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INTERVIEW: It's the club where I played my best football

Part one of a two-part interview with Danny Livesey

15 May 2022

He’s never been completely comfortable with the concept, but Danny Livesey’s contribution to United’s history book is quite significant and has earned him, in the eyes of many, club legend status.

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His 333 appearances for the Cumbrians across a near 10-year stay included 20 goals - one of which secured the club’s title-winning promotion to League One at Rochdale - and who can forget the drama of the Conference play-off semi-final shootout against Aldershot, with a pitch invasion and a nail-shredding wait followed by one of the crunchiest and most meaningful spot kicks you’ll ever see.

These are just a few of the reasons why his social media feed hit meltdown with best wishes from the Carlisle contingent a few days ago when he announced that at the age of 37 enough was enough.

His latest season, a frustrating one with Chester blighted by injury, brought him to a decision that he’s described himself as ‘inevitable’ with the boots and protective bandages (mostly for head injuries, due to a no-nonsense approach to protecting the nets) now shelved in favour of a teaching career.

Off went the text - ‘Danny, good luck with the future … fancy doing a bit for the official site after all you did here?’

And for a player who had graced the green grass of home one last time in the highly enjoyable Legends fixture just a few days before, there was only ever going to be one answer.

“Obviously it’s never an easy decision to make but, then again, not really,” he told us in the phone call that followed. “I’ve spent far too long injured last season and I was getting really frustrated with it.

“I think when it got to around February and March and I found I couldn’t string two training sessions together, I kind of got my head round the fact that there was a decision to make.

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“Mind you, the only doubt now is that I’ve played the last two games and I felt really good! But it is what it is, and I know in myself that I can’t carry on. When you know you won’t be able to put in a full season there’s just no point.”

“The nice thing since I announced it, and this is because you never really know where you stand with people, is the number of messages I got wishing me well,” he added.

“Especially from players I’ve played with - the number of lads who got in touch to say it had been a pleasure, that means a lot.

“It makes me feel like the job I did was worthwhile. I know I was never spectacular, but it was a worthwhile job for the teams I was with, and I think that’s the biggest accolade I can take from all of it.”

But let’s forget them for a moment. It was here that a young 20-year-old who was trying to find his feet in the game found his mojo, both on and off the pitch, albeit after a slow start with some very quick learning to do.

“I’ve said all along that it was the club where I played my best football and I loved it up there,” he confirmed. "It’s where I started my family, and it’ll always have a special place in my heart.

“Everything about it was excellent, right up until the strange manner of the exit, I suppose, and even that doesn’t take away from the good time I had at the club.

“I wasn’t really going anywhere at Bolton. I knew I had to get out. I had to be playing football somewhere or I knew I wasn’t going to have a career. I’d been injured and I wasn’t playing, so I went out on-loan to Blackpool, and I didn’t really click there either.

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“I wasn’t enjoying my football, so it was a bit of a relief, to be honest, when the opportunity to go to Carlisle came along. I decided to give it a go. To be honest, I didn’t even hesitate. I was given a chance and I wanted to see what it was all about.”

“I’m glad I did, because I didn’t really look back,” he continued. “There were some people who were saying that I was taking a risk with it being a drop of four or five leagues, but that didn’t concern me.

“When you get up there and you see the stadium you realise that actually, it’s a big club, and it’s one that should be competing at a decent level. That’s why we all set out to try and get it as high as we could.”

It was a baptism of fire as he was introduced to the blood and thunder of Conference level football, with results not always going to plan, and teams often difficult to break down.

“To be fair, we didn’t get it all our own way,” he agreed. “We were really struggling at one point, and I probably contributed to that when I first came in.

“There were times when it looked like I’d never kicked a ball before in my life! Initially we didn’t really know what sort of team we wanted to be - did we want to play it on the floor, did we want to go long, it was all there to be tried and tested and we were battling away trying to find the best formula.

“We were on a terrible run, I remember the fans being just as disgruntled as we were, but we played Leigh and I think that was a turning point.

“We hadn’t won for nine games, or something like that, so it was important. Crowds were down and it was a really worrying spell.

