Problems faced by players who have left the game aren’t often discussed or highlighted, and it can often be the case that even the higher profile names face problems with the sudden change of direction in their lives.
“There are ex-players I’ve played with for many different clubs who have moved on to do different things, some in coaching or perhaps in the media, and we all say the same thing about how much your life changes from the moment your last playing contract ends,” he commented.
“I have to admit that I found it very tough when I first retired. I called it my spaghetti junction because I gave a few things a go. I had a bar and a restaurant in the town of Newcastle over here in Australia, where I live, and I also got into coaching and a bit of media work.
“I found that I needed to keep as much purpose in my life as possible, because I think you have to wake up and know that you have something that matters to focus on. If you don’t have that, you really struggle.
“We’re not regimented as footballers, but you tend to know when you’re training, when you’re playing, and from that you pretty much know your daily routine.
“That’s not just people in sport, that’s the same for everybody who has a job in any walk of life, and initially when they retire they think it’s fantastic.
“You saw it with people like Sir Bobby Robson, Roy Hodgson and Sir Alex Ferguson, they stayed in management for as long as they possibly could. Roy is back again. I’m sure they had people telling them just to relax and enjoy themselves, but it’s nearly impossible because they need to have that purpose.
“I’m part of the Leeds United Whatsapp group and I’ve noticed over the last few years, particularly since Covid, that there’s been a lot more of these groups where former players are getting together just to talk to each other, or to reach out.
“I’ve got one that Dom Matteo set up after his brain tumour, and a lot of the lads are in there having a laugh and joke, and it’s sometimes just that simple kind of thing that can make a huge difference.
“Suddenly you’re talking to like-minded people about anything and everything and that naturally makes you feel better.
“The group with the Carlisle lads opened up when we knew this game was coming and it’s put a smile on my face, let’s put it that way.
“I’m in a good position myself with family, media work and coaching, but I know that’s not the same for everybody. Any little bit we can do to help each other is a personal plus for me.”
We’ll have more from Bridgey about his time at the club on the official website later today.
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.