“Keiren Westwood had just gone in nets and we stumbled into a style that really suited us. We won the game at a canter and from there onwards it worked brilliant.”

Coming into a group of powerful characters at such a young age was a test in itself, with no room for resting on laurels as the games came thick and fast.

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“What a dressing room we had,” he commented. “I remember the feeling the first time I walked into a room full of hardened professionals with the likes of Tom Cowan, Kev Gray, Andy Preece and Chris Billy.

“If I’m being honest it was a little bit intimidating. I got my head down and I very quickly realised that I was being accepted, because all they wanted to see was that you were willing to work hard.

“They took me in and I felt part of it from very early on. I often looked round at what was a group of big characters, and working with lads like that every day gives you confidence.

“It got to a point later in the season where we had days when you just felt there was no way you were going to lose, because there was absolutely no way those players would allow it.

“You get sucked into that mindset where you go out thinking that the only possible outcome is that you’re going to win. It’s a great feeling to have.”

And what better way to learn your trade than being beside a colossus like Kev Gray.

“Kev was just brilliant,” he told us. “I know some people said that we were too similar to play together, because we both attacked the ball and we probably weren’t great with it at our feet.

“We never felt that way. For whatever reason we fitted together really well and I learned so much from him - it was brilliant. I became the type of centre-half I wanted to be, I really grew into my role, and Kev was a big part of that happening for me.

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“I remember thinking that if you can make a career like he had, playing the way he did, then why wasn’t I embracing the type of player I was. That’s the biggest thing I took from playing beside him.

“He did his job so well, and I wanted that for me. I think I was able to take bits of what I was and mirror bits of what he was to make it a pretty good mix.”

Promotion back into the Football League was a target, no question about it, but Paul Fairclough’s Barnet outfit were on a surge and the guaranteed promotion spot was tipping their way as the weeks went by, despite the Blues having enjoyed a six-game winning streak to put them right back in the hunt.

“We knew that Barnet were our main rivals, we were riding along with them, but we went down to their place and they beat us,” he told us.

“They were given a really questionable penalty and I was sent off for explaining to the referee why I thought he’d got it wrong.

“Even though we lost that game you could still feel the momentum was building. We weren’t one of these teams that was going to blow up once we got to the play-offs, because we were so determined to see it through.

“I was suspended for the away game at Aldershot and watching it was horrible. We did take a bit of a battering, but we stayed in it, and that’s always important.

“We knew after the game that we’d rode our luck, and we’d made hard work of it, but the confidence levels were still sky high.

“Up at our place, what a feeling when we came out of the tunnel. You just knew it was going to be one of those nights. When I nicked the first goal it was a case of us all getting together and saying, right, this is definitely going to be our night one way or the other.

“Chris Billy, he never scores, ever, and there he was putting one away as well. It was a tight game, them scoring wasn’t part of the plan, and when it went to penalties it was just unreal.

“I was always happy to take one. I’ve said repeatedly that I think the pitch invasion actually helped me. I was able to walk up to the ball and set myself, because everybody else was concentrating on celebrating and many of them didn’t have a clue that I still had mine to take.

“By the time the crowd had cleared off the pitch I’d put the ball on the spot and I was ready. It does sound weird but at the time it was the best way possible to prepare, because I knew it was a huge moment for all of us.

“When I put it away it put something nice onto the end of what had been a difficult period personally. That’s in terms of my career, nothing else, because I could have been out of the game and finished if this club hadn’t taken me.

“Before Carlisle came along I was starting to think that maybe I should be doing something else, then all of a sudden somebody showed faith in me and I was able to kick on.

“Scoring that penalty was the best way to thank Simmo for keeping me in the team and for persevering when I wasn’t at my best, because he could easily have got rid of me.

“I knew all the way through that season with Carlisle that I’d come so close to it not being there for me as a career at all. I stuck it out, I got through the spell where I wasn’t at my best here, and my confidence levels went through the roof.

“I know others will look at a young lad stepping up to take such an important penalty as being strange, but for me that was what football was all about.

“Why be in the game if you’re not going to do things like that when it really matters?”

Part two of our interview with Danny will be on the official website on Monday morning.


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